Roger Kimball, Anyone not blinded by prejudice can see that freedom is under assault in America. To rekindle the distinctively American variety of freedom it is first essential to understand it.
Among the 17 executive orders emitted by the Biden Administration on January 20, perhaps the most disturbing was the abolition of the 1776 Commission, the body President Trump formed last year to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.”
Other of Biden’s executive orders will have a more immediate practical effect. His scuttling of the Keystone Pipeline, for example, will throw thousands of Canadians and Americans out of work. Furthermore, by signaling the new administration’s hostility to fossil fuels, it will also abet the process of undermining America’s energy independence, one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments and a dynamic motor of America’s prosperity. There is cheering tonight in Tehran, oil-rich Arab states, and Moscow because of those insidious initiatives. And it goes without saying that there is wild celebration in Beijing as they digest the implications of the fact that the man whose family they so conspicuously enriched over the years made it to the White House.
Another of the Biden Administration’s early woke initiatives is obeisance to the tiny but turbulent “transgender” lobby. Accordingly, another executive order requires that high-school and college sports teams allow men who say they are women to compete on women’s sports teams, the effect of which will be to obliterate women’s sports. Henceforth, too, all government forms will ask what people’s “preferred pronouns” are. One wit suggested that Biden should say his preferred pronoun was “Xi,” after his big benefactor in China.
The negative consequences of Biden’s more pragmatic executive orders are incalculable. Nevertheless, the symbolic importance of dissolving the 1776 Commission may, in the end, be the single most destructive act promulgated by the new administration in its opening effort to repeal the achievements of the last four years.
In dissolving the commission, the Biden Administration clearly signaled that it was siding with the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a malignant, anti-American fantasy whose guiding axioms are that America was founded as a “slavocracy” and that the American Revolution was fought primarily to perpetuate the institution of slavery.
Those disgusting calumnies have been endlessly repeated by academics and the fake-news media, not to mention by the critical race theory industry, which has branched out from its original home in the university into corporate culture and even into the federal government, where its minions run seminars broadcasting the evils of “whiteness,” capitalism, and bourgeois values.
It was partly to counter such professional racialists that President Trump convened the 1776 Commission. Chaired by Larry Arnn, the Churchill scholar and president of Hillsdale College, the commission’s board included such renowned figures as Victor Davis Hanson, the historian and classicist, Charles Kesler, editor of The Claremont Review of Books, and Mike Gonzalez, the author and Heritage Foundation scholar. Even as the Commission was dissolved, its report, overseen in large part by the constitutional scholar Matthew Spalding, the commission’s executive director, was taken down from the White House website in a further effort to erase the commission’s work from public memory. Fortunately, the report is accessible at other websites, including this one.
The left-wing press indulged in one of its ritual two-minute hate orgies before trying to bury the report in the oubliette of historical erasure.
The Washington Post screamed that the report was “A hack job” full of “outright lies” and that it “outrages historians.” Among the outraged “historians” they cite is the poseur Ibram X. Kendi, presumably an expert on lying hack jobs since his book How to Be an Antiracist is a specimen example of the genre. The New York Times followed suit with a piece charging that the “‘1776 report’ defends America’s founding on the basis of slavery,” while CNN dropped any semblance of dispassionateness with a story headlined, “Trump administration issues racist school curriculum report on MLK day.”
“Racist school curriculum report.” Really? In fact, the report admirably fulfills its high ambition to provide an “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling” exposition of America’s founding principles, the challenges those principles have faced over the course of our history—the most categorical challenge having been slavery—and the resources America must marshall if it is to reclaim the unity and purpose that divisive race mongers have destroyed.
Critics of the 1776 Commission’s report deplored the fact that it was released on January 18, the holiday celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The great irony is that while the report champions King’s vision of a world in which people are judged by the “content of their character” not the color of their skin, the entire woke establishment being enabled by the Biden Administration repudiates King’s idea. Far from judging people on “the content of their character,” they promulgate the vile idea that group identity—based on race, sexuality, ethnic origin—should form the basis for social privilege.
Anyone not blinded by parti pris can see that freedom is under concerted assault in America. To rekindle the distinctively American variety of freedom—which emphasizes individual liberty and limited government—it is first essential to understand it. The authors of the commission’s report quote the founder James Wilson: “Law and liberty cannot rationally become the object of our love,” he observed, “unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.” Hence the critical importance of understanding American history.
Since the 1960s, our students increasingly have been battened on a diet of anti-American distortions. The 1776 Commission aimed to counter that by cultivating the teaching of “enlightened patriotism.” That ambition was enough to earn them the obloquy of an educational—and now, a corporate and political—establishment that is dedicated to highlighting only America’s failures and imperfections, not its extraordinary achievements, achievements that pushed forward the borders of liberty as well as bequeathing its citizens and the world unprecedented material wealth.
The rationale for the 1776 Commission was summed up brilliantly by Ronald Reagan in an observation that is quoted in the report. “Freedom,” Reagan said, “is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
The sad truth is that America is on the threshold of the dire eventuality that Reagan warned about. The report of the 1776 Commission is an eloquent and compelling contribution to the task of transmission Reagan hailed.
The report is no longer available from our new masters in Washington. But I am proud to say that in a matter of weeks Encounter Books will be publishing the report, in paperback and as an ebook, replete with a new preface and annotations. Details about the publication will be posted on Encounter’s website sometime next week. Strike a blow for freedom by ordering a copy.