The Ideas Behind Trump’s 1776 Commission ReportHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, religious right, teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission
A report by President Trump’s 1776 Commission, established to promote “patriotic education,” was written without the input of any professional historians of the United States, and does not include a bibliography or list of citations.
But that doesn’t mean the 45-page report, which drew harsh criticism from scholars when it was released on Monday, doesn’t have sources. Far from a free-floating product of the Trump era, it draws on longstanding conservative talking points and a growing shelf of ideologically inflected scholarship and popular history books that aim to counter what it maintains is anti-American left-wing “historical revisionism.”
“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,” Nicole Hemmer, a historian and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” said in an email. “But the underlying argument, that multiculturalism and liberation movements are fundamentally dangerous and un-American, has been a hallmark of conservative politics since at least the 1990s.”
Here are some of the main claims of the report, and the ideas they draw on.
Slavery and the Founding
The longest section of the report — nearly half of the main body — describes the country’s founding principles, which it argues are under siege by progressives, whose overly negative view of our history promotes “at the very least disdain and at worst outright hatred for this country.”
“Neither America nor any other nation has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice and government by consent,” it says. “But no nation before America ever dared state those truths as the formal basis for its politics, and none has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.”
David W. Blight, a historian of the Civil War at Yale University who is highly critical of the report, 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.”
Scholars have noted that the report has curiously little to say about the Civil War itself, suggesting that slavery’s end was less the result of a bloody conflict and more a kind of inevitable flowering of antislavery “seeds” planted in the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal.”
Dr. Blight also criticized the way the report “appropriates” Black leaders like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he said recalled longstanding myths of “Black Confederates.”
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