The 1619 Project Exposed: A Special Edition of the American Mind Podcast
The American Mind podcast uncovers the ideas and principles that drive American political life. In each episode, it engages Claremont scholars, friends, and challengers in thought-provoking conversations about the causes of our current political and cultural reality—always with an eye towards restoring America to civic health.
In this special edition of the American Mind podcast we explore the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” launched in August, 2019 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of African slaves on America’s shores. The project, in its premises and politics, is yet another installment in the virtual war on America and Americanism being waged by the identity politics complex.
Narrated by The American Mind Executive Editor, James Poulos, the podcast features conversations and analysis by Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams, Chairman Tom Klingenstein, and Senior Fellow Chris Flannery; as well as the likes of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, Washington and Lee University Professor Lucas Morel, Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars, University of Oklahoma Professor Wilfred McClay, and Historian Allen Guelzo.
Listen as Claremont Institute scholars and our expert guests explain how the 1619 Project is not merely an attempt to correct the historical record on slavery, racism, and race-based discrimination in America. Rather, the ambitious goal of the project is nothing less than the alienation of Americans from their country’s true philosophical and political founding in 1776––and its replacement with a new founding narrative about the struggle of groups to secure their rights against American hypocrisy, cruelty, and indifference.
This special episode will provide a corrective, and in so doing expose an assault on our history truly aimed at supplanting the American system with one wholly anathema to it—through indoctrination of future generations of citizens.
If we allow this to succeed, the American dream of a nation of equal citizens knit together as one constitutional people will give way to balkanization and eventual national dissolution. Therefore, consider the 1619 Project a call to arms to educate your fellow countrymen, and demand that your political leaders do the same. For if we lose our history, we will lose our country.
Welcome, everyone, to another special edition of The American Mind podcast. I’m Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute and Publisher of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind.
In addition to in-depth interviews with scholars, thinkers, and statesmen—and our weekly editors and publisher roundtable, we sometimes produce one of these longer specials on important topics.
In July of 2019, we produced a special on Multiculturalism vs. America. Our goal was to investigate and describe the ideology of multiculturalism and identity politics and our current climate of stifling political correctness—which is really the speech code of identity politics.
The roots of identity politics can be found in a completely different understanding of human nature and natural rights than the one held by America’s Founders and subsequent generations. The proponents of identity politics want to replace the enduring gold standard of American justice—equal protection of equal individual rights—with a new system of group rights and their unequal protection according to one’s status as a political oppressor or victim of oppression.
This new special edition of The American Mind is on the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” launched in August, 2019 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of black slaves on America’s shores.
As you’ll hear in this podcast, the 1619 Project, in its premises and politics, is yet another installment in the virtual war on America and Americanism being waged by the identity politics complex.
The 1619 Project is not merely an attempt to correct the historical record on slavery, racism, and race-based discrimination in America. Indeed, if it were doing that honestly, and only that, we at the Claremont Institute would welcome it. So much of our scholarship, writing, and teaching over the last 40 years has been dedicated to understanding America’s struggle to live up to its principles and ideal of justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
The ambitious goal of the 1619 Project, on the other hand, is nothing less than the alienation of Americans from their country’s true philosophical and political founding in 1776—and its replacement with a new founding narrative about the struggle of groups to secure their rights against American hypocrisy, cruelty, and indifference—starting, of course, in 1619. This so-called narrative is coming soon to a K-12 curriculum near you, if the project’s leader Nikole Hannah-Jones has her way.
1619 is said by the New York Times to be America’s quote-un-quote “true” Founding because it was when the group struggle for power, recognition, and rights, started between blacks and the dominant white majority. The Founders wrote some nice words in 1776 about the principle of equality, but they didn’t mean them, and so Americans (and especially young Americans learning about history and civics) certainly shouldn’t regard 1776 as anything special or worthy of study, reverence, and understanding.
According to the 1619 Project, America didn’t truly become an honorable country until the Civil Rights era—and really, not even then or now. So long as groups don’t have full privileges, honors, recognition, and of course federal programs, America will continue to be ugly and sinful. In her introductory essay to the 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones focuses primarily on group rights based in race, but she ties the group rights struggle of American blacks to the intersectional pantheon of group rights based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.
Perfect American justice for the identitarians means equal outcomes for all groups adjusted accordingly for previous conditions of oppression.
America’s standard of justice of equal protection of equal individual rights, however imperfectly implemented across our history, is to be replaced by the current and ever-expanding system of expertly managed group privileges.
If we allow this to succeed, the American dream of a nation of equal citizens knit together as one constitutional people, will give way to balkanization and eventual national dissolution.
But first, we must understand where 1619 goes wrong, more precisely, so that we can halt and roll back the more comprehensive project, at the level of ideas, education, and politics.
Thanks for listening, and enjoy this special episode of the American Mind.
***NIKOLE HANNAH JONES CLIP***
JAMES POULOS: This is James Poulos, executive editor of the American Mind, bringing you a special episode of “The American Mind Podcast.”
The subject of today’s program is the New York Times’ ambitious and cynical assault on American history masquerading as a virtuous corrective by way of its “1619 Project.”
That was Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times investigative journalist who was the driving force behind the project.
In 1619, English colonists first brought African slaves—over 20 in number—to Virginia.
The Editor’s Note to the project—which was launched with a series of essays in the New York Times Magazine—describes it as, quote:
a major initiative…observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
The note goes on to indicate that, quote:
Out of slavery – and the anti-black racism it required – grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.
The 1619 Project, then, suggests that our nation’s founding began not with the Declaration of Independence, but with its antithesis in the introduction of slavery to our shores.
That is, it suggests that America was built on tyranny, not liberty.
It treats slavery not as the gravest violation of our founding principles—a violation that was only bitterly tolerated so that a Union could be formed whereby those founding principles could one day be fully realized—but as our animating principle.
Therefore, it suggests that in the words of the Times, “slavery—and the anti-black racism it required” pervades every American institution—institutions of which the project is hyper-critical—rendering them inherently evil.
The 1619 Project does not treat our core institutions as the blessed biproducts of the most revolutionary experiment in liberty in human history. It does not acknowledge that they resulted from a political system in which natural rights were enshrined and secured to a greater extent than ever before. It elides the fact that there was a constant struggle from before the time our nation was founded to ensure those rights could be equally enjoyed by all in pursuit of a more perfect Union.
Rather, the 1619 Project reduces our institutions and America itself to a bastion of hatred, intolerance and illiberalism—a deplorable, irredeemable project, if you will.
The 1619 Project is in short a concerted effort to frame everything in America history as toxified by racism and bigotry, reflecting our inherent evil. It casts the nation as hypocritical, calling into question its very legitimacy. And it layers on top of this a reductionist distortion that is not only intellectually dishonest, but needlessly divisive.
