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Trump’s Parting Advice? We Need a Patriotic Education

One could hardly imagine a greater dichotomy than Donald Trump setting up a commission to espouse "patriotic education" to restore American reverence of the nation's fundamental mores, versus same Donald Trump a few months later inciting an insurrection to overthrow the newly elected president so he could retain power.

The president announced in September the formation of the "1776 Commission" charged with developing a "pro-American curriculum"
that would put an end to the "twisted web of lies" taught in our schools about slavery, racism, the sordid episodes of our history, saying that "teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse".

Trump demanded that the commission turn in its report before he left office, which it did with no moments to spare, despite its members having been named only a month earlier. None were historians.

The commission's title gives away that the motive was to counteract the New York Times' "1619 Project", born in a special August 2019 issue of the newspaper's Sunday magazine and filled with essays to make the case that the nation's founding was really in that year, when the first slaves were landed on these shores in Virginia. First, a look at that.

"The 1619 Project" starts out aggressively, opening with

"Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle America would have no democracy at all."

Slaves on the plantations growing rice and cotton at world competitive prices were the foundation of American capitalism. The "strenuous and

patriotic efforts of black Americans" helped the young nation pay off its Revolutionary War debts, built "vast fortunes for white people North and South", and fueled the Industrial Revolution. "1619" tells us that Blacks are highly patriotic, proud of America, and of their people having contributed "to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world".

backlash

The Project drew heated criticism. Historians called out its inaccuracies. There were objections to its "monocausality" — the absolutism of its editor (who is white) stating in the report's preamble that "out of slavery...grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional". Particularly objectionable was the claim that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery”. That and other claims drew fire from historians who brought forth detailed historical accounts to defeat revisionist claims, calling "The 1619 Project" a thesis searching for evidence to support it.

that cannot stand

"1619" rankled conservatives and just plain Americans who were less than thrilled with replacing the heroic fight for independence and the founding of the first democracy in the West with the grim story that the nation was given birth by the arrival of the first slaves.

In announcing "The President's Advisory 1776 Commission", Mr. Trump made no pretense of it being other than political. Speaking at the National Archives, he warned that "The 1619 Project" was "a radical movement", that "the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country".

His report, more an extended essay than a fact-finding report, wants an American history that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling”. To accomplish that, it must first try to explain away slavery. First, we need realize that there had always been slavery in the world, but "the foundation of our Republic…the movement to abolish slavery that first began in the United States…planted the seeds of the death of slavery in America" [italics theirs]. That's evidenced by the Declaration's decree that "all men are created equal" (except it makes no mention of slavery). And the Constitution "set the stage for abolition" despite having to compromise by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person as a concession to southern states' demand for more population-based representation in Congress. Except, without that compromise, they would not have been counted at all, we are not told.

"1776" prefers to tell us how opposed to slavery the founders were — while nonetheless owning them. Washington "freed all the slaves in his family estate". Except, he did not. He waited until his death and even then legal and ownership complications prevented their release. None of the other founders made a move to emancipate their "chattel". And "1619" reminds us that 10 of the first 12 presidents were enslavers. Mr. Trump prefers that school children not be taught the whole story. He might like that the report avoids the horrors of the Civil War, calling it only a "conflict", dispensing with it with the single sentence, "This conflict was resolved, but at a cost of more than 600,000 lives."

"1776" lays out five "Challenges to America's Principles". One is "Progressivism", a movement dangerous for its belief, as this account has it, that America's founding documents — its "software" — are no longer up to the task of operating the nation's "hardware", the complex industrial society that their authors could not have foreseen. To adapt, progressives advocate a "living" Constitution of moral relativism that leads variously to granting new rights while taking away the old, and to a fourth branch of government, an administrative state that "never faces elections and today operates largely without checks and balances". The commission cites Woodrow Wilson, before he was president, positing a different system wherein “the functions of government are in a very real sense independent of legislation, and even constitutions". The authors are seemingly oblivious to how much that sounds like Trump.

That fascism" and communism are two other "Challenges to America's Principles" won't stir much controversy, each given a section of the report, but "1776" likens progressives to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini for wanting to centralize all power — corporate and political — under "so-called experts". There is no mention, in the discussion of fascism or anywhere in the report, of the threat white supremacists and white nationalists pose to the country; the commission is more concerned that anti-Americanism from the Cold War era "still pervades much of academia and the intellectual and cultural spheres".

John C., Calhoun, who in the "Slavery" section had been singled out as the progenitor of separating Americans into groups, appears again in the fifth challenge, "Racism and Identity Politics", where "group rights", explicit group privilege and preferential treatment of "protected classes" such as affirmative action, are blamed for reversing what this article claims had been "color-blind civil rights" for their being uniformly applied to all. The result is identity politics.

reforming education

The report's authors are irate about education in America. Our anti-American universities "generate in students…outright hatred for this country".

