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All the Brains We Have or Can Borrow

Woodrow Wilson and the American Internationalist Experiment

In today's volatile political climate, nuance tends to be among the casualties of the rapid-fire news cycle. But perhaps nuance is only a luxury that emerges with time and distance from major historical events. Consider for example Woodrow Wilson, our 28th US president.

"Wilson was a progressive in a Democratic Party still chock-full of small-government Jeffersonians and Jim Crow conservatives," says Dr. Trygve Throntveit, Dean's Fellow for Civic Studies in the College of Education and Human Development. "His own anti-ideological approach to politics (not to mention his racism) also made him open to cooperating with such types when he thought his larger, more important goals demanded it."

What? Progressive and racist at the same time? How did that work out? It didn't, at least not always. But what Wilson lacked in universal appeal, he perhaps made up in high-minded aspiration for the direction of the nation he presided over: "His constructive achievements in the domestic realm--the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve System, the first progressive income taxes, federal eight-hour day, federal credits for farmers, etc.--are rivaled only by FDR and LBJ," says Throntveit. "Moreover, his vision for the nation's role in an interdependent world, though hardly perfect, was both more radically egalitarian and more responsive to the facts of international politics than most people remember."

So where does that leave us? How are we in the modern era, knowing what we know of racial constructs and social equity, supposed to reconcile with a politician who pushed for progress in some areas but decidedly not in others? "This will be a major topic of discussion," Throntveit promises, and he encourages his own open-door policy in this regard. "If you're on the fence because you think you disagree with me, you're my ideal attendee: I'm still learning about this complicated person, too." 

Join us April 28 for Woodrow Wilson and the American Internationalist Experiment, where we will have a rousing examination into a controversial era in American history and politics, and to learn how far we may or may not have come.