As we will demonstrate in this podcast, the Times’ effort is as malicious in aim as it is mendacious in substance. Certainly at a minimum, this mendaciousness implies malintent. That is why it not only deserves, but demands a rebuke.
Try though the Left might to cast America as evil—which fits all too well with the Left’s common refrain that America is the world’s racist, colonialist, oppressor par excellence—the Times’ reading of history is plain wrong, as those more radically Left than even the Times have decisively demonstrated. It shows itself to be an apparent product of social justice-tinged progressive activism, rather than of sober scholarship. It illustrates that for the elite Left, national self-loathing is among the highest forms of virtue-signaling.
As we will also demonstrate, on one level the project serves a narrow political agenda associated with the 2020 presidential election. But on another level, its attempt to incorporate the 1619 narrative into school curricula betrays its broader goal, which is to ensure the indoctrination of generations of students to come.
This is an inherently political project posing as a scholarly one. As such, it demands our engagement—and the engagement of our representatives too—because in its absence, the Left wins.
We at the Claremont Institute see the 1619 Project as part and parcel of the progressive attempt to delegitimize America, its founding and all that has derived therefrom. Its purpose is to prepare the ground for the repudiation of our core principles and overturning of our Republican system on the basis of a perverse sense of morality and justice. Our rigorous scholarship on the Founders, Lincoln and slavery, which we will highlight herein, not only undermines the New York Times’ narrative, but provides an understanding of U.S. history that can unify a nation that the Times and its co-conspirators cynically seek to divide, and conquer.
While our detractors on the Left may claim—as they did when several prominent conservatives panned this effort originally—that this criticism represents an unwillingness to grapple with the great stain on American history that slavery is, in fact the opposite is true. We wish to grapple with history in an intellectually honest fashion. The 1619 Project participants evidently did not.
In our last special edition podcast, our subject was multiculturalism.
The 1619 Project is but one pernicious consequence of the multiculturalists’ Long March.
It should be thought of as an information operation directed at the heart of the American conception of justice.
In this special edition of the American Mind podcast, we will provide a corrective, and in so doing expose an assault on our history truly aimed at supplanting the American system with one wholly anathema to it—through indoctrination of future generations of citizens.
*** NIKOLE HANNAH JONES CLIP ***
Debunking the 1619 Project
JAMES POULOS: That was Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times investigative journalist who was the driving force behind the 1619 Project, and the drafter of its opening and seminal essay.
That essay’s misreading of history, and its assumption of American bad faith, sets the stage for the project’s overall folly, and the detrimental consequences resulting therefrom.
We will touch on a few arguments of hers that demand particular criticism, before dealing with bigger questions about the broader purpose of the project, and what must be done to combat it.
The core contention on which Hannah-Jones’ piece—and the entire project—hinges is this:
“The United States is a nation founded both on an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that ‘‘all men are created equal’’ and ‘‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’’ But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. ‘‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’’ did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country.”
Perhaps the best response to Nikole Hannah-Jones is what the Founding Fathers themselves said.
George Washington, writing in 1786, said that quote, “there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it,”– the “it,” of course, being slavery.
James Madison, delivering a speech at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, stated that, quote “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” Records from the convention show that Madison, quote, “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”
John Adams, writing in 1819, said that quote “Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States….I have [he added], through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in…abhorrence.”
Hannah-Jones did not cite any of these statements in her piece, apparently either because they undermined her own argument, or because she was unaware of them.
The Founders backed these words with deeds. Four of the five individuals on the Declaration of Independence drafting committee sponsored abolitionist policies while in office.
Hannah-Jones next contends that not only was the Declaration of Independence a farce, but that:
one of the reasons we even decide to become a nation in the first place is over the issue of slavery. And had we not had slavery, we might be Canada…that one of the reasons that the Founders wanted to break off from Britain is they were afraid that Britain was going to begin regulating slavery, and maybe even moving towards abolishment. And we were making so much money off of slavery that the Founders wanted to be able to continue it. We’re not taught that when we’re taught about our origin stories. And not knowing that then really does not allow us to grapple with the nation that we really are, and not just the nation that we’re taught in kind of American mythology.
The notion that the Founders drafted the Declaration of Independence to preserve slavery is an absurdity. As Washington and Lee University Professor Lucas Morel argues…
LUCAS MOREL: The impetus for her claim that we actually declared independence so that we could make our lives more secure with slavery—she spins that out of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation that would recruit black slaves for the British cause if they rose up against their masters, which probably about 1,000 or so actually did….
The problem with that claim, of course, is that the Revolution was well under way by the time that happened, and in great part because the very arguments of the Declaration of Independence run counter to it. It is a strange Declaration of Independence that bases its independence on universal principles of human rights, human equality, government by consent of the governed. The Founders knew exactly what they were doing, if she cared to read about them in any depth. The Founders were very clear about what they were doing that actually ran counter to certain practices of theirs, like slavery.
…What’s weird about her recounting of history is that she leaves out the very self-conscious way in which the most significant of our Founders made claim after claim about what they held to be true, what principles and structures they wanted to shape the new regime, and the ways in which slavery ran counter to that.
JAMES POULOS: Many of the Founders were careful to write that their plans for freeing slaves had to be executed with the utmost care, lest the fragile Union fall apart.
Nevertheless, Hannah-Jones asserts that, quote:
when it came time to draft the Constitution, the framers carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery without ever using the word. In the texts in which they were making the case for freedom to the world, they did not want to explicitly enshrine their hypocrisy, so they sought to hide it.
This is the height of ahistoricism.
Says Professor Morel…
LUCAS MOREL: It never occurs to her that there were impediments, that there were obstacles to them immediately, and in a mass way, emancipating the enslaved blacks on American soil, in the midst of their attempt to separate from England, and to establish what they call a novus ordo seclurum—a new order of the ages. It never occurs to her that there were things that got in the way of them bringing into practical reality immediately all the things they held to be true. And that’s what makes—one of the many things that makes this article such bad history, and it’s really a travesty that this is already being adopted at the K through 12 level in a number of states in this country… God help us if this is the only account in those schools that those children get about our history.
…She knows enough about the Constitution. She’s read sufficiently, although not a lot, to know that it has been pointed out that in a constitution that clearly makes compromises with slavery, they never used the word slave, or slavery in it.
So that raises a question for us, doesn’t it? Why did they hide or disguise the fact that these compromises, actually had something to do with slaves, when in every instance, they used the word “person” or “persons” in reference to the enslaved? Madison was explicit about this, and others have made this same point.
I don’t believe that she has ever read the notes on the Constitutional Convention, ‘cause if she did, she would know that when motions were made, by South Carolinian and Georgian delegates, with regards to slavery—and they actually used the word “slave”—you find subsequent motions, and especially the motions that eventually get passed, where the word “slave” is taken out. Madison is involved in that as are others.
