This post is the fifth in a series by Christopher Flannery, host of The American Story podcast, on America’s identity and founding ideals and their implications for 2020. Here are the first, second, third, and fourth installments.—Eds. I wrote a few words the other day about the nationwide riots we are experiencing, and I referred to a Claremont Institute Statement arguing that there are two pretexts for…
This post is the fifth in a series by Christopher Flannery, host of The American Story podcast, on America’s identity and founding ideals and their implications for 2020. Here are the first, second, third, andfourthinstallments.—Eds.
I wrote a few words the other day about the nationwide riots we are experiencing, and I referred to a Claremont Institute Statement arguing that there are two pretexts for these riots: that America is a racist country and that law enforcement in America is systemically racist.
Both of these pretexts are untrue, and the riots show in an obvious way how destructive these untruths are. But, as Jeremy Carl has pointed out, the protests promise an immeasurably greater destruction. The protests were never about one instance of injustice. They were about the alleged racism of the country where the incident took place and the alleged racism of the “system” of criminal justice in the country.
This is the animating cause—the soul—of the protests, and this is what threatens to corrupt the American soul and to destroy a country that Abraham Lincoln rightly called “the last best hope of earth.” As Lincoln also said, and as bears frequent repeating,
In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
Every free country has a ruling “public sentiment” that goes deeper than statutes and policies. It is this ruling public sentiment that I am calling the American soul. This is what animates and gives specific character to the American way of life.
The protestors and their elite enablers and supporters intend to establish as the ruling public sentiment in America that America is a racist country. This is the explicit goal of the New York Times’s recently launched 1619 Project, but in fact, liberals and progressives have been working toward this end since the 1960s. It is because they were so close to succeeding that the 2016 elections were so critical; for the same reason, and with even more obvious cause for urgency, the 2020 elections will be historic.
The images of Americans kneeling in submission to and reverence for the cause of these protestors are images of the American future. If what I am calling the Party of 1619 wins in November, this will be the picture of the new “transformed” American way of life. Henchmen of the Party of 1619, in charge of all the most powerful institutions in America, compelling all who dare to disagree with them to kneel or grovel face-down in the dirt. Or else.
As I’ve written, it will take the deepest thinkers years, and books, and libraries to give a full account of this year, but for us millions right now, the critical choice in November is between those who applaud these images as visions of righteousness and those who are nauseated by their obscenity and see them as the pictures of evil in action that they are.
It is desperately urgent that a Party of 1776 rise to oppose the Party of 1619. Leaders need to stand up and rally America to its true and good cause.
The American cause began with a ringing affirmation of a fundamental moral and political truth: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” The truth of human equality and liberty was asserted against all despotisms of race, class, or religion. Americans are a people who pledge “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the vindication of this truth; the American way of life is our always-imperfect effort to live up to it. So far, we have managed to establish, preserve, and defend this way of life despite the greatest threats from internal and external tyrannies.
The American founders believed themselves to have the high honor of securing and transmitting imperfectly and in one small place a universal inheritance, the birthright of all humanity. That men throughout most of history (and throughout most of the world still today) tyrannized one another in an infinite variety of ways was not proof that human beings do not possess equal rights by nature—rather it was proof of how rare and difficult a thing it is to secure them.
It is proof of the philosophic rigor, the high moral discipline, the rare political sagacity, and—one must add—the great good fortune that is required for reflection and free choice to prevail over ignorance, prejudice, accident, and force. Nothing short of such rigor, sagacity, and luck will solve our current problems. But there is no nobler cause.
Proclaiming that all men everywhere and at all times possess by nature equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the American founders undertook the historic effort to secure these rights, so far as they thought they could then be secured. They were acutely conscious of the limits of their ability to secure these rights. When they were able to establish a “more perfect union” they understood full well how far from perfection they remained. It was all the new republic could do in the first century of its existence to keep the experiment in freedom from failing miserably at home as the principles espoused in the American Revolution slowly and uncertainly began to take hold on the minds if not yet in the politics of other peoples in the world.
In the course of its history, the American people have many times fallen beneath the high standards they set for themselves at the beginning. They have strayed from those principles, and they have forgotten them, and become confused about them, and allowed misunderstood self-interest to obscure them. The reason Abraham Lincoln is rightly regarded as the greatest democratic statesman is that he kept America from abandoning those principles as the foundation of American democracy.
