President Joe Biden is dissolved the 1776 Commission, a group that includes ex-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Former President Donald Trump appointed the committee late last year, tasking them with formulating a national plan for “patriotic education.”
The committee’s dissolution will be among the new president’s first actions and is among 17 executive orders he signed this evening. The 1776 Commission released a report on promoting “patriotic education” on Monday, but within minutes of Biden’s inauguration, the link to the document on the official White House page no longer worked.
The commission’s 41-page document accuses educators of indoctrinating students, casts the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the current racial justice movement as the ideological heirs of pro-slavery 19th-century U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun. The document offers a litany of white-centric grievances that the authors claim only “patriotic education” can remedy.
“The 1776 Commission—comprised of some of America’s most distinguished scholars and historians—has released a report 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,” the Trump White House said in a statement announcing the report on Monday.
Report Compared ‘Identity Politics’ to ‘Slavery’
Former Gov. Bryant is no stranger to “patriotic education” efforts. In the 1960s, he attended the Council McCluer High School, a segregation academy in Jackson. The white supremacist Citizens Council, which taught the “scientific racism” that Black people were intellectually and biologically inferior to white people, set up that school as a refuge for white parents fleeing public schools amid court-ordered racial integration.
The Council schools, which the organization of white community leaders funded across the state, taught a twisted version of history that recast the Civil War in terms of “Lost Cause” propaganda that falsely claimed the Confederacy fought for noble aims like “state’s rights”—not slavery. Those schools claimed to teach a “patriotic” version of history and civics, and taught that desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement were the result of encroaching “communism” in American life.
The 1776 report, which describes itself as a non-partisan accounting of history, describes the advent of “Anti-Communism” and “The Pro-Life Movement” as “reforms” that brought the country closer to its founding claim that “all men are created equal.” But the report compares the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, “identity politics” and progressivism to slavery, racism, fascism and communism, calling them “the direct ancestors of some of the destructive theories that today divide our people and tear at the fabric of our country.”
“Like the Progressives, (Italian dictator Benito) Mussolini sought to centralize power under the management of so-called experts,” the report says as it describes the rise of fascism, a far-right authoritarian ideology that emerged in the mid-20th century.
The document describes bureaucratic institutions, such as those that handle issues like to discrimination and affirmative action, as “a shadow government (that) never faces elections”—an allusion to former President Trump’s conspiratorial complaints about the so-called “deep state.”
False Portrayals of Dr. King
The report, which the commission released on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, presents King as a hero, claiming he fought for civil rights in a way acceptable to the commission’s understanding of the founding principles.
“But the heady spirit of the original Civil Rights Movement, whose leaders forcefully quoted the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the rhetoric of the founders and of Lincoln, proved to be short-lived,” the report claims. “The Civil Rights Movement was almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the founders. … Among the distortions was the abandonment of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in favor of ‘group rights’ not unlike those advocated 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.”
That “regime,” the report claims, would move toward “a system of explicit group privilege” for people based on “race, sex, and sexual orientation” in “the name of ‘social justice.’”
“Eventually this regime of formal inequality would come to be known as ‘identity politics,’” the report claims.
Despite the report’s depiction, King did not advocate for “colorblind” policies to address civil rights. Both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act that he championed explicitly addressed race, sex and religion.
In an MSNBC op-ed today, Princeton historian Kevin M. Kruse pointed out that, in his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” King “made the case for affirmative action clearly, directly rejecting the argument that the 1776 report uncomfortably assigns to him.”
“The Negro must have ‘his due,’” King wrote in that book. “It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment.”
Kruse and other historians across the nation harshly criticized the report, accusing it of whitewashing history and saying it was riddled with false portrayals.
Trump Called 1619 Project ‘Toxic’
Trump designed the committee to attack critics of systemic racism and push back on criticisms of what he calls America’s “heroes,” such as Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner. When he announced it last year, he cited The New York Times’ 1619 Project, whose creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has sought to contextualize American history within the broader context of the arrival of the African slave trade on North America’s shores in 1619 and the enduring legacy of systemic racism.
When announcing his “patriotic education” agenda last September, 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,” Trump said when he announced the commission in September. “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.”
In September 2020, Trump ordered the U.S. Department of Education to investigate whether California public schools were teaching the 1619 Project in its classrooms—and threatened to defund any schools that were using it in their curriculum.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the report, tweeting that “woke-ism, multiculturalism, all the -isms” are “not who America is” and that it “distorts our glorious founding.”
“They distort our glorious founding and what this country is all about,” he said.
When you say that multiculturalism is “not who America is” and “distorts our glorious founding” you unwittingly confirm the argument of the 1619 Project: That though we were were a multiracial nation from our founding, our founders set forth a government of white rule. Cool. https://t.co/T63AjJ0DBN
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) January 19, 2021
The 1619 Project’s creator Hannah-Jones later tweeted that Pompeo’s comments “unwittingly confirm the argument of the 1619 Project: That though we were a multiracial nation from our founding, our founders set forth a government of white rule.”
The report, which Bryant and Trump’s other appointees to the The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission chose to release on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, met harsh condemnation from historians across the country, who said it was riddled with inaccurate and whitewashed portrayals of history.
“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.”
The 1776 Report claimed that “patriotic education” will protect the nation’s “heroes” and their reputations from teaching that examines their wrongs alongside their triumphs.
“The most common charge levelled against the founder, and hence against our country itself, is that they were hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles,” the report says only three paragraphs before defending Thomas Jefferson’s status as a slave owner. It noted that, while the third president “held slaves,” he also “included in his original draft of the Declaration a strong condemnation of slavery, which was removed at the insistence of slaveholding delegates.”
Despite the White House’s claims, the 16-member commission behind the report includes only one historian: Victor Davis Hanson, a conservative political commentator who is not a scholar of American history and, instead, as a military historian whose work has focused on ancient warfare among the Greeks.
‘Happy in Forgetfulness’
Trump’s appointment of former Gov. Bryant to the commission added 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.”
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 last 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.”
Along with disbanding the 1776 Commission, Biden planned to sign executive orders today to end former President Trump’s travel ban that targeted Muslim people and to order the government to take steps to find the parents of hundreds of immigrant children whom the Trump administration separated from their families.