Posted on the White House website on Monday, the national holiday to honor the civil rights leader, the White House said the report was aimed at countering what it said were efforts “to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.”
“It is very hard for people brought up in the comforts of modern America, in a time in which the idea that all human beings have inviolable rights and inherent dignity is almost taken for granted, to imagine the cruelties and enormities that were endemic in earlier times,” the report says. “But the unfortunate fact is that the institution of slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.”
“It claims America is ‘the most just and glorious country in all of human history’ — the nation’s great founding truth. But anti-Americans are disregarding this great patriotic truth, the report argues. But it does not take long to read this report as the last great lie from a Trump administration of great lies.”
The report is the latest salvo in what many historians have called a long-running assault by right-wing conservatives on how schools teach U.S. history. They contend that educators who teach students full histories of the country, including about the evils of slavery and endemic racism in America, are ignoring the country’s virtues and indoctrinating young people into hating their country.
In September, Trump called racial justice rallies around the country the “direct result” of “left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” Many historians strongly criticized his call for “patriotic” education, including renowned Civil War historian Edward L. Ayers, who wrote that “real patriotism” is “an effort to interpret our nation’s history guided not by blind defense, but by hard-won clarity and commitment.”
The commission’s report said that the “most common charge levelled against the founders, and hence against our country itself, is that they were hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles, and therefore the country they built rests on a lie.”
“This charge is untrue, and has done enormous damage, especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric,” the report says. “Many Americans labor under the illusion that slavery was somehow a uniquely American evil. It is essential to insist at the outset that the institution be seen in a much broader perspective.”
The report attempts to excuse Founding Fathers who enslaved people.
“Thomas Jefferson also held slaves, and yet included in his original draft of the Declaration a strong condemnation of slavery, which was removed at the insistence of certain slaveholding delegates,” it says. “Inscribed in marble at his memorial in Washington, D.C. is Jefferson’s foreboding reference to the injustice of slavery: ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.’
“James Madison saw to it at the Constitutional Convention that, even when the Constitution compromised with slavery, it never used the word ‘slave’ to do so. No mere semantics, he insisted that it was ‘wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.’”
It also said: “Above all, there is the clear language of the Declaration itself: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ The founders knew slavery was incompatible with that truth.”
The establishment of the commission — whose head is Larry Arnn, president of the private Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan and an ally of former education secretary Betsy DeVos — was seen by critics in part as a refutation of the New York Times’s 1619 Project that began in 2019. The controversial project, a collection of essays and stories, argues that America’s was really founded in 1619, the year that enslaved Africans were first brought to the land that became the United States.
The commission’s report attacks American progressives, saying that their effort to bring “credentialed managers” into the federal government did not create “an omniscient body of civil servants led only by ‘pragmatism’ or ‘science’” but instead created a “shadow government” that is essentially fascist.
“Fascism first arose in Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, largely in response to the rise of Bolshevism in Russia,” the report says. “Like the Progressives, Mussolini sought to centralize power under the management of so-called experts.”
The report presented its own view of his call for equality for all Americans and said the civil rights movement that he led had devolved into “identity politics.”
“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,” it said.
The report says that students must learn about “our founding principles and the character necessary to live out those principles.”
“This includes restoring patriotic education that teaches the truth about America,” it says. “That doesn’t mean ignoring the faults in our past, but rather viewing our history clearly and wholly, with reverence and love.”
To that, Kendi wrote on Twitter: “Does this mean that the descendants of enslaved people and the descendants of slaveholders should view their ancestors’ enslavement and slaveholding clearly and wholly with reverence and love? Can anything be more shameful?
“I think not. But that’s the point. We’re supposed to revere and love the founding fathers no matter what just as Trump wants us to revere and love him no matter what. Trump supporters call their fealty, freedom. We call their fealty, tyranny.”
Here’s the commission’s full report: