The 1776 Commission

Robert Brooks Contributor
The 1776 Commission
Read Time: approx. 3:21

This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on September 22, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up. Cover: John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.

The 1776 Commission: Last week, “President Trump announced plans to sign a new executive order establishing a national commission to promote “patriotic education” in American schools, which he said would be called the 1776 Commission, a nod to his criticism of the 1619 Project.” Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels report for The Hill that Trump, “described America’s heritage and history as under assault from the left, decrying anti-racism teachings and ‘cancel culture’ while announcing plans for a new commission to promote ‘patriotic education’ in U.S. schools.” The 1776 Commission will be tasked with celebrating the upcoming 250th anniversary of the country’s founding by encouraging educators to “teach our children about the miracle of American history.” Here’s what both sides are saying about the 1776 commission:

On the Right: Right leaning outlets mainly paraphrased the President’s speech at the White House Conference on American History last Thursday. The Blaze titled their piece: Trump slams 1619 project and critical race theory as ‘ideological poison,’ announces executive order to reform how schools teach U.S. history. Breitbart went with: Donald Trump Announces ‘1776 Commission’ to Fight Left-Wing Indoctrination. Fox News touched on Trump’s remarks and highlighted a parallel project from a group called, ‘1776 Unites’ which released a Black history curriculum to counter New York Times’ 1619 Project. Writing for Fox, Paul Best says 1776 Unites “wants to ‘shape the American future by drawing on the best of its past.’ The curriculum, developed by civil rights leader Bob Woodson and American Enterprise Institute scholar Ian Rowe, offers lesson plans, activities, reading guides and other resources to illustrate what 1776 Unites calls a ‘more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States.'” Best notes that, “The New York Times Magazine launched the 1619 Project last year on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America. It aims to ‘reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.’ The Times’ project has since expanded into a full-fledged curriculum, with tens of thousands of students in all 50 states using the materials.” Best says, “The curriculum developed by 1776 Unites, which launched in February, aims to create an alternative to the 1619 Project.” With that said, others on the right like Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason write that the “1776 Commission to ‘Promote Patriotic Education’ Is Executive Overreach.” Brown says, “The federal government shouldn’t dictate what local schools across the country teach—and in the past, conservatives have rightly denounced the idea that it should.” Brown adds, “Not only is Trump’s plan an attempt to impose curriculum on local school districts across the country with merely the president’s pen and phone, but that curriculum sounds like the sort of propaganda we’ve come to expect from authoritarian regimes.”

On the Left: Critics were swift to condemn Trump’s new “patriotic education” plan and his attacks on the 1619 Project, something he said the teaching of which was akin to “child abuse”. According to the Guardian, “the president [is] intensifying efforts to appeal to his core base of white voters with a historically revisionist speech, while blasting efforts to address systemic racism as divisive.” The Guardian said Trump’s latest announcement “continued his administration’s efforts to restrict the telling of American history in schools to erase a legacy of racism, genocide and imperialism.” They also note how “The president recently threatened to cut funding to California schools that teach the 1619 Project. Trump has [also] already cracked down on anti-racism training sessions in federal agencies.” In the eyes of the Guardian, the President, “did not mention the 246 years of slavery in America, including the 89 years it was allowed to continue after the colonies declared independence from England. Nor did the president acknowledge the ongoing fight against racial injustice and police brutality, which has prompted months of protests this year.” Responding to the president’s remarks, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the writer behind the 1619 Project, made an observation that “The White House Conference on American History [did not have] a single Black historian on it. Hannah-Jones also told the Associated Press that the first amendment to the Constitution abhors government attempts to censor speech and guarantees a free press. “The efforts by the president of the United States to use his powers to censor a work of American journalism by dictating what schools can and cannot teach and what American children should and should not learn should be deeply alarming to all Americans who value free speech,” she said.

Flag This: One of the most interesting aspects of Trump’s push to fund the 1776 Commission, or something like the 1776 Commission, is how it’s related to the on-again, off-again TikTok-Oracle-Walmart deal. For some quick background, President Trump in August issued an executive order requiring the sale of TikTok by ByteDance, its Chinese parent company, to an American company. Over the weekend, Trump said at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina that he gave his blessing to Walmart and Oracle to buy the Chinese social media app. The proposed deal would see Oracle and Walmart collectively taking a 20% stake in a newly created entity, TikTok Global, which would operate in the US. Trump, went on to say that as part of the deal, he requested “$5 billion into a fund for education so we can educate people as to real history of our country — the real history, not the fake history.” For what it’s worth, TikTok owner Bytedance said in a social media post on Sunday that it was the first time it had heard in the news it was setting up a $5 billion education fund in the United States. Regardless of what happens, it’s important to pause and just think about how unprecedented this all is, and not in a good or bad way, just simply from a historical standpoint. Traditionally, Republicans have been the party that champions less regulation and smaller government, yet Trump is single-handedly dictating the terms of this extremely high-profile deal. Republicans have also generally favored lower taxes, yet the TikTok Global entity will be forced to pay more than 5 billion in new tax dollars to the US Treasury to finance the amorphous educational fund. The deal may not be completed without financing this educational fund, so in a way Trump is almost extorting money from the Chinese-owned app to potentially partially fund an American history curriculum. This by itself is notable because in the past TikTok has had an interesting relationship to Chinese history. According to the Guardian, TikTok has censored material that is politically sensitive to the Chinese government, including videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong. It’s important to note that Oracle and Walmart may also have to chip into this educational fund, but the takeaway is that everything mentioned above is something that could only make sense (or not make sense) during the Trump presidency. The year 2020 will certainly be one for the history books.