Point being, at least in Madison’s mind, that the Founders at the time—and this is pre-cotton gin, before cotton becomes king—the Founders were actually expecting slavery to die way. And so, Madison, at least in his mind, thought that we keep slavery out of the Constitution so that out after generation or so, and in subsequent generations, we could look great, looking back, because we have a Constitution, we have a federal form of government where slavery is no longer even referenced.
The hope, and the expectation, was that slavery would go away. That’s why it’s not mentioned.
So it’s a half-truth to say that it’s hidden. Yes, of course, it’s hidden…We didn’t want to brag about the way in which we made a compromise with the very purpose of the document. But the very document, its structures, and its most fundamental principles run absolutely categorically counter to the compromise we made.
…[If] she just compares the U.S. Constitution with a very similar one…which is the Confederate States of America Constitution, where they are not shy at all about mentioning how important slavery is there…that’s a real slave-holding Constitution. Not the U.S. Constitution, which even men, like escaped slaves, the most famous of them Frederick Douglass, recognized that the levers of freedom were actually in the document drafted by men, many of whom owned slaves. Douglass saw hope in that. Nikole Hannah-Jones did not, does not.
JAMES POULOS: As Professor Chris Flannery summarizes it…
CHRIS FLANNERY: The founding was a remarkable accomplishment of statesmanship. And its justice was precisely in the principle of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, creating a country founded on that principle, and then making these very difficult and complicated statesman-like choices that had to be made to bring that principle into political reality as much as could be done under the very limiting circumstances in which they found themselves.
So this view is that the Founders certainly believed that all men are created equal applied to all men, of all colors, always and everywhere; and that that principle in fact is true; and that the country really is founded on it.
And then the next part of the equation is, “Well then, okay, why didn’t they abolish slavery, why didn’t they bring all of American political and social life immediately into conformity with the demands of that true principle of justice. And the answer is pretty simple: Well life isn’t perfect. And there were very difficult circumstances facing the Founders, the most profound one of which was the deep establishment of the institution of slavery especially in the southern states….it seems to me that the compromises in the constitution, on the question of slavery were precisely principled compromises. They were giving into – that is, the Founders, in those compromises, the three-fifths clause and the other couple of them—they were compromising with powerful interests of slavery in the South that they could not overcome. And the alternative would be that these slave-holding Southern states would not become part of the American Union.
So, in simple terms, the founding was just in that it was certainly based on the principle that all men are created equal, and it was prudent in that actually, to have abolished slavery, to have attempted to abolish slavery in 1787, would I believe have resulted in division of the country, right then. And you’d have then Southern states, slaveholding states, part of a sovereign slave nation. That would have been a very bad result.
JAMES POULOS: As Harry Jaffa would put it, quote: “The principles of the Declaration of Independence, although not explicitly incorporated in the Constitution, are the necessary ground for distinguishing the Constitution’s principles from its compromises.”
Historian Allen Guelzo is emphatic on these points.
ALLEN GUELZO: [T]he 1619 Project is not history. It is ignorance. The 1619 Project claims that the American revolution was staged to protect slavery, although it never once occurs to the project to ask, in that case, why the British West Indies, which had a far larger and infinitely more malignant slave system than the 13 North American colonies, never joined us in that revolution. It claims that the Constitution’s three-fifths clause was designed by the Founders as the keystone, which would keep the slave states in power. Although the 1619 Project somehow seems not to have noticed, that at the time of the Constitutional Convention, all of the states were slave states, save only Massachusetts. So that the three-fifths clause could not have been intended to confer such a mysterious power on slavery, unless the Founders had come to the Convention equipped with crystal balls. And it behaves as though the Civil War never happened: That the slaves somehow freed themselves. That a white president never put weapons into the hands of black men, and bid them kill rebels who had taken up arms in defense of bondage. The 1619 Project forgets, in other words, that there was an “1863 Project,” and that its name was Emancipation.
JAMES POULOS: Indeed, after slandering the Founders, and wholly misrepresenting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Hannah-Jones proceeds to smear their greatest successor, Abraham Lincoln.
Regarding the Emancipation Proclamation, she contends that, quote:
Lincoln worried about what the consequences of this radical step would be. Like many white Americans, he opposed slavery as a cruel system at odds with American ideals, but he also opposed black equality. He believed that free black people were a ‘‘troublesome presence’’ incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people. ‘‘Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals?’’ he had said four years earlier. ‘‘My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not…’” “He informed his guests that he had gotten Congress to appropriate funds to ship black people, once freed, to another country… Enslaved people were fleeing their forced-labor camps, which we like to call plantations, trying to join the effort, serving as spies, sabotaging confederates, taking up arms for his cause as well as their own. And now Lincoln was blaming them for the war. ‘‘Although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other . . . without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence,’’ the president told them. ‘It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.’’”
Lucas Morel obliterates this hodge-podge of ahistorical hash.
LUCAS MOREL: It’s not enough for her to take down the founding to promote the role of black Americans in the development of this country. She had to take down their greatest defender. And without question their greatest defender—arguably the greatest defender in American, if not U.S. history, of self-government—is Abraham Lincoln.
Calumny is too soft a term to explain why she picks one specific episode throughout the entire public career of Abraham Lincoln as if that were representative of what he did for this country, and especially for black Americans living in this country.
It is not a coincidence that the very paragraph that describes Abraham Lincoln follows a paragraph that describes Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion in the most notorious Supreme Court case in the United States, the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. So she follows a white supremacist with Abraham Lincoln to make the link that Lincoln was also of the same stripe, was also of the same mind as Roger Taney.
[She] [n]ever mentions the fact that Lincoln gives one of his greatest speeches, speech he delivers in Springfield in 1857, excoriating the opinion of Dred Scott precisely because it does not acknowledge the equality of blacks as human beings.
And of course she’s not gonna give Lincoln credit for the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, the fact that he was assassinated because he said out loud in public that he thought black people should have the right to vote and to be educated.
These are things that she studiously, deliberately avoids in her rendering of one of our greatest American presidents…
JAMES POULOS: Let’s recount what Lincoln himself said regarding slavery. During his Peoria Speech in 1854, Lincoln declared, quote:
The argument of “Necessity” was the only argument they [the Founders] ever admitted in favor of slavery; [he continues] and so far only as it carried them, did they ever go. They found the institution existing among us, which they could not help; and they cast blame upon the British King for having permitted its introduction. BEFORE the constitution, they prohibited its introduction into the north-western Territory—-the only country we owned, then free from it. AT the framing and adoption of the constitution, they forbore to so much as mention the word “slave” or “slavery” in the whole instrument. In the provision for the recovery of fugitives, the slave is spoken of as a “PERSON HELD TO SERVICE OR LABOR.” In that prohibiting the abolition of the African slave trade for twenty years, that trade is spoken of as “The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States NOW EXISTING, shall think proper to admit,” &c. These are the only provisions alluding to slavery. Thus, the thing is hid away, in the constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time. Less than this our fathers COULD not do; and NOW [MORE?] they WOULD not do. Necessity drove them so far, and farther, they would not go. But this is not all. The earliest Congress, under the constitution, took the same view of slavery. They hedged and hemmed it in to the narrowest limits of necessity.