His statesmanship preserved for future generations of Americans the moral truth of human equality as the soul—the animating spirit—of their political life: as “a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”
What is at stake in November 2020 is the American soul and the American way of life. There is no reason why Americans can’t “rise to equality” again. It will be good for us all.
This post is the fourth in a series by Christopher Flannery, host of The American Story podcast, on America’s identity and founding ideals and their implications for 2020. Here are the first, second, and third installments.—Eds. Back in October, 2019, when all of us lived in a different world, I wrote what I called an “American Meditation,” the occasion…
This post is the fourth in a series by Christopher Flannery, host ofThe American Storypodcast, on America’s identity and founding ideals and their implications for 2020. Here are the first, second, and third installments.—Eds.
Back in October, 2019, when all of us lived in a different world, I wrote what I called an “American Meditation,” the occasion for which was the New York Times’s announcement of its 1619 Project. A couple of other meditations followed on the same theme. Many others wrote on the subject.
Then came impeachment, the virus, the lockdowns, the destruction of the economy, masks, social distancing, and now, the riots.
Today, the country is in the midst of a crisis and catastrophe maybe as great as the crisis and catastrophe that culminated in the Civil War.
The framework of my meditations is that while thousands, hundreds, and dozens—the few and the very few—must think deeply over lifetimes about questions of vital interest to self-governing people, the rest of us millions of self-governing people have to choose and act, often with urgency, in the midst of relative chaos, and with the greatest stakes. I think it is not melodramatic to say that what is at stake in the forthcoming November elections is the American way of life.
The Claremont Institute’s recent statement on the crisis expresses some essential truths about the present crisis and the choice facing America:
The pretext for this entire nationwide riot is that America is a racist country…. Why is it that so many of our citizens believe that America is racist to its core? Because this lie has been preached by our universities and media like the Gospel for a generation. From there it has traveled throughout society, particularly among the elite. Even most leaders on the Right are unwilling to refute this destructive untruth. In failing to do so, they promote the falsehood, the riots that it has engendered, and ultimately America’s destruction. This is to say, the riots are the handiwork of the elite….
As we see written in flames in these riots and hear in all the commentary on them, the great divide in America is between those who believe that America is evil and needs to be destroyed, and those who believe that America is good and needs to be preserved. A version of that question is what the 2016 elections were about, and what the elections in 2020 will be about. The nation has a party devoted to transforming the American way of life; it needs a party devoted to preserving the American way of life.
America must have a full accounting of how the riots happened, who made them happen, and who let them happen. Those in power must be held to account. Most fundamentally, the lies that have been the core curriculum of American education must be replaced with the truth. The only way America can survive is as a united country dedicated to living out the true meaning of its creed. The elite want to rob us of that future. The rest of us should pledge our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to stopping them.
No one in America teaches with more authority and ambition that America is racist to the core than the New York Times’s 1619 Project.
In her MacArthur Foundation-supported, Pulitzer prize-winning essay expressing the project’s animating idea, celebrity New York Times columnist Nikole Hannah-Jones asserts that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” In her commentary on the ongoing riots, she lays bare the project’s underlying morality: “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.”
I have called the party devoted to preserving the American way of life “the Party of 1776.” The party devoted to transforming (and destroying) the American way of life I have called “the Party of 1619.” It remains to be seen whether the Republican Party will make itself the Party of 1776. But if there had been any doubt, this crisis makes clear that the Democratic Party now belongs to the Party of 1619.
The full account of this historic catastrophe will take deep thinkers years, volumes, and even libraries to produce. To begin, we must publicly recognize that these are The 1619 Riots, proudly co-sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Pulitzer Prize Board, the New York Times, the Party of 1619, and their elite friends and allies.
This post is the third in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Story podcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020. Here are the first and second installments.—Eds. If you’re driving through Wright, Wyoming (a few hundred miles east of Jackson, 5,000 feet or so above sea level,…
This post is the third in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Storypodcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020. Here are the first and second installments.—Eds.
