oh, the humanities!


When President Obama’s chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities finally stepped down from his post in late May—four months after President Trump took office—he explained his reasoning to the New York Times. “I think it’s getting to be a time that’s appropriate for me to step aside,” William Adams said, “and let this transition go forward.”

It’s indeed appropriate for a political appointee to resign when a new president of the other party takes power—especially if the new president has vowed to eliminate funding for your agency, as Trump has with the NEH.

On June 15, National History Day, the endowment released its new list of the year’s NEH Scholars—middle-schoolers and high-schoolers whose history projects won the admiration of NEH experts.

Anyone familiar with Obama’s NEH, where political advocacy took precedence over disinterested scholarship, could pick out the winning projects in his sleep. There’s “Labor Reform Fueled by Fire” and a tribute to Rachel Carson and her campaign against DDT, which “spark[ed] an era of environmental consciousness.” There’s a tribute to Bishop Oscar Romero and two tributes to Tinker v. Des Moines, one of the Warren Court’s most radical decisions in favor of “student rights.”

And—hey, look guys!—here comes “Margaret Sanger, Taking a Stand for Birth Control,” and multiple tributes to Mother Jones, the “community organizer” of the early decades of the last century, and another to the muckraker Nellie Bly.

It’s all very correct, very progressive, and reeking of the now-standard brainwashing of students by leftish history teachers—race, class ’n’ gender politics tarted up as scholarship. The question is, why doesn’t the list of winners bear the imprint of the Trump administration? There was plenty of time for Trump’s people to reverse course on the History Day awards.

You’ll find the same problem throughout the government: Trump hasn’t filled the upper positions at dozens of agencies and departments. His sole representative at the NEH is Jon Parrish Peede, the brother of a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence. The acting chairman who replaced Adams is another Obama political appointee, Peggy Plympton, a former headhunter and a finance officer at Lehigh University.

Meanwhile, most of the other high-level positions remain occupied by Obama appointees. The ranks of career bureaucrats are filled with sympathetic liberal Democrats. No Trump administration official, including Peede, has attempted to clean house.

Though Trump promised to eliminate the NEH, his budgeteers probably understand that Congress will never, ever defund the endowment. Its budget is too small (“decimal dust,” as the green eyeshades call it), and the grants are funneled into too many congressional districts for anyone to mount a crusade against it.

Which makes a housecleaning all the more urgent. Under Obama, the endowment was one of the prime guarantors of political correctness on and off campus. A reasonable—and reasonably conservative—chairman is needed to root the endowment’s grant-making in a less politicized notion of what the humanities are. We strongly suspect Mother Jones has plenty of advocates without the NEH training more.

source-weekly std, the scrapbook, neh, jon parrish


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