Lincoln added that “the plain unmistakable spirit of that age, towards slavery, was hostility to the PRINCIPLE, and toleration, ONLY BY NECESSITY.”
Contra Hannah-Jones, we also ought to consider the words of Frederick Douglass. In his 1852 “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” speech, Douglass said that the charge of a pro-slavery Constitution was a, quote “slander upon [the memory]” of the Founders. He said that, quote “interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.” He added that we should consider “the constitution according to its plain reading…I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”
Douglass’ 1857 speech in response to the Dred Scott decision is instructive. He hailed that, quote:
I base my sense of the certain overthrow of slavery, in part, upon the nature of the American Government, the Constitution, the tendencies of the age, and the character of the American people…. I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country where the conditions for affecting great changes in the settled order of things, for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity, are more favorable than here in these United States…. The Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence, and the sentiments of the founders of the Republic, give us a plat-form broad enough, and strong enough, to support the most comprehensive plans for the freedom and elevation of all the people of this country, without regard to color, class, or clime.
Says Professor Morel…
LUCAS MOREL: …[I]n her over 7,000 word essay I don’t know that she ever mentions Frederick Douglass. Hard to forget the most photographed man in the 19th century…I’m gonna infer here, she must leave out Frederick Douglass because Frederick Douglas has a very high opinion of Abraham Lincoln. Even though Frederick Douglass is an abolitionist, even though emancipation didn’t come as fast as he would have liked, even though the arming of black blacks in the Union Military, the Navy, the Army, didn’t happen as fast as he would like, even though practical equality in every social, civil, political realm didn’t happen as fast as this escaped slave-turned-orator, would have liked, he understood that Lincoln had to cultivate public opinion to get anything done for the good of anybody in this country.
And he, in one of his most masterful speeches in 1876, Oration on the Dedication of the Freedman’s Memorial in DC, he shows the perspective of an abolitionist towards Lincoln. Why is he going so slow? But then ultimately concludes in his own speech that Lincoln’s action when viewed from the vantage point of a statesman—not of an abolitionist who’s got one particular important issue and axe to grind, but of a statesman the well-being of an entire nation—from that perspective, even the abolitionist Frederick Douglass acknowledges that Lincoln’s actions were swift, zealous, radical, and determined. It’s quite a remarkable speech as Douglass in a way reenacts his own journey in appreciation for the work that Lincoln did, not just for blacks, but for whites in this country.
JAMES POULOS: Amazingly, some of the most trenchant, devastating arguments challenging the 1619 Project’s accuracy have come from non-conservative historians interviewed at the World Socialist Web Site—an actual Trotskyist publication. This is quite a commentary on the state to which Hannah-Jones, the New York Times—and the pseudo-intellectual Left—has been reduced.
There are myriad deficiencies in the essays that emanate from Hannah-Jones’ project, but they are merely the fruit of this poisoned tree. Their outlandishness, whether in ironically calling conservatives “Calhounites,” or tying collateralized debt obligations to slavery—I kid you not—as part of their anti-capitalist agenda, exposes the true political nature of their project.
But to what end?
Exposing the 1619 Project’s True Aims – Cynical Politics
JAMES POULOS: The 1619 Project’s butchering of American history, no small effort, obscures a more narrow and immediate one—to make race a primary issue in the 2020 election, and our politics more broadly. The idea in the short run is to cast President Trump and the half of the country that supports him as deplorable inheritors of this evil history. If support of the Founders is thinly-veiled code for support for bigotry, then how can anyone in good faith be a Republican?
Why do we surmise that the 1619 Project is part of a political campaign?
Well, in August 2019, Slate released a transcript of an internal meeting of the New York Times. During the meeting, Executive Editor Dean Baquet suggested that the Times would quote, “have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story,” rather than that of treasonous Russian collusion, that is, a narrative which had collapsed. “It is a story,” Baquet went on, “that requires deep investigation into people who peddle hatred, but it is also a story that requires imaginative use of all our muscles to write about race and class in a deeper way than we have in years…We’ll…ask reporters to write more deeply about the country, race, and other divisions.”
Later in the meeting came an even more revealing exchange.
An unnamed staffer asked of Baquet, quote:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country. And I think particularly as we are launching a 1619 Project, I feel like that’s going to open us up to even more criticism from people who are like, “OK, well you’re saying this, and you’re producing this big project about this. But are you guys actually considering this in your daily reporting?”
Baquet responded in part that, quote:
I do think that race and understanding of race should be a part of how we cover the American story. Sometimes news organizations sort of forget that in the moment. But of course it should be. I mean, one reason we all signed off on the 1619 Project and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that. Race in the next year—and I think this is, to be frank, what I would hope you come away from this discussion with—race in the next year is going to be a huge part of the American story. And I mean, race in terms of not only African Americans and their relationship with Donald Trump, but Latinos and immigration.
1619 is a dangerous historical narrative that is one part of the broader race-centric narrative of the elite Left—represented by its leading communications arm in the New York Times—that’s geared towards beating Trump.
The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald puts the 1619 Project in context of the Left’s political efforts.
HEATHER MAC DONALD: The Left has run out of substantive issues to complain about, and so they are now dedicated to the proposition that American identity, the history of this country, the future of this country, is defined by racial oppression. This is the dominant theme in universities today, it is quickly coming to dominate K-12 education, and it has very rapidly jumped from the educational sector into society at large. We see this with the Democratic presidential candidates who take every opportunity to rail against white supremacy, and America’s alleged ongoing efforts to oppress so-called people of color.
Consider what some of the candidates have said of a piece with the Times’ effort.
***AUDIO MONTAGE OF DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES***
JAMES POULOS: Allen Guelzo sees in the 1619 Project an attack on capitalism.
ALLEN GUELZO: The 1619 Project aspires through essays, poems, and short fiction to rewrite entirely the narrative of American slavery, not as an unwilling inheritance of British colonialism, but as the love object of American capitalism from its very origins; not as a blemish, which the Founders grudgingly tolerated with the understanding that it must soon evaporate, but as the prize the Constitution went out of its way to secure and protect; not as a regrettable chapter in the distant American past, but the living, breathing pattern upon which all American social life is based, world without end.
This is not history. This is polemic, and a polemic born in the imagination of those whose primary target is capitalism itself, and who hope to tarnish capitalism by associating it with slavery. Never mind that no single American, North or South, before 1861, ever imagined that slavery and capitalism were anything but mortal enemies. The pro-slavery apologist George Fitzhugh, frankly declared that slavery was a form not of capitalism, but of feudal socialism. The anti-slavery president, Abraham Lincoln, explained the war on slavery as a war on behalf of free labor.
