“I have no time for foolishness.”

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Toni Morrison

This is the quote that came to mind as I watched a clip of CNN’s Dana Bash asking the governor of my state, Wes Moore, about Republicans blaming diversity policies for the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Governor Moore’s response to Bash’s initial question was the right one in my view, because he dismissed the Republican assertions as foolishness and talked about closure and comfort for the families of those killed in the accident, safety for first responders, re-opening the channel and port, and rebuilding the bridge. Bash persisted in asking the governor about the “DEI mayor” insult against Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott by someone from the blue check brigade on Twitter. Governor Moore’s response was similarly focused on Baltimore’s recovery from the accident, which he ended by saying “I’m focused on what matters right now.”

Unlike the poor journalism which animated my earlier complaint against the press coverage of the disaster (which leaves the racism of critics as subtext), Dana Bash’s line of questioning directly aids and abets racists and their critique by foregrounding it and asking the governor of the state to respond to it as if it is legitimate. There is of course no actual evidence that DEI had anything to do with a ship the size and the weight of a skyscraper plowing into the bridge and destroying it. So why would Dana Bash waste air time elevating the ignorant nonsense of GOP pols spewing racism on Twitter? My guess is that CNN wanted to appear “balanced”, but they failed at that in addition to wasting the governor’s time and that of their viewers. What does a Utah state representative have to say that could possibly be relevant to the issue at hand? As it turned out, absolutely nothing. What does a former member of the Florida House of Representatives have to say that could be relevant? Again, absolutely nothing. Remember–six people died as a result of this accident. As of this writing, some of the dead still have not been recovered. A key driver of economic vitality for the city and the state is now at risk. Dana Bash (and/or her producers) still chose to waste nearly two minutes of airtime on racist, conspiratorial nonsense from the fever swamps of Twitter.

Journalism isn’t economics, but opportunity cost is a useful lens through which to view the time spent on foolishness. The entire interview was just over seven minutes long, and most of the questions were good, prompting useful responses from Governor Moore. But about 20% of the interview time was taken up by GOP nonsense from Twitter. That’s time which could have been spent asking about potential future changes in policies and procedures for handling large cargo ships in the future. It could have been used to ask about the victims of the accident, who merited only a brief mention from Bash at the end of the interview. It could have been used for a deeper dive into the local economic impacts of the accident on the Port of Baltimore, and on the people who work there. Many port workers live in Dundalk, MD, a place that differs quite a bit demographically from what racists on Twitter seem to think.

Joy Reid’s interview with Mayor Scott, even while calling out the conspiracy theories around the accident as ridiculous, did surface the very same tweets from the fever swamp as Dana Bash did. Mayor Scott took the opportunity to respond to the racist assertions from Twitter, which is his right. But a large part of me wishes that he had followed the governor’s example and left the foolishness of the right-wing fever swamps to Black Twitter. Because if there’s anything Black Twitter does well, it’s turn insults on their head. Since DEI is the new n-word, here is a small sampling of what’s been done with it:

In my view, journalism continues to let social media be their assignment editor and set the agenda. Whether would-be centrists like CNN or NPR, or overtly left-leaning MSNBC, Twitter still figures far too prominently in their coverage and in their questions. Particularly when the owner of Twitter has made it his mission to platform Nazis and personally amplify the most offensive and extreme right-wing thoughts, integrating the worst output of such a platform into news coverage cannot help but make the news product worse, and less useful to us as citizens. Difficult as it is to find conservative perspectives on issues that are actually useful, the press needs to make the effort. Racist positions are not owed airtime simply because they are “the other side”. In researching this post, I found Ed O’Keefe of CBS’ Face the Nation did the same thing Dana Bash did when he interviewed Mayor Scott. Here’s a quote of O’Keefe’s question:

I’ve got to ask you one of the wilder things is some conservative critics blamed the bridge collapse on diversity, equity and inclusion policies in Maryland. Diversity, equity inclusion, better known as DEI to a lot of people. They called you, some critics, “the DEI mayor.” What did you make of that when you heard it?

Ed O’Keefe interviewing Mayor Brandon Scott on Face the Nation, March 31, 2024

To steal a line from President Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana, “Let me stop you right there.” No, Ed O’Keefe, you don’t have to ask the mayor of Baltimore about conspiratorial nonsense from aspiring governors and congressmen from Utah and Florida just because they happen to be Republican. Not only do they not represent Baltimore, they would probably be lucky to be able to find the city on a map. They don’t have relevant expertise in shipping or ports or bridge-building or disaster response. Don’t be the journalist who makes a conversation worse by bringing voices to it that have nothing to add beyond ignorance and racism.

Woodrow Wilson Needs to Stay “Cancelled”

The Atlantic chose the second day of Black History Month to publish this piece by David Frum to advocate for the “uncanceling” of Woodrow Wilson. In this post I will reiterate and expand on remarks I’ve made on social media, as well as those of others in opposition to Frum’s insidious project.

I read [Frum’s] piece and its primary utility is making clear how fully he stocked his administration with anti-black bigots. Expanding the imperial footprint of the U.S. in Haiti while supposedly putting the Philippines on a path to independence is especially telling.


