Patriotism v revisionism: Trump’s war against the 1619 Project is a battle for the soul of America
President Trump is correct to call for patriotic history to be taught in US schools, instead of the 1619 Project. Slavery is a dreadful chapter in America’s past, but it does not tell the entire story.
I have never seen the woke cultural establishment react to a statement so fast and with so much venom and hate. ‘Whitewashing US history with patriotic education,’ declared The Guardian. The Independent attacked what it described as Trump’s ‘insidious attempt to rewrite history.’
Almost immediately, organizations representing educationalists and the media piled in to denounce President Trump’s speech calling for the introduction of patriotic history education in schools. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, led the way. “It’s disgusting,” she stated.
As far as the woke elites are concerned, Trump committed a cultural crime when he stated that he wanted “to encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history.” What riled them even more was that Trump’s call to set up a 1776 Commission to teach patriotic education was coupled with his attack on what he perceived as the toxic anti-patriotic ethos that dominates the nation’s educational institution. “We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” argued Trump.
Normally, I am critical of any attempt to politicize education and the teaching of history in particular. Nor am I noted for being a fan of Trump. However, on this occasion, the president made an important and even eloquent speech in defense of America’s historical memory.
Trump’s decision to establish a 1776 Commission was no doubt motivated by the necessity of responding to the 1619 Project launched last year by the New York Times. The principal objective of the 1619 Project is to devalue and criminalize the founding of the United States. This project is about making people feel ashamed of being Americans.
Through self-consciously distorting America’s history, this project asserts that the year 1619 and not 1776 constitutes the origin of the United States. It was in 1619 that African slaves arrived in Jamestown, and this event has been rebranded as the birth of the nation. Why? Because the 1619 Project insists that the US was founded for the purpose of entrenching slavery and that to this day, this nation is dominated by this legacy.
As it happens, the Africans who arrived in Jamestown were not slaves but captives, who like many white people sent to Virginia became indentured labourers. This point is important, because it is inaccurate to claim that the US was founded to facilitate the entrenchment of slavery.
According to the 1619 Project’s distorted version of the past, the American Revolution was not so much a war of independence, but a selfish act of preserving exploitation and oppression. In this way, the contribution of the American Revolution to the development of the Western ideal of freedom is erased from history. This nation’s Declaration of Independence and – for the time – its remarkably advanced liberal and democratic constitution is recycled as a slave-owners’ charter.
Most significantly, the 1619 Project is designed to contaminate the tradition and foundation that underpins the American way of life. Certainly, one of the main authors of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, is in no doubt that her objective was to plunder the past in order to undermine the moral authority of the present-day US. Recently, she responded to critics who claim that she has distorted history by stating on Twitter: “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and therefore national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is about the past.”
The way in which the authors of the 1619 Project attempt to seize control of the national narrative is by providing a simplistic but highly evocative script for members of the public.
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The American cultural elite fully backs the objectives of the 1619 Project. It is, after all, the New York Times – once the paper of record in the US – that promoted and endorsed Hannah-Jones’ narrative of hate towards the nation’s past. And to demonstrate that Hannah-Jones enjoyed the moral support of the commentariat, she was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Hollywood celebrities rushed in to demonstrate their support for the project and predictably Oprah Winfrey and the entertainment company Lionsgate teamed up with Hannah-Jones to bring her work to an even wider audience through multiple platforms.
Trump was right when he said that the 1619 Project “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.” He was also to the point when he argued that the American Constitution could be seen as “the fulfilment of a thousand years of Western civilization.”
Trump is no angel, and no doubt he has his own political agenda. But given the choice between upholding the legacy of Western civilization or disparaging it, or between valuing patriotism or disrespecting it, I am on the side of the 1776 Commission as opposed to the 1619 Project.
Slavery marked an important chapter in the history of the West, and its destructive consequences must be fully understood and acknowledged. But it was a single chapter and not the entirety of the book, and thankfully there are many inspiring chapters of our past that must be transmitted to the younger generations.
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