JAMES POULOS: Speaker Newt Gingrich sees in the 1619 Project political ends broad and narrow—all of them detrimental to our national fabric.
NEWT GINGRICH: I think the Left in general, and the New York Times in particular, want to convince the next generation of Americans that the central theme in American life is slavery and racism, and that all of us are guilty, and that, therefore, we have to move towards reparations—even if the reparations are for people who weren’t ever slaves, paid for by people who weren’t even here when slavery existed.
And I think it’s a deliberate effort to create a new ideological worldview, assert that that worldview is based on facts, and then from the facts assert that they lead logically to certain policies.
The Left operates on very long-term strategies, and it goes all the way back to the Fabian socialist model of a persistent effort to fundamentally change things, and that this is the newest effort. And the only interesting thing is that they are—sort of in their old age as a dominant cultural movement—they’re getting sloppy, and they’re very open about what they’re trying to do, which makes it easier for all of us then to go, “Oh, that’s so stupid. We have to oppose it.”
JAMES POULOS: At an even deeper level, Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Christopher Flannery makes a persuasive case that we need to have a national conversation about justice and prudence—one that has major political implications. And in fact, in his view, indeed 1619 should be a part of the upcoming presidential campaign…along with 1776…
CHRIS FLANNERY: 1619 Project really is a part of a much larger project, and that is the multicultural project that discredits America in every way it can. The 1619 Project takes race as its special focus, but of course the denunciations or the discrediting of America by the Left, by the multicultural Left, is for its alleged racism, but also its sexism, and its imperialism, and its failure to be green. And there are lots of elements of the multicultural Left that don’t all agree with one another, and of which 1619 is just a part.
But, for rhetorical purposes, and I think sort of for clarity or simplicity, I think that the 1619 Project does represent the multicultural Left, and it is an expression of what is today already the ruling sentiment in American politics. The 1619 Project is supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Its home is the New York Times. It’s supported by the Pulitzer Center, by the Smithsonian Institution. It is establishment.
And the establishment principle in America today in government, in education, in business, in religion, obviously in culture—the establishment sentiment in America today is a multicultural sentiment that holds America to be a racist, sexist, exploitative country that needs to be transformed. And the 1619 Project is just an expression of that, a very significant expression of it.
And, to me, the elections in 2016, the most fundamental thing at stake in those elections was that they challenged that sentiment. It just turns out that Donald Trump, and all the people who supported Trump, really have an opposing sentiment. They actually think, “You know, America is really a great country. It turns out it’s a great and good country.” We have our imperfections like any other country, but if you don’t recognize that the country is essentially great and good, and based on true principles, you can’t understand the most fundamental thing. And I think that’s the greatest significance of the election of 2016, that the people who supported Donald Trump were supporting a candidate who would stand up publicly and say “You know this is a great country.” And 1619 represents the establishment multicultural view that this isn’t a great country. “What’s great about it,” say our liberal politicians? “It needs to be transformed.”
And so, I think the elections of 2020, I think the most fundamental thing at stake in those elections, is the same thing, and that is, what is the public sentiment, that is going to rule of the country? And the big divide is between the multicultural Left that says, “This is an unjust racist, sexist, country that needs to be transformed,” and what I’m calling the Party of 1776 that says, “You know, actually, this country is founded on the greatest principle of political justice, that any country in the history of the world has been founded on, and we need to preserve that, and restore it against these forces of multiculturalism.”
Exposing the 1619 Project’s True Aims – Perverting History
JAMES POULOS: Clearly there is a cynical element to this project, which reflects that for the Left, history is just a tool of political warfare. This idea is reflected not just in the narrow political relevance of the 1619 Project to the elite Left’s designs for 2020, but in its broader relevance in the incorporation of the project into schools. What is the tie between the 1619 Project and education? The Pulitzer Center has developed a whole curriculum around the project for distribution to teachers across the entire country. According to the center, more than 1,000 such teachers have already connected with the Center, indicating that they will use the 1619 Project and associated curricula in their classes. Nikole Hannah-Jones herself will reportedly be whisked around the country to propagate the 1619 narrative to impressionable young minds.
Still more importantly, the 1619 Project has been incorporated in whole or in part into curricula in school districts including Chicago, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Buffalo, New York, and Newark, New Jersey. According to the World Socialist Web Site, which again has remarkably taken a lead in rebutting this project from the Left, one school in Brooklyn that serves children from Kindergarten through 5th grade has applied for federal funding to create an “after-school enrichment program” based on the project.
Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars, which is countering the 1619 Project with its own “1620 Project,” says that…
PETER WOOD: The two purposes of the 1619 Project are to put into place in the nation’s schools a curriculum that will focus on racial resentment, and the rather false narrative that virtually every positive development and every negative development in American history can be traced to the existence of slavery begun on these shores in 1619.
There is a ulterior purpose that is not particularly disguised, which is to affect the 2020 elections by trying to promote a sense that Trump’s presidency has created a poisonous atmosphere between the races in the United States, and that nothing short of a intense educational and public relations effort will sway people away from the contempt that he’s alleged to have created between the races.
…The third piece of this, which has to do with the efforts to sway broad public opinion outside both education and politics to genuinely persuade people that America is from root to branch a racist nation. And that plays out in the everyday pages of the New York Times and related publications that are aiming to create the broader cultural sense of despair.
JAMES POULOS: We also asked Peter Wood what he felt separated the 1619 Project from the previous Wokeification of our school curricula. He replied as follows…
PETER WOOD: My reading of the New York Times’ expansive essays on this would suggest that the 1619 Project radicalized that narrative even further. The leftist narrative has been for some time that American history was poisoned by the oppression of native peoples, of slaves, of women, other immigrants over the centuries. But that did not erase the significant events of American history entirely. The founding was still a founding. There was a Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War, a Constitution, and the second most important event in American history, the Civil War, was given its due as a war that eventuated in the abolition of slavery in all states.
This narrative is now eclipsed, or subordinated, to the idea that every development in our history was either to further the injury of slavery, or to build out from its consequences. There is an element of hardcore materialism to this that takes the form of asserting that American prosperity from every single invention, to every single development of the economy, was a extrapolation of oppression.
That view is taken to such an extreme now, that matters such as the founding of America is treated as of tertiary importance. Nothing really changed. There was slavery before the founding, there was slavery after, and since the whole narrative is about slavery in its various forms, then these other events are now not just eclipsed, but in many cases just erased.
If one were to teach American history from this perspective, the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, and so on, become events of no real moment.
They no longer need to be taught as having been poisoned by the legacy of slavery.
They simply don’t exist.
