The Trump Administration's Thinly-Veiled Rebuke of 'The 1619 Project' is a Sloppy, Racist MessRoundup
tags: racism, teaching history, Donald Trump, 1619 Project, 1776 commission
Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University. A specialist in modern American political, social and urban/suburban history, he is the author and editor of several books, including White Flight (2005), One Nation Under God (2015) and Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (2019).
On Monday, the Trump administration released the first, and only, report from the President's Advisory 1776 Commission. Its authors insist that the 45-page document is an effort to set the historical record straight. "In order to build up a healthy, united citizenry," they write, "scholars, students, and all Americans must reject false and fashionable ideologies that obscure facts, ignore historical context, and tell America's story solely as one of oppression and victimhood rather than one of imperfection but also unprecedented achievement toward freedom, happiness, and fairness for all."
Oddly enough, for a report that claims to offer the clear facts of American history, no scholars of American history are among its authors. To be sure, academics and experts from other fields and Americans from all walks of life can weigh in on the shared history of their nation. But the complete lack of involvement from those who were trained in the field and who teach it today means the 1776 report winds up doing exactly what it claims others do: obscuring facts and ignoring historical context.
Since its release, historians have denounced the report in no uncertain terms, drawing attention to its shoddy scholarship while decrying its clumsy partisan intent. The "1776" project as a whole was a thinly veiled response to The New York Times Magazine's "1619 Project" — for which I wrote an essay on the impact of racism on urban planning.
That backdrop, and the report's release on the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., means that the report's distortions of the civil rights movement deserve special attention.
According to the authors, the modern struggle for Black equality can be easily split into two separate and unequal stages. First, they say, there was the civil rights movement, which is pointedly presented here not as a revolutionary cause championed by African Americans in the South but rather "a national movement composed of people from different races, ethnicities, nationalities and religions" — effectively a precedent of the "All Lives Matter" rhetoric of our own time.
"The civil rights movement culminated in the 1960s, with the passage of three major legislative reforms affecting segregation, voting, and housing rights," the report notes, reassuring readers that during this period the movement "presented itself, and was understood by the American people, as consistent with the principles of the founding."
But, of course, the civil rights movement and the landmark legislation it prompted were deeply controversial at the time. Countless Americans opposed these laws and, pointedly, claimed that it was their resistance that reflected the "principles of the founding."
When Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957, for instance, he pointedly recited the entire Declaration of Independence to link his act of defiance to the colonists' acts. When Gov. George Wallace of Alabama denounced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at a segregationist rally, he, too, claimed that segregationists were like the "stalwart patriots" of the American Revolution.
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