Donald Trump's dumb foray into half-hearted Culture Warring, the "1776 Commission," which was thrown together in September as one more sop to the Christian Right, took the occasion of Monday's Martin Luther King holiday to poop out a 45-page report reviewing some completely objective, "nonpartisan" facts about American history and how it should be taught. The goal, as usual with rightwing history distortion, is again to save the country from socialism, especially from the New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project.

How good is this commission on teaching American history? For one thing, its membership doesn't include any historians, guaranteeing it can't be biased. It also lacks a works cited page, or any hint of which commission members wrote it.

Historians have already had a field day calling the report garbage; the head of the American Historical Association, James Grossman, said it's a "hack job. It's not a work of history. [...] It's a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars." On the whole, the report is just one more rightwing iteration of some very old panic about education, a call to fix America by teaching history as simplistic Founder worship.

Happily, the 1776 Commission Report is likely to have minimal influence. Because it's already been deleted. Thank goodness for the Wayback Machine!



Even though the 1776 Commission is about to vanish, its report really does reflect dangerous bullshit believed by a lot of people on the Right, so let's hop in and see what some of that nastiness is. Herewith, your Five Stupidest Bullshits from the '1776 Project' Report!

Look, Everybody Had Slaves and It's Over Anyway

The report is very big on the idea that the Declaration of Independence identifies fundamental truths about the universal, eternal, immutable rights of all people, which come from God. But what about slavery, and the fact that most of the Founders owned human beings as property? Not a problem, really, since the Declaration and the Constitution actually made the abolition of slavery inevitable, at least once we had a war over it almost a hundred years later.

Besides, everyone had slaves, so an institution that utterly denied the eternal truths in America's founding documents wasn't at all a "uniquely American evil." Instead, the report insists, "the unfortunate fact is that the institution of slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history," so hooray for the Founders for recognizing that "all human beings have inviolable rights and inherent dignity." Just don't harp on the Founders' failure to actually treat enslaved people as fully human, because they really hated slavery, OK?

The report even pretends to make a virtue of the Constitution's euphemisms for slavery, because while the Founders weren't willing to end slavery, they at least didn't like talking about it too openly:

James Madison saw to it at the Constitutional Convention that, even when the Constitution compromised with slavery, it never used the word "slave" to do so. No mere semantics, he insisted that it was "wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men."

So much nicer to just cover it up!

Hey, What About Native Americans?

You might think that a text that's so gung-ho on excusing America's original sin might also present some horrific justification for the genocide of Indigenous people, but the 1776 Report goes a step further and just plain never mentions them at all. Which is fine, because "identity politics" is bad.

Besides, Native Americans are sort of implied in the report's mention of Americans' shared "history of struggle and achievement," which includes "carving communities out of a vast, untamed wilderness." So they did their part, good for them.

Slavery, Progressivism, and Fascism: Pretty Much the Same

The report is dogmatically wedded to the notion that all rights are individual, and that any concept of "group rights" is blasphemy upon the Founders. The authors even pretend that "group rights" had nothing to do with the Founders, who literally classed enslaved people as three-fifths of a human. Rather, that heresy falls to slavery advocate Senator John C. Calhoun.

Calhoun stands in for pretty much everyone who ever considered African-Americans less than fully human, and he has to be an outlier, because in the Commission's imagination, the Founders were wholly committed to the "truth of the founding," that all people are equal. But Calhoun rejected that obvious truth, and

To this rejection, Calhoun added a new theory in which rights inhere not in every individual by "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" but in groups or races according to historical evolution.

That's probably the report's most outrageous fantasy: White supremacy was a "new theory" that was "developed to protect slavery," rather than the default assumption of the traffickers in human misery who wrote the Declaration. They can't be allowed to be hypocrites, because then you may as well just say the 1619 Project was right.

Those darn "group rights" are invoked again in the report's condemnation of the Progressive era. In keeping with the report's sloppy construction, there's barely a mention of the abandonment of Reconstruction, since there are other right-wing axes to grind.

The Progressives' sin was in rejecting the primacy of individual rights, and instead setting up an "administrative state" that made rules without even being elected, and even worse, advancing the notion of a "living" Constitution that might be interpreted differently as human conditions change. You can't do that, you see, since individual rights come from nature's God and are immutable!

Just in case anyone missed the point, the report goes on to remind us that both fascism and communism were united in their "utter disdain for natural rights and free peoples," and that "Like the Progressives, Mussolini sought to centralize power under the management of so-called experts."

Martin Luther King Jr: World's Bestest Capitalist!

Like any Republican after the 1990s, the 1776 Report doesn't call Martin Luther King Jr. a communist. Instead, it goes with the conservative fantasy that King spoke just one line at the 1963 March on Washington, then sat right down again and never said anything else. So the Trump administration marked the MLK holiday Monday by insisting King would never have supported "identity politics," because it

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.

Also please ignore King's critiques of such limited views of "equality," like his support for affirmative action, or his insistence that poor people had some kind of collective rights, summed up by the line, "What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a hamburger?"

The 1776 Commission is happy to forget all of that, insisting the Civil Rights Movement went all wrong when it

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.

After all, Jim Crow was an assertion of group rights and white identity politics, so any other recognition that some groups have it better than others is just as bad and anti-American. Ergo, John C Calhoun and John Lewis were cut from the same cloth.

In an appendix, the document decries how Sixties Radicals ruined everything for King's supposed dream of colorblind "equality":

The Black Power and black nationalist movements reimagined America as a white supremacist regime. Meanwhile, other activists constructed artificial groupings to further divide Americans by race, creating new categories like "Asian American" and "Hispanic" to teach Americans to think of themselves in terms of group identities and to rouse various groups into politically cohesive bodies

Natural-born Asian Americans were never considered unpeople, and natural-born Latino Americans were never thrown out of the country en masse. Instead, the Black Panthers lied them into thinking they had group identities, which is just so like them.

In conclusion, we have now written entirely too much about a very bad take on history and we're glad it won't serve much purpose other than to excite the same people on the Right who buy Christian textbooks, the end.

[1776 Commission Report / CNN / NYT / WaPo / Philadelphia Partisan]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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