Deconstructing Trump’s Speech at the White House Conference on American History

Leah Lentz, Writer

On Thursday, at the first ever White House Conference on American History, President Donald Trump announced that he is going to sign an executive order entitled the 1776 Commission with the intention of lessening ¨anti-patriotic”sentiments within our schools, and accused the American education system of indoctrinating its students with leftist beliefs. 

Now, while the President does not have enough power to change curriculum on a state-level (according to Betsy DeVos, who I covered in part last year), the sentiments of this speech are undoubtedly worrying. This is a breakdown of many of those sentiments. 

¨Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes, and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country.¨

By ¨virtue of our heroes¨, the President is likely referring to preserving the name of powerful men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who while founding the country and building the foundation of America, were also abusive slave owners. For example, up until recently, children were taught that Washington had wooden teeth; however, the truth of the matter is that he had dentures made from the teeth of his slaves. By teaching children this, the President argues that we are destroying ¨the legacy of America’s founding¨ and ¨the virtue of America’s heroes.” However, if these heroes weren’t virtuous to begin with, it is our duty to establish that fact.

¨Our children are instructed from propaganda tracks like those of Howard Zinn that try to make students ashamed of their own history. The Left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies.¨

Who is Howard Zinn? And why is Trump citing him as a propaganda track? Zinn wrote the 1980 book A People’s History of the United States, which dove into the parts of American history frequently hidden and covered up in our schools. In 2008, the Zinn Education Project released lesson plans to be utilized in middle and high schools across the country. This is likely what Trump is referring to. It is worth noting that Zinn self-identified with socialism and was heavily investigated during the period of McCarthyism. 

¨There’s no better example than the New York Times totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.¨

The 1619 Project is a Pulitzer Prize winning podcast and project from the New York Times that ¨aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.¨ in accordance with its website. It is written by people who are majority leftists or at the very least centrists, however, it is not discredited. 

¨America…abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism, and built the most fair, equal, and prosperous nation in human history.¨

A few things here. 1) America abolished slavery only after maintaining it for nearly a century after its victory over the British military, and many argue that it is still not abolished. Please also note that a war had to be fought to convince half the country that treating people like property is bad. 2) After the abolition of slavery, laws were put in place to maintain the power hierarchy (see: Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, etc.). These laws were abolished after and as a result of the civil rights movement. So, yes, technically, America abolished slavery and secured civil rights, but it also created those problems in the first place. We might have put the vase back together, but it’s not as much of a victory, because we broke it in the first place.

¨Students in our universities are inundated with Critical Race Theory. This is a Marxist document holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed.¨

No one is forced to take Critical Race Theory (CRT) in university. It is an offered class at 23 schools, and frequently comes up in classroom discussions regardless because of its primary beliefs. CRT states that racial injustice is taught and founded in our legal system, and that because of this, white supremacy is as American as the First Amendment. It is not, as Trump argues, one single document; rather, it is a philosophy, similar to Marxism, but not particularly Marxist.

¨For nearly a century, a statue of one of Delaware’s most beloved citizens stood in Rodney Square, right in the heart of Wilmington. But this past June, Caesar Rodney’s statue was ordered removed by the mayor and local politicians…¨

Yes, his statue was removed. This is because Rodney´s family owned over 200 slaves at the time of his birth, and when he died, he owned 15 himself. His statue was removed last June “so there can be an overdue discussion about the public display of historical figures and events” in accordance with the press release from Mayor Mike Purzycki. This is a good thing — as a growing and evolving society, we need to be able to look at our past and consider what we want to keep around as a symbol of our nation. The people of Wilmington made the decision that they didn’t want to be represented by Rodney, and that is their prerogative.

¨Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.¨

This is meant to be a patriotic statement. And, in a different speech, it might have been one. However, in this situation, it reads more as a misguided nationalist sentiment than a patriotic one. While it is fine and encouraged to love your country, the President doesn’t totally understand what loving your country means. When you love something, you improve it. You fix its flaws, help it to grow, and demonstrate that while it might have been bad in the past, it is repairing and paying its dues. We cannot properly pay our dues to Black and Indigenous POC (BIPOC) if we erase the parts of our history that aren’t as picturesque. 

Education in our schools is one of the most important factors to building a future America. When students are in the education system, they are at their most vulnerable and formative states of mind. Because of this, any shifts to the education system, especially in our curriculums, should not be taken lightly. You can read the full transcript of Trump’s speech on Thursday here, and can check out the 1619 Project here, or wherever you listen to podcasts.