If you’re driving through Wright, Wyoming (a few hundred miles east of Jackson, 5,000 feet or so above sea level, population about 1,850), and you’re road-parched and hungry, you might stop in at Hank’s Roadside Bar & Grill. It’s not fancy; more honky-tonk than family restaurant, as some online reviews will tell you. But on the right day, you can get a good buffalo burger made from buffalo who used to roam just a few miles down the road; and you might see this sign on the wall outside, in white capital letters with a Stars and Stripes background:
IF YOU DON’T STAND FOR OUR FLAG
AND IF YOU DON’T STAND FOR OUR COUNTRY
DON’T SIT IN OUR BAR
I’M HANK PRIDGEON
& I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE
Anyone who is a fan of American professional football, or anyone loosely following the headlines since August 26, 2016, will know that this sign refers to all the Colin Kaepernicks in the country. Mr. Kaepernick, then a professional football player, chose not to stand at a preseason game when players and fans were standing for the traditional playing of the National Anthem.
As he explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He thus became a poster boy for the multicultural Left in America—and for their corporate sponsors, like Nike, for whom he now makes politically correct shoe commercials.
More recently, Mr. Kaepernick ventured into foreign policy. Following the January 3 drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, Kaepernick tweeted: “There is nothing new about American terrorist attacks against Black and Brown people for the expansion of American imperialism.”
Mr. Kaepernick possesses no qualification of which I am aware that would give any serious person a reason to care what he thinks about American politics or military strategy. But as Abraham Lincoln said in his first debate with Senator Stephen Douglas (and as these meditations repeat for stray readers who may not yet have committed it to memory):
In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
Mr. Kaepernick’s kneeling and tweeting are expressions of a public sentiment that has come to rule this country over the past couple of generations. In government, business, religion, education, entertainment, and culture, every American has felt the ruling power of this multicultural sentiment, self-righteously enforced by the henchmen of political correctness in all their different uniforms.
This is the public sentiment the New York Times’s 1619 Project aspires to teach to every school child in America: “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” America was founded on a “racist ideology” according to which “black people belonged to an inferior, subhuman race,” and this racism infects to this day everything in America, from medical care to military strategy.
On December 20, the New York Times Magazine published a letter signed by a handful of prominent historians criticizing the 1619 Project and a response to the criticisms by Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein. For those who want to follow the public debate over the 1619 Project, this bibliography is helpful. Among other things, it offers links to several interviews conducted by the World Socialist Web Site elaborating historians’ criticisms of the 1619 Project.
As the conversation continues among the few thousands who are following it, virtually all American institutions of higher learning join America’s powerful media, wealthy non-profit funders like the MacArthur Foundation, corporations like Nike, and cultural institutions like the Smithsonian Institution to drive the sentiment of 1619 in countless variations down the throats of millions of Americans year in and year out.
Mr. Pridgeon’s sign represents an opposing sentiment. The gulf between these two public sentiments is the great divide in the American House today—the divide between what I’ve called the Party of 1619 and the Party of 1776. Roughly speaking, Mr. Kaepernick, whatever his party affiliation, if any, expresses in his kneeling and tweeting the sentiments of those who tend to register and seek election as Democrats. And just as roughly, Mr. Pridgeon, whatever his affiliations, expresses in his sign the sentiments of those who tend to register and seek election as Republicans.
Still speaking roughly, Republicans these days find it easier to stand up for the flag and publicly honor their country than do their Democratic neighbors. Democrats, driven by the multicultural Left, find it more and more difficult every day to speak of America as anything other than a racist, sexist, genocidal oppressor.
The most important thing at stake in the 2016 elections was which of these public sentiments would prevail, and this will be the most important thing at stake in November 2020. All policy questions are secondary and derivative. The elections are about what kind of public sentiment will rule the country. It is Hank’s Roadside Bar & Grill vs. the New York Times, Nike, and the Ivy League.
The Meaning of MLK Day
Of course, as the country has seen since 2016, the Party of 1619 is so deeply entrenched in American institutions that just winning elections is far from enough. A long and hard reckoning must follow. Still, winning, and being seen to win, on these terms is a necessary beginning.
