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Why Some Members Of The American Right Are Pushing Back Against Trump’s 1776 Commission

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Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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President Donald Trump announced the 1776 Commission during a Sept. 17 Constitution Day event at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., titled the “White House Conference on American History.”

The commission touched on a flashpoint of contention among members of the American right, raising the question: What exactly is the government’s role in education?

The 1776 Commission seeks to “encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding,” Trump said in his speech at the conference. Going forward with the 1776 Commission is politically parallel to Trump’s decision to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a garden of statues depicting great Americans, when rioters tore down and vandalized statues of the American Founders.

Trump stated that “the left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies. … There is no better example than the New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”

Trump also said American historian Howard Zinn’s works — such as “A People’s History of the United States” —were “propaganda tracts.”

Almost all of the American right has lambasted the 1619 Project’s attempt to reframe American history using critical race theory, and often also admonish Zinn’s reading of American history. However, some on the American right have questioned the project, asking whether or not this is an appropriate role for the federal government in the first place.

The editors of National Review published an editorial in support of the president’s decision to create the 1776 Commission, comparing it to former President Ronald Reagan’s concept of “informed patriotism,” which he spoke about in his 1989 Farewell Address. (RELATED: Here’s The Real Story Behind The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Narrative Of Racial Violence)

“Control of public-school curricula is properly a local matter, but presidents can provide moral leadership, start national conversations, and raise alarms in this area,” the National Review editorial says. “So long as there is a federal Department of Education with its hands in school curricula, its actions, too, should aim to be constructive rather than destructive.”

In a Sept. 17 piece for PJ Media, Tyler O’Neil wrote, “While the president’s insistence that America’s youth will be taught ‘to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul’ went too far, he was entirely right to counter the destructive lies of Marxist critical race theory and the 1619 Project and to connect them to the violent riots across America this summer.”

“After the riots and these attacks to the Constitution, the 2020 election is forcing America to choose between the Constitution and a radical ideology of aimless revolution,” O’Neil concludes. “Trump has chosen the right side in that contest, and Americans should vote accordingly.”

However, not everyone on the right heralded Trump’s 1776 Commission as welcome news.

PJ Media published another piece about the 1776 Commission, this time by PJ Media Chicago editor Rick Moran, titled “Trump’s Misguided Effort to Give Kids a ‘Patriotic Education.’”

Moran argued that history as an academic subject should be devoid of any attempts to propagandize, whether the propaganda originates from the right or the left.

“Contemporary politics aside, the real problem with Trump’s idea is that it’s far too limiting to talk about American history in such a monochromatic way,” Moran wrote. “There is not a ‘patriotic’ view of history, nor is there a ‘non-patriotic’ view of history. There are the basic facts of ‘what happened’ and then there are interpretations of what happened.”

“The argument isn’t necessarily about America, it’s about the prism that we all look through as individuals to glean understanding from those facts of history,” Moran continued.

Ron Radosh, author and professor emeritus of history at City University of New York, argued in a piece published by The Bulwark that even though the president’s assessment of the 1619 Project and Howard Zinn were generally correct, “historians” who participated in Trump’s event “let themselves be treated as props by the president or otherwise participate in his particularly repellent use of history.”

Rather than attacking the president’s action from an academic standpoint, Independent Michigan Rep. Justin Amash argued that the federal government simply ought not have a role in determining what local schools decide to teach their children.

Reason Senior Editor and libertarian Elizabeth Nolan Brown came to Amash’s defense, saying that conservatives who argued against common core education and federal overreach into local schools but who now support Trump’s 1776 Commission are being hypocritical.

“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,” Nolan Brown stated, “but that curriculum sounds like the sort of propaganda we’ve come to expect from authoritarian regimes.”