June 29, 2020 10:39AM

Progress Happens

Five years ago I argued that Princeton’s prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a residential complex, Wilson College, honored a former president of Princeton who didn’t deserve the distinction. Not only was Wilson a racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and resegregated the federal workforce, he made the most disastrous foreign policy decision in U.S. history. His decision to enter a European conflict turned it into World War I, which arguably led to the Communist takeover of Russia, National Socialism in Germany, World War II and the Cold War. Wilson was contemptuous of the Constitution, preferring a government not with checks and balances but with “unstinted power.”

And on Saturday Princeton University announced that it would remove Wilson’s name from both the school and the college.

Nineteen years ago, I urged Mississippi voters to remove the Confederate imagery from their state flag, writing:

The current Mississippi flag – three bars of red, white and blue along with the Confederate cross – cannot be thought to represent the values of all the people of the state. Indeed, it doesn’t just misrepresent the values of Mississippi’s one million black citizens; it is actively offensive to many of them.

And on Sunday the legislature voted to do just that.

I might even note that 32 years ago, in the New York Times, I argued that the United States should end the war on drugs, which had caused much crime, corruption, and incarceration. That recommendation has taken longer to bear fruit, and the drug war is by no means over. But 33 states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana in some form, and public opinion has changed so much that the Republican Party is denouncing Joe Biden for his long‐​standing support for the war on drugs. Perhaps in 2021 both parties will agree that it’s time for real reform.

It’s easy to point to things going wrong and getting worse. By many measures government has gotten bigger. Right now we’re overwhelmed with a pandemic, lockdowns, police abuse, and violent streets. But progress does happen, and a longer‐​term view would note the reality of moral progress and improvements in human well‐​being. As I said in a recent speech:

We have extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to people to whom they had long been denied around the world. More people in more countries than ever before in history enjoy religious freedom, personal freedom, democratic governance, the freedom to own and trade property, the chance to start a business, equal rights, civility, respect, and a longer life expectancy.

War, disease, violence, slavery, and inhumanity have been dramatically reduced.

This weekend saw some examples of that.