“Historical revisionism that tramples honest scholarship and historical truth, shames Americans by highlighting only the sins of their ancestors, and teaches claims of systemic racism that can only be eliminated by more discrimination, is an ideology intended to manipulate opinions more than educate minds.”

Needed is a national renewal brought about by patriotic education that teaches the truth about America, "viewing our history clearly and wholly, with reverence and love" banishing that "twisted web of lies" that concerned the former president so well known for truth. It is a odd attempt at doublethink because it is precisely the "wholly" that includes "America's sins" that the "1776" authors want expunged.

Trump's commission wants to reverse a movement that began some 50 years ago with books such as "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" that recounted our history in the west from the American Indian's point of view, that no longer kept hidden Thomas Jefferson's relations with slave Sally Hemings — two quick examples from a long list. This more honest exploration has been viewed as a new maturity, a societal truth and reconciliation undercurrent, but not for Donald Trump, who, in this sudden interest in history, wants only "enlightened patriotism" to be taught.

It is notable that near the very end of the paper, under "Decline of American Education", we read that "distorted histories of those like Howard Zinn or the journalists behind the '1619 Project' have prevented their students from learning…with a rich repository of cultural, historical, and literary referents". Of course Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" and "1619" do not present a rich repository. They are written to fill in our untold history absent from the scrubbed and sanitized textbooks approved for the nation's public schools. As Zinn said, "There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak, because history is often written by the privileged." The underside is what "1776" seeks to eradicate.

christian nation

It is inevitable in a polemic of this nature that it ultimately turn to religion. The report goes on for 2,600 words in its contemplation of religion and morals. Under its "Faith and America's Principles" heading, families need to pray together where they may acknowledge "the providence of the Almighty God who gave them their sacred liberty".

"Overwhelming importance" is ascribed to religious faith that we learn is "indispensable to the success of republican government". And, of course, they mean the Christian religion. "The American Revolution might not have taken place or succeeded without the moral ideas spread through the pulpits, sermons, and publications of Christian instructors". A "Civil and Religious Liberty" segment summarizes Christian history with a lengthy proposition that the founders, by preventing in the First Amendment the establishment of a state religion, made room for moral teachings of religious faith. "The separation of church and state" is usually misunderstood to mean a complete separation of religion and politics.

The authors then tear anew into identity politics. The Civil Rights Movement started it by abandoning equal opportunity for all in favor of “group rights”. Then came the radical women’s liberation movement. Black nationalists "reimagined America as a white supremacist regime". Then Hispanics. Then Asians. All with the effect of teaching Americans to identify themselves as member of groups more in some cases than as Americans.

outrage

"Trump’s 1776 Commission Critiques Liberalism in Report Derided by Historians" ran the headline of a typical news article. James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said the report was not a work of history, but “cynical politics.”

“This report skillfully weaves together myths, distortions, deliberate silences, and both blatant and subtle misreading of evidence to create a narrative and an argument that few respectable professional historians, even across a wide interpretive spectrum, would consider plausible, never mind convincing”.

Nicole Hemmer, a historian and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” wrote in an email that “The report seems to draw heavily from a rhetorical trick now quite popular on the right of reassigning slavery, racism, and fascism to the left”. David W. Blight, a historian of the Civil War at Yale University, said that the report falsely portrays slavery not as a core part of American history and society, but as a global institution “that had all but been imposed on Americans”. “The 1776 report is a puerile, politically reactionary document,” stated David Blight, author of the biography "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom". “No legitimately trained historian or teacher will even be able to read through it all without nausea”. “The biggest tell in the 1776 report is that it lists ‘progressivism’ along with ‘slavery’ and ‘fascism’ in its list of ‘challenges to America’s principles’,” Thomas Sugrue, a historian at New York University, wrote on Twitter. “Time to rewrite my lectures to say that ending child labor and regulating meatpacking = hitlerism.”

Perhaps the ultimate rebuke was how rapidly the White House revoked the 1776 report. It was apparently taken offline from www.whitehouse.gov on the same day Joe Biden was inaugurated.

1 Comment for “Trump’s Parting Advice? We Need a Patriotic Education”

  1. Buz Zamarron

    “The ultimate rebuke was how rapidly the White House revoked the 1776 report”?

    That’s applicable only if one falls for the falsehood that the left works to lift minorities. Clearly, over 50 years of government programs, billions of dollars spent on “programs” and public education has done little to lift minorities. It has always been capitalism that has lifted minorities.

    Nicely written article, but the conclusion is hardly supported by history. I think President Trump was right on THIS one. What other president had the rate of success of lifting the minority population faster than his one term?

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