Particularly given the volume with which Frum sounded the alarm regarding the dangers of Trump and Trumpism to the republic before he was elected, it is especially curious to me that he would choose this moment to advocate for the uncanceling of one of the most dedicated bigots to ever occupy the White House. This 2015 piece from Government Executive Magazine (which is worth reading in full) makes clear that in a post-Civil War United States where the racism dial went to 10, Wilson’s went to 11. Wilson resegregated a federal bureaucracy that however imperfectly, had begun to integrate–even though the city surrounding it was still very segregated. In 1901–in the very same magazine where Frum makes the case to uncancel him–Woodrow Wilson argued against suffrage for black men, prior to his tenure as president of Princeton University. Frum’s recounting of Wilson’s anti-black, while rather detailed, still fails to capture its full breadth and depth. Wilson as Princeton University president blocked black students from attending the school.

Having already elected Trump once, in spite of (or in too many cases because of) explicitly racist and xenophobic appeals, the United States could very well elect him again despite numerous criminal indictments, a finding of fact that he sexually abused E. Jean Carroll, and even more explicitly white nationalist appeals than those in his 2016 run. This is the context in which Frum chooses to ask this question:

But if one man is judged the preeminent villain of his era for bigotries that were common among people of his place, time, and rank, that singular fixation demands explanation. Why Wilson rather than Taft or Coolidge?

David Frum, Uncancel Wilson, The Atlantic, February 2, 2024

My initial answer was this:

Not only should Wilson stay cancelled, every president who presided over Jim Crow in the South and the conditions that triggered the Great Migration should be judged more harshly.


As president, Wilson did advocate for lower tariffs, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, and the League of Nations. Wilson did nominate Jewish people to serve on the state supreme court as governor of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court as president. But that does not trump all the ways in which he used the increasing power he was given over the course of his life to make life worse for the black citizens of this country in every way possible. Frum touches lightly on the ways in which Wilson’s scholarship (he was trained as an historian) reflected his personal bigotry. Wilson wrote a five-volume history textbook that adhered to the Lost Cause propaganda regarding the Civil War. Here is Wilson writing in one of those volumes, A History of the American People: Reunion and Nationalization:

The white men of the South were aroused by the mere instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interest of adventurers: … There was no place of open action or of constitutional agitation, under the terms of reconstruction, for the men who were the real leaders of the southern communities. Its restrictions shut white men of the older order out from the suffrage even. They could act only by private combination, by private means, as a force outside the government, hostile to it, proscribed by it, of whom opposition and bitter resistance was expected, and expected with defiance.

A History of the American People: Reunion and Nationalization, Woodrow Wilson, pp 58-59

In this brief passage, we see Wilson’s views of black citizens in their full ugliness. We see his wholehearted adoption of the pro-Confederate views of his parents, particularly his father (who served as a Confederate chaplain and preached sermons in defense of slavery). Wilson fairly explicitly argues in subsequent pages that forming the Ku Klux Klan and engaging in violent anti-black terrorism was the only resort for the white insurrectionists of the American South. It is therefore no surprise that D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation quoted Wilson’s book in its title cards. To the extent that Woodrow Wilson is judged the preeminent bigot of his day, perhaps it is because he promoted the Lost Cause in his scholarship, in his presidency of Princeton, from the White House, and in popular culture through screening and popularizing a gleefully racist film. As numerous Republican governors send National Guard contingents in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling acknowledging the primacy of the federal government in policy at the international borders of the United States, and a supposed contestant for the GOP presidential nomination advocates openly for the right of Texas to secede from the country, it is hard not to look at these words from over a century ago and not see ideological support for contemporary lawlessness.

Wilson’s early and ardently anti-black scholarship stands as a rebuke to Frum’s feeble excuse of Wilson’s 1919 stroke as the reason that black citizens were undefended by federal power during the so-called Red Summer of that same year. Per Frum’s own piece, he threw disillusioned black supporters out of his office in 1914 and never received them again. He made W.E.B. DuBois regret ever supporting him in a way paralleled decades later by Jackie Robinson’s disillusionment with Richard Nixon for the same courting of white grievance Wilson engaged in generations earlier. Frum attempts to treat the imperialist and xenophobic stances of Henry Cabot Lodge (who attempted to justify and excuse the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891) as somehow equivalent with Wilson’s anti-black bigotry. But if we’re comparing flaws, it needs to be said that nearly 3000 black citizens died at the hands of white lynch mobs during Wilson’s presidency alone. Wilson was no less an imperialist than Lodge, for while he granted greater autonomy to the Philippines (which Lodge wanted to annex), he also ordered the invasion and occupation of Haiti. Wilson’s anti-blackness was such that it did not even stop at the borders of the United States. Whatever his other shortcomings, Lodge at least saw fit to author and sponsor a House bill to protect Black voting rights in the South (a legislative effort which would not be repeated for another 70+ years). If there is anything Frum’s piece makes clear, it is that anti-blackness has never been the sole province of either the progressive or conservative movements in this country.

An actual historian would better articulate the negative consequences of Wilson’s lifelong failure to acknowledge the humanity of the black citizens of this nation. They would provide a better tribute to the Harlem Hellfighters, maligned by their white countrymen and commander-in-chief at home, disrespected by most of their military commanders abroad, more honored by the French under whom they actually fought, and feared by the Germans (who trolled them with leaflets dropped from planes for their service to a country in which they could only be second-class citizens at best). The open and unapologetic racism we see both in the political class and in the country at large is in too many ways a throwback to America of Wilson’s day. For Frum to choose this moment to advocate for Wilson to be “uncancelled” is to repudiate everything he has ever written and said about the dangers Trump posed–and still poses to the survival of multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy in this country. It should be seen as a deliberate insult to every black citizen in the present day. I wish David Frum the worst in his efforts to rehabilitate Wilson and his racism. I hope this small piece of writing encourages further scrutiny of Wilson and his contemporaries and brings them greater scorn and contempt.