Making Revisionism Great Again: The Trouble with Trump’s Rewriting of American HistoryRoundup
tags: teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission
James W. Loewen is an American sociologist, historian and author who wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me.
One of the last products of the Trump administration is the report of Trump’s 1776 Commission. It’s almost too easy to poke fun at the document; the commission’s intellectual center is Hillsdale College, perhaps the farthest right college in America, and its membership includes not one historian. Still, its report makes two errors so profound that they need to be countered, even as the commission itself fades off into wherever Trump initiatives now go to die.
Although it’s only a pamphlet, the report takes on a big job. Two big jobs, actually. Its first half gives us the main storyline of American history, insists upon the only right way to interpret the Constitution, and declares where we went wrong as a nation (the Progressive Era!). Its second half analyzes our current educational establishment and finds “deliberately destructive scholarship [that] shatters the civic bonds that unite all Americans.”
The report’s first error is about history. Its basic storyline goes: We started out great and have been getting better ever since, or we would, if it weren’t for those darn historians. To be sure, the commission admits, since our forebears were “imperfect human beings,” we have taken “missteps,” but luckily, “these wrongs have always met resistance from the clear principles of the nation, and therefore our history is far more one of self-sacrifice, courage, and nobility.” In short, American exceptionalism all the way.
We know we’re in trouble when the pamphlet extols as its first example of “common struggle and achievement” our “carving communities out of a vast, untamed wilderness.” Wasn’t anyone on the commission aware that Native populations became minuscule after, not before, White contact? Didn’t they know that places like Greenfield, Deerfield and even Plymouth itself were Native American towns before they were European American settlements? If the country was virgin wilderness from the start, how then can students understand our still-extant government-to-government relations with American Indian nations?
Further, the report says nothing about racism as the rationale for slavery, and also for lynching and second-class citizenship for African-Americans during the “Nadir of Race Relations,” that terrible era between 1890 and 1940 when we grew more and more racist. Indeed, its first mention of racism comes after its treatment of Communism and the Cold War, under the rubric, “Racism and Identity Politics”! How then can whites understand Black unrest today?
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