The traditional story of the founding and evolution of America has been based on the principles of freedom, prosperity, and equality, from the Bill of Rights to the shores of Ellis Island to the 1960s’ Civil Rights movement. As the United States increasingly divides into two ideological camps, that narrative has come under question and attack. And with schooling being the main funnel through which the country’s young people are fed knowledge and, these days, political ideas, it’s no surprise that education has become a battleground for the minds of the next generation.
Just one day before the 2020 election, President Donald Trump issued an executive order establishing the 1776 Commission, an initiative to counter a “radicalized view of American history” in schools. It instructs the Department of Education to establish the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission – made up of 20 members appointed by the president to serve a term of two years. If it survives the current election battle, the commission has 100 days in which to produce a public report:
“regarding the core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of ‘the blessings of liberty’ and to promote our striving ‘to form a more perfect Union.’”
It also outlines a range of additional tasks, such as developing a student award for knowledge of America’s founding, advising federal departments and agencies, and boosting the celebration of Constitution Day and civics education in federal programs.
The executive order vaguely references “one-sided and divisive accounts” that claim America is “an irredeemably and systemically racist country.” But when the president first announced the idea in September, it was seen as a direct counter-move to The New York Times’ 1619 Project. He directly condemned the essay series that reframes the founding of America as an event fundamentally based on racist malevolence. “This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom,” Trump stated at the first White House Conference on American History. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The project also has been repackaged in various formats, including a Pulitzer Prize-backed school curriculum. While few these days would deny the importance of teaching schoolchildren about the less noble aspects of U.S. history, including slavery and segregation, the project’s assertion that the preservation of slavery was a key factor in the American Revolution has drawn criticism from academics and political commentators alike.
Seven months after its initial publication, the author of the essay series, Nikole Hannah-Jones, tweeted, “Yesterday, we made an important clarification to my #1619Project essay abt [sic] the colonists’ motivations during the American Revolution. In attempting to summarize and streamline, journalists can sometimes lose important context and nuance. I did that here.” She rewrote the essay to say that “some” rather than all the colonists wanted to continue slavery.
As with anything else Trump has done since entering politics, the commission has been a source of political acrimony and accusations of white supremacy. Hannah-Jones noted on Twitter: “The White House Conference on American History has not a single Black historian on it. Strange.”
‘Outstanding Universal Value’
While it is currently fashionable to denigrate the founding of the United States, at least up until recent times there has been little doubt that the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were major milestones in the political evolution of mankind. In 1979, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall was anointed a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrating its “outstanding universal value” due to the signing of America’s founding documents within its walls. The UNESCO website still reads: “The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents are of fundamental importance to American history and have also had a profound impact on law-makers around the world.” Of course, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from UNESCO, and modern-day progressive activists hold the Founding Fathers in disdain. Has the world changed so much in 30 years that these 200-year-old documents are no longer to be valued?
The ideological divide currently crippling the country is not a phenomenon limited to the United States, but Trump proposes a uniquely American solution, suggesting “the path to a renewed and confident national unity is through a rediscovery of a shared identity rooted in our founding principles.”
In a case of synchronicity, readers of this site may already be aware that the core mission of Liberty Nation and its sister site, LNGenZ.com, is to promote the key ideas presented in America’s founding documents and to explore how they may be applied in today’s world. LNGenZ aims to inform and inspire young people on the news of the day, as well as educate them on the formation of the country and its founding documents, and the issues that have shaped its history. In an era of toxic polarization, with schools increasingly under fire for political indoctrination, LNGenZ provides an alternative and remains steadfast as a bastion of free thought, unbiased news, and honest analysis for the younger generation.
As Mark Sappenfield of The Christian Science Monitor recently pointed out in an article urging readers to think for themselves, the application of those principles was never perfect and has elicited many valid criticisms, “[b]ut the test of America has always been progress. The ideals of 1776 demand, not perfection now, but constant movement toward a more perfect state.”
With the results of the recent election anything but certain, will the 1776 Commission turn out to be one of Trump’s last Oval Office acts soon to be canceled by a Biden administration – or will it come to pass? Whoever ends up holding the reins of power, America’s founding principles support the ideals of individual freedoms, and it is ultimately up to individuals to decide to pursue these principles. By examining both the achievements and the pitfalls of America’s evolution and recommitting to the fundamental freedoms set out in its founding documents, perhaps humanity can one day live up to the aspirations of a free and equal world.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.