You likely heard that our outgoing President, in one of his last paroxysms of awfulness, released the report of his “1776 Commission” yesterday. This report makes broad claims: “presenting a definitive chronicle of the American founding, a powerful description of the effect the principles of the Declaration of Independence have had on this Nation’s history, and a dispositive rebuttal of reckless “re-education” attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.”
From this paragraph alone, a perceptive reader can tell the true purpose. The commission was no doubt conjured as a response to the 1619 Project, with its focus on America’s legacy of slavery and racism. Although the President’s commission boasts the work of “America’s leading scholars,” such “scholars” include a variety of lawyers, political scientists and GOP hacks, and Victor Davis Hanson, a once-respected classical historian who’s become increasingly bellicose in his conservatism over the decades. (Could have been worse: Charlie Kirk, the poor man’s Ben Shapiro, was originally named but absent from the final report.)Which seems about right for Donald Trump, the man who thinks that Canada burned the White House, that Andrew Jackson fought the Civil War and that Frederick Douglass is an obscure figure in dire need of recognition.
Skimming through the report, we find a rather tedious recitation of conservative “culture war” grievances, on the premise that public school history courses and textbooks amount to Marxist propaganda:
The declared purpose of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission is to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” This requires a restoration of American education, which can only be grounded on a history of those principles that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.” And a rediscovery of our shared identity rooted in our founding principles is the path to a renewed American unity and a confident American future.
Left unsaid, of course, is what role stoking violent insurrection by fascists plays in “the path to a renewed American unity.” All of which is couched in noble-sounding platitudes that, on the surface, no one could reasonably disagree with:
The principles of the American founding can be learned by studying the abundant documents contained in the record. Read fully and carefully, they show how the American people have ever pursued freedom and justice, which are the political conditions for living well. To learn this history is to become a better person, a better citizen, and a better partner in the American experiment of self-government.
What is more objective and balanced than “studying the abundant documents contained in the record”? Isn’t that what history’s about? Except, scroll down far enough and you’ll find commentary that go beyond a mere study of documents:
At the same time, it is important to note that by design there is room in the Constitution for significant change and reform. Indeed, great reforms—like abolition, women’s suffrage, anti-Communism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Pro-Life Movement—have often
come forward that improve our dedication to the principles of the Declaration of Independence under the Constitution.
Remarkable how these Objective Historians would place both Women’s Suffrage and the Pro-Life Movement in the same box as “great reforms.” Also, “anti-Communism” as a great reform? Was Communism accidentally enshrined in the Constitution and no one noticed until Joe McCarthy came along? Then there are segments that are downright Orwellian:
More problematic have been movements that reject the fundamental truths of the Declaration of Independence and seek to destroy our constitutional order. The arguments, tactics, and names of these movements have changed, and the magnitude of the challenge has varied, yet they are all united by adherence to the same falsehood—that people do not have equal worth and equal rights.
You read that right: Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and other progressive movements are animated by the premise that “people do not have equal worth and equal rights.”
Then we reach the section on slavery, and the report becomes downright insulting:
Many Americans labor under the illusion that slavery was somehow a uniquely American evil. It is essential to insist at the outset that the institution be seen in a much broader perspective. It is very hard for people brought up in the comforts of modern America, in a time in which the idea that all human beings have inviolable rights and inherent dignity is almost taken for granted, to imagine the cruelties and enormities that were endemic in earlier times. But the unfortunate fact is that the institution of slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.
Which is broadly true but irrelevant. Very few institutions of slavery matched the sheer scope of the Triangle Trade between Africa and the New World. Or the fact that the United States, with its loud rumblings about human freedom and dignity, maintained slavery longer than Britain, France and most other nations. The fact that other people owned slaves, too, is not a defense and undercuts the argument elsewhere that America was unique.
The foundation of our Republic planted the seeds of the death of slavery in America. The Declaration’s unqualified proclamation of human equality flatly contradicted the existence of human bondage and, along with the Constitution’s compromises understood in light of that proposition, set the stage for abolition. Indeed, the movement to abolish slavery that first began in the United States led the way in bringing about the end of legal slavery.
This point is interesting. In one sense, it’s not wrong: abolitionists regularly appealed to the Declaration and the Constitution to show slavery contradicted America’s stated principles (though others, like William Lloyd Garrison, repudiated the Constitution for that very reason). Since slavery is barely mentioned in the Constitution, however, it’s a stretch to claim that this was knowingly seeded into the Constitution; instead, it was avoided and couched in terms of its political, rather than moral effects. Hence the three-fifths compromise; hence the need for later amendments to outlaw slavery.
Few of the Founding Fathers could be considered an abolitionist in a modern, or even mid-19th Century sense. Thomas Jefferson eloquently attacked slavery in his writings while owning hundreds of slaves (and fathering children with one of them). Alexander Hamilton supported manumission (that is, compensated emancipation) while marrying into a slave-owning family. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin vocally opposed slavery, but neither supported immediate abolition. Even states that did outlaw slavery largely preferred gradual emancipation that kept Black men and women in bondage for decades to immediate abolition.
Most early Americans, broadly speaking, hoped that slavery would die on its own if enough restrictions were put on it. But a later generation of aggressive, expansionist slaveowners made that course impractical, and showed that passively hoping for abolition to take hold was not viable.