JAMES POULOS: The ramifications of the project cannot be underestimated. For Professor McClay believes 1619 was created to weaponize history, as he puts it to…
WILFRED MCCLAY: …further inflame passions on the subject…I don’t foresee it having an enormous influence the way say Howard Zinn’s textbook has had, but I think it will contribute to a national malaise and paralysis around these issues, and fail to give credit to a) the enormous amount of progress that we’ve made, and b) the fact that slavery in a larger historical context, slavery is not the exception, it’s the rule…its existence as an institution is much more common than not in the history of the world. It still exists in parts of the world today. Why is it that the Times is not more concerned about that, about going to places like Mauritania where it’s said that…20-25% of the population is enslaved? They have no interest in that for some reason.
But in the broader history of the world, freedom and the notion of the dignity of each individual person is something for which we’re heavily dependent on, guess what, the Declaration of Independence, primarily by Thomas Jefferson.
So what happens is, and it’s really very interesting, is that beginning mainly in the 18th century, you have this awakening of a kind of humanitarian impulse that recognizes the humanity of the enslaved, in a way that had not been done before. And it’s primarily carried forth by Evangelical Protestant Christians, almost exclusively in the Anglo-American world – it’s a religious movement extending from the Judeo-Christian notion of every man and woman being made in the image of God…It’s an extraordinary development in human history.
America, the United States, was founded at a moment when this wave of…changing sensibility about human equality was gathering forth, and had not yet swept through. And so you have vestiges of an older view that are part of the makeup of the nation when it’s founded.
And to go back…you have to take into account, “Well, what if there had been no United States at all? What if? What if?” And that’s something that’s very easy to avoid that by just making declamations from a mountain of moral purity that’s detached from the reality of historical circumstances, but that’s not a luxury that real historians should permit themselves, or be permitted to take.
…[T]he whole point of studying history is to extricate ourselves from the prison house of the present, and to have a larger perspective on the human prospect, on where we have been, where we have come. There’s a present-mindedness about the 1619 Project that is troubling about where it’s going…
There are two victims of all of this, and one is the historical understanding, and the other is the credibility of journalists.
JAMES POULOS: Allen Guelzo tells us that…
ALLEN GUELZO: …[T]he 1619 Project is not history. It is evangelism. But evangelism for a gospel of disenchantment, whose ultimate purpose is the hollowing out of the meaning of freedom, so that every defense of freedom drops nervously from the hands of people who have been made too ashamed to defend it. No nation can live without a history.
JAMES POULOS: Lucas Morel concurs.
LUCAS MOREL: I’m just sorely disappointed that here was an opportunity to not just tell our history better, by revising it—not making it revisionist per se, giving an alternate story—but actually adding to the story, and shaping the story, in a way that would have been more genuinely comprehensive. I wish that she would have taken this opportunity to tell our story more comprehensively, because had she done that, she would have equipped her readers…I think with the right arguments, and principles, and even rhetoric and words, that could begin the healing process, the bridging process that we so desperately need in this country. We are continually dividing into “us” and “them,” and we need to be “us,” we need to be…“we.” We need to be Americans.
And in order to do that, I think we need to speak the same language. That language is in our history. There’s some bad stuff, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s precisely the language of the founding—the language that Lincoln reminded of us in a time of crisis—it’s precisely that language that I think holds out the best hope for uniting this country.
We can still stay Democratic, still stay Republican, and choose your party…We can still be divided on particular policies on how to implement common goals, common goals that derive from a common understanding of who we are as human beings, what we deserve from our government as citizens of this same country.
I think that was an opportunity her essay not only squandered, it made more difficult. Now…it is greater damage that is being done because now we have not just a different history, we have an alternate history that plays fast and loose with the facts. You can’t call it history when you leave out most of the story, and her essay does precisely that…It’s bad history, bad reasoning, and all in all, worse for the effort.
JAMES POULOS: Heather Mac Donald suggests that the 1619 Project:
HEATHER MAC DONALD: …is putting poison into the body politic. It is teaching students to see themselves as permanently an endemically oppressed. That is a recipe for social division, for hatred, and for a polity that is unable to function at a civil level.
JAMES POULOS: Chris Flannery crystallizes the aims of the project both narrow and wide.
CHRIS FLANNERY: One way of thinking of it is, they really do want us, everyone, all future generations of Americans, to look back at the founding, and see that the founding was essentially unjust, and that from that injustice, or inseparable from it, was a profound imprudence.
And what I mean by that, very simply is, the 1619 Project emphatically says that the founding of America was governed by a racist ideology, so that Thomas Jefferson, and all of his colleagues who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and the phrases “all men are created equal,” and “pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honors” in support of it – that all of them did not believe that the great American principle that “all men created equal” applied to black slaves; that in fact, the founding was governed by a racist ideology that viewed these black slaves as inferior beings, who did not possess natural rights that were possessed by white Americans, allegedly. So that’s the 1619 claim that the founding is essentially unjust, it’s governed by a racist, ideology.
And it follows from that that of course, the Founders then did not abolish slavery, but they should have, so that it is very much to their profound shame and blame that they did not abolish slavery as part of the founding. And they didn’t do it because the founding was governed by this unjust racist ideology. So injustice and imprudence.
…And if you’re students, and you’re learning that about the founding, you’re gonna be ashamed of it. And more than that, the explicit purpose of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who’s the architect of 1619 Project, her explicit purpose is to create white guilt that will result in some kind of reparations from all other Americans to black Americans. That’s an explicit purpose of the 1619 curriculum.
JAMES POULOS: The 1619 Project fits with the general narrative in the academy –indeed, it is a product of those who currently populate academia. But such a sustained effort, legitimized in the popular media and disseminated widely, will have a detrimental impact on our body politic. Spreading divisive falsehoods is not only the height of irresponsibility and cynical indoctrination—it becomes in practice not just a critical exercise but an anti-American one.
TOM KLINGENSTEIN: …[I]t’s important to look at the 1619 Project in a larger context. And the larger context is what we at Claremont conceive as a regime level conflict between what we’re calling multiculturalism, other people call identity politics, and traditional America. And a regime is a way of life that has a particular end. And in the case of multiculturalism, the end is outcome parity among various identity groups, defined by race, or sex, or whatever. And by outcome parity, I mean each of these groups would have the same number of chief executive officers, and senators, and firefighters, and soccer players…
That’s the end, but that’s an end that cannot exist peacefully with the traditional American end, which seeks the preservation of rights for individuals. Because in that kind of society, a society guided by nature, there will always be group differences, and in particular there will be differences between men and women. And because those differences need to be eliminated according to multiculturalism, that imposes on multiculturalism the need for political correctness in all kinds of political and social constraints that are necessary to try to achieve outcome parity.
So…1619 Project is part of this overall multicultural project to destroy America, because what it seeks to do in reframing American history around slavery, is to reinforce the multicultural view of society, that view being all identity groups oppressed by white males. So what the multiculturalists wanna do is describe our history in those terms. It wants us to conceive of ourselves as a society where identity groups are oppressed.
