Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is among a group of 18 individuals that outgoing President Donald Trump is appointing to his Advisory 1776 Commission to promote so-called “patriotic education.”
The pick, which Trump announced on Dec. 18, comes even as Mississippi’s former leader continues to support British nationalists in what Bryant once called an effort to make “Great Britain great again.”
Trump’s initiative is part of an effort to restore an uncritical version of American history education that focuses on the historic accomplishments of elite white male establishment figures—while sanitizing or ignoring the nation’s mistreatment of other groups, including Black and indigenous people.
“Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” Trump said as he announced the project in September.
“We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world. … Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.”
From ‘Confederate Heritage’ to Brexit
Trump’s appointment of Gov. Bryant to the commission adds a figure who, during his time as the governor of Mississippi, repeatedly catered to the wishes of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group, by quietly declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month.”
Since a 2016 Trump campaign rally in Jackson, Bryant has also built deep connections with leaders in the British far-right, and he helped lead a 2019 effort stateside to support Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union. In 2017, then-Gov. Bryant established the Royal Commonwealth Society USA in Jackson, which focuses on U.S.-U.K.
At the launch of World4Brexit, the 2019 organization for promoting Britain’s departure from the E.U. stateside, Bryant shared the story of a 2017 meeting with Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.
“Your royal highness, I’m the governor of Mississippi,” Bryant recalled telling the royal.
“You are? What on earth are you doing here?” the prince replied.
“I’m also the chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society USA,” the Mississippian said.
“Is America back in the Commonwealth?” Prince Charles replied.
“Well, part of it is, and I’m in charge of it,” the governor said.
But the new Trump commission Bryant is joining focuses its beginning on 1776—the year the U.S. broke free from Great Britain.
‘History That is Happy in Forgetfulness’
Trump’s 1776 commission, in name and in intent, is an implicit rebuke of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is led by Black journalist Nikole Hannah Jones. It focuses the story of America’s founding not on the moment the nation’s white founders declared independence and stoked a rebellion, but on the arrival of the transatlantic slave trade in Virginia 157 years earlier.
July 1619 also marked the establishment of the Virginia General Assembly’s House of Burgesses—the first democratically elected body in the continent.
When announcing his “patriotic education” agenda, Trump pointed specifically to the 1619 Project and also to the late historian Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” That volume, popular in schools since its 1980 publication, teaches history from a diverse, bottom-up perspective focused on workers, activists, grassroots organizers and everyday people—rather than from the vantage point of typically white, male leaders.
“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country. … The only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans. That is why it is so urgent that we finally restore patriotic education to our schools,” Trump said when he announced the commission in September.
Current Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a pro-Trump Republican, followed Trump’s lead, announcing his own “patriotic education” initiative when he released his budget proposal last month.
In a Mississippi Free Press Voices piece earlier this month, Ralph W. Eubanks, a visiting University of Mississippi professor of English and Southern studies who grew up in Mount Olive, Miss., denounced Reeves’ proposal, saying it seemed “to have its origins in the playbook of totalitarian leaders.”
“Gov. Tate Reeves’ Patriotic Education Fund is based in a felt history that is happy in forgetfulness,” Eubanks wrote. “This is a history based entirely in a feeling about American history rather than the facts. … It is nothing more than a piece of culture war agitprop, an ahistorical fantasy of American history.”
Bryant Joins Slate of Far-Right Appointees
Even as former Mississippi Gov. Bryant accepted the president’s appointment to assist in his effort to revive the widespread whitewashing of American history in classrooms, Bryant and others on the commission are actively working to help Trump revise the facts of currently unfolding history.
After Democrat Joe Biden decisively beat Trump in both the national popular vote and the electoral college in early November’s election, Bryant tweeted support for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s decision to back a lawsuit attempting to overthrow the election results.
“Good work by @LynnFitchAG. Agree or disagree, the Supreme Court of the United States has always been the final word in such matters,” Bryant tweeted on Nov. 9.
But even after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected GOP attempts to change the election’s outcome, the former governor and other appointees to Trump’s new commission have continued to back the defeated president’s coup attempts.
Carol Swain, an African American member of the 1776 Commission, tweeted this morning that she believes Trump can succeed in his effort at overthrowing the legitimately elected incoming administration and holding onto power.
“Stand strong, Mr. President. We have your back! We serve a God of miracles,” wrote Swain, who has been active with numerous far-right groups over the past decade, including the Tea Party and extreme anti-LGBT evangelical organizations. “We just need to humble ourselves and plead our case before Him. Truth is being revealed. We just need you to do your part. Ask God for your miracle and ask him for wisdom and supernatural favor. VICTORY!”
Swain, a former Vanderbuilt University political science professor, once triggered student protests for “hate speech” after she wrote an op-ed saying Islam “poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless monitored.”
Earlier this year, in October, a video recording surfaced in which Swain compared Black Lives Matter protesters to the Ku Klux Klan.
Former Gov. Bryant praised her today.
“Dr. @carolmswain is a prayer warrior and serves as our Vice-Chair of the 1776 Commission. She is a bold voice for freedom,” the former governor wrote, quoting Swain’s tweet that urged Trump supporters to ask God to overthrow the American electorate with a heaven-ordained coup.
Trump created the commission that Bryant and Swain sit on with an executive order, appointing them and the other 16 members to two-year terms. The Republican president packed the commission with far-right supporters, including conservative activist Charlie Kirk.
Throughout 2020, Kirk has spread disinformation about COVID-19, even earning a short Twitter ban at one point, and claimed public-health measures like social distancing amounted to a “Democratic plot against Christianity.” The right-wing activist served as the chairman of Students for Trump during 2019.
Biden Could Disband the 1776 Commission
Despite Trump’s two-year appointments, Biden could disband the commission after he takes office next month if he so chooses.
On the campaign trail, the incoming Democratic president often spoke about the impact of systemic racism, both historical and current, and proposed a broad set of policy prescriptions to address it and foster greater racial equity.
Biden will take the oath of office, and Trump will depart the presidency on Jan. 20. On that day, the nation will also inaugurate Kamala Harris, who is Black and of South Asian heritage, as the first woman to serve as vice president of the United States.