But the document soon descends from questionable judgments to outright conspiracy theories, which render the Commission’s true purpose plain:
Far from creating an omniscient body of civil servants led only by “pragmatism” or “science,” though, progressives instead created what amounts to a fourth branch of government called at times the bureaucracy or the administrative state. This shadow government never faces elections and today operates largely without checks and balances. The founders always opposed
government unaccountable to the people and without constitutional restraint, yet it continues to grow around us.
Sadly, the Founding Fathers never foresaw the revelations of QAnon or the current President’s ramblings about The Deep State, or they no doubt would have written safeguards into the Constitution. And it goes on like this:
Fascism first arose in Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, largely in response to the rise of Bolshevism in Russia. Like the Progressives, Mussolini sought to centralize power under the management of so-called experts. All power—corporate and political—would be exercised by the state and directed toward the same goal. Individual rights and freedoms hold no purchase under Fascism. Its principle is instead, in Mussolini’s words, “everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Eventually, Adolf Hitler in Germany wed this militant and dehumanizing political movement to his pseudoscientific theory of Aryan racial supremacy, and Nazism was born.
But there was an even more dread threat to American than “liberal fascism,” of course: Communism. Specifically, Communism in academia and the media:
Led by the Soviet Union, Communism even threatened, or aspired to threaten, our liberties here at home. What it could not achieve through force of arms, it attempted through subversion. Communism did not succeed in fomenting revolution in America. But Communism’s relentless anti-American, anti-Western, and atheistic propaganda did inspire thousands, and perhaps millions, to reject and despise the principles of our founding and our government. While America and its allies eventually won the Cold War, this legacy of antiAmericanism is by no means entirely a memory but still pervades much of academia and the intellectual and cultural spheres. The increasingly accepted economic theory of Socialism, while less violent than Communism, is inspired by the same flawed philosophy and leads down the same dangerous path of allowing the state to seize private property and redistribute wealth as the governing elite see fit.
As for the Civil Rights Movement?
The Civil Rights Movement was almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the founders. The ideas that drove this change had been growing in America for decades, and they distorted many areas of policy in the half century that followed. Among the distortions was the abandonment of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in favor of “group rights” not unlike those advanced by Calhoun and his followers. The justification for reversing the promise of color-blind civil rights was that past discrimination requires present effort, or affirmative action in the form of preferential treatment, to overcome long-accrued inequalities. Those forms of preferential treatment built up in our system over time, first in administrative rulings, then executive orders, later in congressionally passed law, and finally were sanctified by the Supreme Court.
Anyone who thinks that racial equality wasn’t achieved in, say, 1964 is exactly the same as John “Slavery Is A Positive Good” Calhoun.
Today, far from a regime of equal natural rights for equal citizens, enforced by the equal application of law, we have moved toward a system of explicit group privilege that, in the name of “social justice,” demands equal results and explicitly sorts citizens into “protected classes” based on race and other demographic categories. Eventually this regime of formal inequality would come to be known as “identity politics.” The stepchild of earlier rejections of the founding, identity politics (discussed in Appendix III) values people by characteristics like race, sex, and sexual orientation and holds that new times demand new rights to replace the old. This is the opposite of King’s hope that his children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” and denies that all are endowed with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
You knew they were going to quote Martin Luther King at some point. As if issuing this manifesto on MLK Day wasn’t insulting enough. But at least the report acknowledges Black History: women are only mentioned in passing, and Asians, Hispanics, Indigenous people and LGBTQ Americans are nowhere to be found. Presumably, acknowledging their existence would be “divisive.”
The report moves into outright propaganda as it calls for a “national renewal” and demands that families do their part to educate children in the Virtues of America. But not only families: “educators must convey a sense of enlightened patriotism that equips each generation with a knowledge of America’s founding principles, a deep reverence for their liberties, and a
profound love of their country.”
States and school districts should reject any curriculum that promotes one-sided partisan opinions, activist propaganda, or factional ideologies that demean America’s heritage, dishonor our heroes, or deny our principles. Any time teachers or administrators promote political agendas in the classroom, they abuse their platform and dishonor every family who trusts them with their children’s education and moral development.
Nothing political, of course, about demanding that teachers refrain from “demeaning America’s heritage” by discussing issues like slavery or the conquest of Native Americans. But that’s nothing compared to the evils ravaging our college campuses:
Deliberately destructive scholarship shatters the civic bonds that unite all Americans. It silences the discourse essential to a free society by breeding division, distrust, and hatred among citizens. And it is the intellectual force behind so much of the violence in our cities, suppression of free speech in our universities, and defamation of our treasured national statues and symbols.
“Reverence for the law” is also important, we learn, from this President who has been impeached twice and seen numerous of his associates indicted or imprisoned.
In all, the commission’s report isn’t any different from your average rant on Breitbart about “liberal academia,” or that Ben Shapiro listicle about “Leftist Lies About American History” YouTube keeps demanding that I read. But typical conservative twaddle is a bit more damaging when issued with the government’s stamp of approval. Intellectual inquiry is bad, we learn, and questioning your country at all is equally terrible. Because America is perfect as it is, or would be if not for the Deep State liberal commie academic cabal trying to sabotage it.