And like all totalitarian regimes, one of the most important elements of success is to re-conceive history in a way that comports with its understanding, the totalitarian regime’s understanding, of society.
So, 1619 is part of a larger culture war.
JAMES POULOS: A nation’s conception of its own history has an inordinate impact on its future.
If a narrative of national self-loathing—of a country founded in oppression and sin, whose every achievement is therefore tainted and deemed illegitimate—is to prevail, then there will be no one to defend its founding, the principles that animated it, and the critical achievements and institutions that have flown from it.
Rather, the radical overthrow of the remaining vestiges of our Republican regime will be seen as the only just response. We will witness—perhaps we already are witnessing—the American equivalent of a Maoist cultural revolution.
The story of the 1619 Project is really the story of two competing narratives of a country—one which would like to see the country cease to exist, and the other that seeks to see its pillars faithfully preserved, and those areas in need of repair restored and improved.
The 1619 purveyors seek to poison young minds, prejudicing them against their own home. More fundamentally, again it aims to cast America as deplorable, and irredeemable.
The Claremont Institute has been fighting the narratives of the 1619 Project for decades, with a wealth of scholarship demonstrating that the history of the American founding is diametrically opposite to the narrative put forward by the purveyors of this poisonous project. It is imperative to reassert a true understanding of American history if we are to recover our founding values and principles, and apply them to the challenges facing us today.
We hope that this podcast will serve as a helpful resource in so doing.
But, we also need our political leaders to lead. With several notable exceptions, conservatives have ceded the playing field here.
It would be the height of folly to ignore this as another wacky Left-wing media/campus crusade for progressivism that will just burn itself out. For, in truth, they never do. The Left is constantly engaged. Where is the right?
Speaker Newt Gingrich is one of the few to have appreciated the dangers of the 1619 Project.
As he argues…
NEWT GINGRICH: …[T]here are three parallel arenas we’re fighting in. There’s politics, which includes the news media, where we’re not doing terribly. There is the Deep State, which is all the great bureaucracies, and their various allies in the private sector, where we’re in sort of an up and down struggle, comparable to the Battle of Gettysburg. And then there is the culture war where we haven’t even begun.
The one place on the right where you’ve had a long-term investment in winning the culture, which has been astonishingly successful, is the Federalist Society, and the effort by Trump and Mitch McConnel, which has now achieved I think 187 federal judges. About one of every four federal judges is a Trump appointee…
[T]he degree to which the Left has claimed certain commanding heights if you will, particularly in the cultural war is amazing. And somebody who, I guess, both as a historian, and having grown up as an Army brat—lived in France for example during fall of the Fourth Republic, the paratroopers literally killing the government and bringing back de Gaulle.
I just had this sense that these long cultural fights really, really matter. They change things.
And I also had the advantage of having grown up, I was born in Harrisburg, I grew up in an integrated Army and went to the south towards the last phases of segregation, and you could just see the impact of these deep cultural fights. Without Martin Luther King Jr. and others, you probably would still have segregation today, because it was a really deep, passionate, fight, and took people to do it.
Well, those kind of energies and drive have gone steadily to the Left…you and I are in the middle of what has been a two generation-long civil war, in which the Left is determined to replace America with a different system. And you see it at its most vivid when you go back and you look at the period of the late ‘60s and the rise of Black Power. And you know there were an amazing number of bombings, most of them, by the way, by white liberals from Ivy League schools. And so this pattern that you and I are now seeing, these same people now have risen to be the Editor of the New York Times, and the distinguished senior professors and deans, and people who are doing television.
So I would say that the Left has won the commanding heights of Hollywood, the news media, and the academic world, and the challenge they’ve got is what they believe is so antithetical to most Americans…
JAMES POULOS: Gingrich adds…
NEWT GINGRICH: Why would you pay taxpayer’s money to a professor who overtly says they hate America?
What’s your obligation to engage in suicide?
And I think Lincoln, or Jefferson, or Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought in the Civil War before becoming a Supreme Court justice—all of them would have said that a lot of what we do today is madness.
JAMES POULOS: Speaker Gingrich suggests that among activists…
NEWT GINGRICH: They should ensure that state legislatures simply pass laws saying we’re not gonna accept anti-American propaganda in our classrooms.
They ought to demand that the school boards do the same. They ought to go after the textbook publishers. And in addition, I tell almost every wealthy group I talk to, “You are giving money to your university to teach your grandchild to despise you. Now that’s not their fault. That’s your fault.” And so I think we have to have people who say as a group, “I’m not gonna tolerate this stuff. I’m gonna go straight at it.”
JAMES POULOS: Tom Klingenstein believes it is incumbent to politicians to rise to the challenge of the 1619 Project, fulfilling their forgotten obligations to the Republic.
TOM KLINGENSTEIN: I think the first thing that politicians have to do is to understand what their role is. It says in the Declaration that the purpose of government is to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, the pursuit of happiness, as the Founders understood that, was the pursuit of a life well-lived, which has both a universal meaning, but also a very particular meaning as it applies to our distinctive culture.
So, in other words, the purpose…one of the roles of a politician is to preserve the American way of life. But, particularly Republican politicians, don’t think that’s their role. At the core of culture, the culture forming institutions are family, religion, and education. Those are the institutions that build the citizens necessary for preserving this distinct culture. And politicians by and large don’t think it’s their job. National politicians, I’m speaking of in particular, don’t think that they have a job, in preserving those cultural, citizenship-forming institutions. But I think they do.
And perhaps their most important role is the role of making arguments, of defending this American way of life, explaining what it is, and why it matters, and why its preservation is necessary for the preservation of freedom—freedom to pursue a life well-lived.
So the first problem I think is, they don’t understand what their role.
But then there’s a problem, a big problem at the moment, which is they can’t speak about the things that make America distinctive because that exposes them to charges of racism, and sexism, and all the other, ever-growing “isms” and “phobias.”
So combating political correctness is extremely important. This is the thing that Trump understood. And he actually understood it, not just instinctually, but I think rationally. He can articulate the problems with political correctness. In fact, at one time, Trump said that political correctness is the problem of our time. And he’s put his mouth where his words are. And one of the most significant things that he’s done is attack political correctness. And political correctness, at the end of the day, is a prohibition on saying things that defend our distinctive culture.
So obviously, to defend it, you have to speak up.
So one of the things that politicians have to figure out how to do, is how to speak up. They first have to recognize that it’s a really big problem. I think they recognize that it’s a problem on college campuses, but what they don’t recognize to the same degree is the extent to which it limits their own ability to talk, and therefore their own ability to defend American culture.
But the first thing they have to do, as I said, is understand that that’s their job—to defend American culture—and then they have to sit down, and figure out how they’re gonna do that.
