19 January 2021   Leave a comment

The Trump Administration has issued “The 1776 Report” which is its attempt to present American history in terms different from the New York Times report entitled “The 1619 Project“. The 1619 Project highlighted the importance of slavery to the development of American society and that emphasis was viewed by many conservatives as a distortion of history. According to the Washington Post, the document was not well-received by historians:

“Historians responded with dismay and anger Monday after the White House’s ‘1776 Commission’ released a report that it said would help Americans better understand the nation’s history by ‘restoring patriotic education.’

“’It’s a hack job. It’s not a work of history,’ American Historical Association executive director James Grossman told The Washington Post. ‘It’s a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars.’

“The commission was created in September with a confusing news conference featuring Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The 45-page report is largely an attack on decades of historical scholarship, particularly when it comes to the nation’s 400-year-old legacy of slavery, and most of those listed as authors lack any credentials as historians. While claiming to present a nonpartisan history, it compares progressivism to fascism and claims the civil rights movement devolved into ‘preferential’ identity politics ‘not unlike those advanced by [slavery defender John C.] Calhoun and his followers.’

“….Grossman, the AHA executive director, said: ‘This is written as if no historical scholarship has been produced in nearly 70 years, so it’s bereft of any professional historical sensibility at all. There are no historians on this commission. Would you take your car to a garage where there’s no mechanic?’”

I cannot recommend reading this document, but there are snippets that reveal a great deal. For example, the following paragraph appears to be beyond ironic in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January:

“Finally, the right to keep and bear arms is required by the fundamental natural right to life: no man may justly be denied the means of his own defense. The political significance of this right is hardly less important. An armed people is a people capable of defending their liberty no less than their lives and is the last, desperate check against the worst tyranny.”

The section on slavery attempts to minimize the significance of the practice by noting that slavery has been an endemic feature of all societies historically and that ultimately the US decided to abolish the practice. It is a variation of the “in the long run” apology that ignores the horror of the moment experienced by all the Africans who were kidnapped from their families and homes. Moreover, the treatment of slavery conveniently forgets the legacy of racism that haunts the American society to this day. Much of the wealth of the American society is due to the use of coerced labor and stolen lands of the indigenous peoples of North America. Finally, the report outlines the rather cold-blooded calculations of those drafting the Constitution as they tried and failed to reconcile the moral abomination of slavery with the language of the Declaration of Independence. That reconciliation moved forward with the Civil War but remains unfulfilled.

The report condemns the Progressive Movement in the US in the late 19th Century but the language is more likely directed toward the progressives in the US today. The report states:

“Based on this false understanding of rights, the Progressives designed a new system of government. Instead of securing fundamental rights grounded in nature, government—operating under a new theory of
the ‘living’ Constitution—should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights.

“Far from creating an omniscient body of civil servants led only by ‘pragmatism’ or ‘science,’ though,
progressives instead created what amounts to a fourth branch of government called at times the bureaucracy or the administrative state. This shadow government never faces elections and today operates largely without checks and balances. The founders always opposed government unaccountable to the people and without constitutional restraint, yet it continues to grow around us.”

I will admit that I am impressed that the authors of this report resisted the urge to identify this development as the “deep state” that seems to preoccupy conservatives today. But the implication is clear.

Finally, the report bemoans the development of what it terms “identity politics”.

“Today, far from a regime of equal natural rights for equal citizens, enforced by the equal application of law, we have moved toward a system of explicit group privilege that, in the name of ‘social justice,’ demands equal results and explicitly sorts citizens into ‘protected classes’ based on race and other demographic categories….

“Identity politics makes it less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be attained by pursuing
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream for America and upholding the highest ideals of our Constitution and our
Declaration of Independence.”

This radical celebration of individualism completely ignores the awareness of those who wrote the Constitution of the fact that all individuals exist in a social universe which demands a sense of the common good. This interpretation of the significance of the individual underpins the justification of those today who refuse to wear masks in the face of the pandemic, insisting that mask mandates are an intolerable infringement on personal freedom. It also justifies those who insist that they have a right to carry weapons in public, even those weapons such as automatic rifles that the Founders never could have imagined.

This argument gets additional attention in Appendix III of the report. I found the Appendix incomprehensible but perhaps others can make more sense of it. Indeed, I consider this part to be more of a screed than a thoughtful analysis:

“In recent times, however, a new creed has arisen challenging the original one enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. This new creed, loosely defined as identity politics, has three key features.

“First, the creed of identity politics defines and divides Americans in terms of collective social identities. According to this new creed, our racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as individuals equally endowed with fundamental rights.

Second, the creed of identity politics ranks these different racial and social groups in terms of privilege and
power, with disproportionate moral worth allotted to each. It divides Americans into two groups: oppressors and victims. The more a group is considered oppressed, the more its members have a moral claim upon the rest of society. As for their supposed oppressors, they must atone and even be punished in perpetuity for their sins and those of their ancestors.

“Third, the creed of identity politics teaches that America itself is to blame for oppression. America’s
‘electric cord’ is not the creed of liberty and equality that connects citizens today to each other and to every
generation of Americans past, present, and future. Rather, America’s ‘electric cord’ is a heritage of oppression that the majority racial group inflicts upon minority groups, and identity politics is about assigning and absolving guilt for that oppression.

“According to this new creed, Americans are not a people defined by their dedication to human equality, but a people defined by their perpetuation of racial and sexual oppression.”

I am not sure who this straw man is, but it is a caricature of those who seek to honor the struggles that many minorities have had to endure to achieve equality in American society.

I am certain that this report will find a nice place to gather dust in the National Archives.

Posted January 19, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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