‘A Hack Job,’ ‘Outright Lies’: Trump Commission’s ‘1776 Report’ Outrages Historians

Historians in the News
tags: teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission

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.”

“I don’t know where to begin,” said public historian Alexis Coe. “This ‘report’ lacks citations or any indication books were consulted, which explains why it’s riddled in errors, distortions, and outright lies.”

Kali Nicole Gross, a history professor at Rutgers and Emory universities and the co-author of “A Black Women’s History of the United States,” said it was “dusty, dated” and “the usual dodge on the long-lasting, harmful impacts of settler-colonialism, enslavement, Jim Crow, the oppression of women, the plight of queer people ... as the true threat to democracy.”

Boston University historian Ibram X. Kendi tweeted: “This report makes it seems as if slaveholding founding fathers were abolitionists; that Americans were the early beacon of the global abolitionist movement; that the demise of slavery in the United States was inevitable.”

“It’s very hard to find anything in here that stands as a historical claim, or as the work of a historian. Almost everything in it is wrong, just as a matter of fact,” said Eric Rauchway, a history professor at the University of California at Davis. “I may sound a little incoherent when trying to speak of this, because the report itself is not coherent. It’s like historical wackamole.”

He pointed to sections misinterpreting Puritan John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” speech, and to a section claiming that the civil rights movement “came to abandon the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity of colorblind civil rights in favor of ‘group rights.’ ”

“Group rights is not anathema to American principles,” he said, recalling the formation of the Senate. “Why do Wyomingers have 80 times the representation that Californians have if not for group rights?”

Coe, who published a biography of George Washington last year, pointed to a section of the report that claims that the first president had “freed all the slaves in his family estate” by the end of his life. In fact, he freed only one enslaved person upon his death; the 254 other enslaved people at Mount Vernon had a much more complicated fate.

Read entire article at Washington Post

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