JAMES POULOS: Professor Chris Flannery suggests that fighting the 1619 Project is precisely the charge of our political leaders.
CHRIS FLANNERY: …politics really is—as Abraham Lincoln understood it—it really is most fundamentally about public sentiment. Lincoln said that famous thing that in a country like this that’s based on the consent of the governed, public sentiment is everything. And my argument would be, if you’re really gonna be a serious politician, Republican or Democrat, whatever your party, your primary concern is to teach the country, and your constituency, what is the public sentiment, that ought to govern this country.
And you should represent that, and articulate that. And I think our Founders and Lincoln were profound representatives of that understanding of politics—that this is really what statesmanship is fundamentally about.
It doesn’t mean that laws are not important, and policies are not important. It means that in a country like this, you can only make good laws, and get good policies enacted, if you have cultivated a public sentiment that supports them and understands them.
JAMES POULOS: Peter Wood agrees, suggesting that the political effort must be part of a three-legged stool to beat back the 1619 Project and its pernicious aims.
PETER WOOD: Our political representatives certainly have an obligation to counter it, and without their engagement, we probably will not be able to successfully counter it at all. I do think that their countering it involves at least three stages: One is the refutation by reputable historians of the derelictions of fact, and the misrepresentations that are baked into the 1619 Project…
The second element of this is reaching directly out to the school districts, and teachers, and the state Boards of Education to alert them to the Trojan Horse that they’ve been offered – that this gift from the New York Times, and the Pulitzer Foundation is the rumination of history teaching, not a more elevated version of it. They’re not setting the historical record straight. They are turning it into a blind alley of hatred and propagandistic misinformation. Reaching that body of people is its own effort—that is, one has to engage the attention of the local school authorities and state school authorities, across the country. And that work is proceeding.
Then the third piece of it is to get a national direction from this, from our political leaders in Washington, who can and should articulate the fundamental importance of knowing our real history, beginning with the American founding, or at least including the American founding as the pivotal moment in our emergence as a nation with a distinct identity.
So those three things, I think, have to occur pretty much simultaneously. Each one feeds the others. And I would like to see that three-legged stool be the basic approach to how we fix things.
JAMES POULOS: Heather Mac Donald suggests that there is much work to be done at the cultural level.
HEATHER MAC DONALD: The antidote is fighting back against the myth of bias, and that’s the most difficult thing to do. The Left controls the analysis of ongoing socio-economic disparities. And their explanation is that any inequality in society is by definition the result of structural racism. The fundamental divide between the liberal and the conservative worldview is whether you see structural explanations as the most powerful for how society is structured, and any disparities in outcomes, or representation, which is the progressive left-wing liberal view, or whether you see individual decision-making, culture, personal responsibility, as playing a larger role in deciding whether somebody ends up at the bottom of the economic ladder, or able to work his way up.
I would argue that the conservative vision at this point is more powerful as an explanation, above all when it comes to decisions to have children out of wedlock. But right now, the Left dominates that explanation.
So if there’s not proportional representation of blacks in a physics department, say, the only allowable explanation is racism and discrimination. What you were not allowed to look at is, what is the math SAT scores of black students? What is (sic) the math skills shown in the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress]?
If you look at those indicia, which are the product overwhelmingly of student effort, what you find is that there’s a 200-point SAT gap between whites and blacks when it comes to math and reading skills; that when it comes to math levels at the 8th grade, that 40% of black students don’t even have basic, the most rudimentary math skills.
And so there are more powerful explanations I believe for why we don’t have utter proportional representation. We need to—conservatives in particular need to –summon the courage to start talking about the behavioral and cultural differences that are the more powerful explanations for inequality.
But as long as the only allowable explanation is bias, the Left wins. The Left will continue to demand quotas, to demand outcomes-based reasoning, and to unwind all remaining meritocratic standards.
JAMES POULOS: As Claremont Institute chairman Tom Klingenstein notes…
TOM KLINGENSTEIN: Most of the discussion about 1619 has revolved around the discussion of whether it’s good history, which clearly it’s not. But I think it raises even bigger questions which the right ought to discuss. In fact, I think the right ought to use 1619 as a way into some of these larger questions. And some of the larger questions I have in mind are: Why does history matter in the first place? And why does American history in particular matter? If we have the wrong history, what’s the practical effect? What does it mean for the future? As I’ve already indicated, if we have the wrong understanding of ourselves, we will have a long understanding of where we wanna go. And if we have the 1619 Project, it will send us, it will push us, in a multicultural direction. It will also destroy, or help to weaken our sense of ourselves, as a strong, noble nation, who’s been put on this earth to show the rest of the world that men and women can govern themselves.
So, one of the very dangerous aspects of 1619, which encourages us to think of ourselves as guilty, is that it will, I think, contribute to sapping ourselves of our self-confidence, the self-confidence we need to defend ourselves.
The 1619 Project also raises the question of why does the New York Times think it is necessary to reframe American history? And that gets back to again the purpose of history, and in particular, the New York Times’ desire to promote a multicultural society.
It will also—1619—raise questions about what do we actually teach today? What do we teach to our future citizens about American history? That’s a subject that would not otherwise receive a great deal of attention. But if the right is able to sustain a vigorous discussion about 1619, it will draw attention to what is taught, what should be taught, how 1619 will change what is being taught.
It will also focus on what’s actually happening in the schools, in terms of adopting 16. How many schools are adopting it? What does it mean exactly to adopt it?
And that in turn will raise process questions: How exactly are curricula established in our elementary, and of course, ultimately, in higher education? That too is a subject that is not often looked at. At the end of the day, it’s the citizens that are responsible for what their children are being taught. Citizens, by and large I would guess. are not very aware about what their children are being taught. Very few of them are aware of 1619. So how do we get them aware?
Well, I think one way to get them aware is to make politicians, national politicians in particular, have them speak out. People need leaders. I think there are many people…who would object to 1619. But they have to know about it, and they have to know the arguments that ought to be employed. They have to know why it’s important to their future. And then they have to know what exactly they can do about it.
At the end of the day, obviously, we have to figure out what there is to be done about it…but before we can do anything, we must be aware of the problem, it’s nature and its extent—why it’s so important.
So 1619 provides a rather rare opportunity to look at education—particularly education as it relates to teaching American citizenship. It will raise that question: What does it mean to be an American citizen, and why does that matter?
I think 1619 will do something even larger. It can, again, if it’s properly exposed and discussed, it may expose the larger multicultural initiative. It will make people see, or help people to see, that 1619 is just one battle in a larger war.
So publicizing 1619, making it a big deal, it seems to me very important in terms of fighting back against multiculturalism.
JAMES POULOS: Consider the 1619 Project a call to arms to educate your fellow countrymen, and demand that your political leaders do the same.
For if we lose our history—if we continue to let our education system glide down this path of national self-loathing, slander, and calumny—we will lose our country.
End of Transcript
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.