As the federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, approaches, I thought it worth noting that the “architect” of the 1619 Project professes to believe in the truth of what Lincoln called “the central idea” from which all American ideas radiate—that “all men are created equal.” She merely denies that the white Americans who wrote those words—who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in support of those words—believed they applied to black slaves.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, at his best, seemed to know better. His famous Dream speech practically outlines a “Project 1776” curriculum, inviting all Americans to rally around America’s central idea and the Constitution built upon it. The curriculum would be based on three documents from three different centuries of the American Experiment: the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776; Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863; and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963.
For MLK Day, I recorded a few thoughts about this “Project 1776” curriculum over at The American Story podcast. I said something like this:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
These are among the most well-known words uttered by an American in the 20th century. To exaggerate a little, every American is familiar with the speech in which they were spoken. To exaggerate a little more, leaving aside a few history buffs, no American is familiar with any other American speech in the whole 100 years of the 20th century. Or, to get closer to the truth, even most educated Americans can count on one hand the 20th-century American political speeches from which they recall any words, and this would certainly be among them.
The words were spoken, of course, by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. King opened his now-famous speech with a phrase already familiar to Americans: “Five score years ago.” By the number of the years, King meant to link his speech with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln a hundred years earlier: the “momentous decree,” as King said, that “came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves.”
But by the familiar Biblical language in which he expressed these years—“five score”—King also connected his speech to the opening of America’s greatest speech, the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” To exaggerate a little again, every American is familiar with these words. And again to exaggerate a little more, aside from a few history buffs, no American is familiar with any other words from an American political speech in the entire 100 years of the loquacious 19th century.
In calling our attention to the American “creed,” King invokes the most familiar of all American words, from the Declaration of Independence, made official on July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” To test your patience and exaggerate a little for the last time, every American is especially familiar with these words, and, leaving aside the Constitution and “Give me liberty or give me death,” no American is familiar with any other words from an American political document in the entire 100 years of the 18th century.
What King called a “creed,” Lincoln called a “proposition,” and Jefferson called a self-evident truth—the idea that “all men are created equal”—is, as Lincoln thought, the central idea from which all other American ideas radiate. It is the standard by which Americans from the beginning have judged the successes and failures of their experiment in self-government. King’s dream, the American Dream, is the aspiration, which has defined every generation of Americans so far, to live up to this high standard.
Proclaiming that all men everywhere and at all times possess by nature equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the American founders undertook the historic effort to secure these rights, so far as they thought they could then be secured, to a small people in a particular place and time. They were acutely conscious of the limits of their ability to secure these rights.
According to their revolutionary principles, the “just powers of government” are derived from the “consent of the governed.” Much depended on what the governed were prepared to consent to. The Constitution they were able to get approved and ratified contained tragic compromises with the institution of slavery. It was all the new republic could do in the first century of its existence to keep the unprecedented experiment in freedom from failing miserably at home as the principles espoused in the American Revolution slowly and uncertainly began to take hold on the minds, if not yet in the politics, of other peoples in the world.
The Content of Our Character
In the course of their history, the American people have many times fallen beneath the high standard they set for themselves at the beginning. They have strayed from their principle, fought a civil war over it, become confused about it, and allowed misunderstood self-interest to obscure it. But through it all, as King’s speech attests, Americans never abandoned what Lincoln called:
a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.
King was born on January 15, 1929, and the national holiday in his honor is celebrated on the third Monday of January every year. If Americans are going to remember just one speech from the 20th century, his Dream speech is certainly a good candidate. It casts a golden thread across three centuries, connecting us to the source of the American Dream.
Some time back, Claremont Institute Senior Fellow and old friend Seth Leibsohn called my attention to a passage of the text of the Dream speech at the King archives. When King speaks of “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” the audience responds, “Yeah.” This is the spirit of 1776 (and 1787!). All Americans of all colors should rally to it.
A Final Thought
The recent killing of General Qasem Soleimani seems prudent, but whatever may be the prudence or imprudence of the action, it offers occasion to reflect that all American freedoms and American justice depend on successful American strategy.
Mr. Kaepernick’s public sentiments, the sentiments of the Party of 1619, are grounds not for a successful national strategy, but for national self-loathing. Tyranny, like freedom, comes in all colors. Khamenei’s Iran, Xi’s China, Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea, Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Assad’s Syria—all seek to shape the world around them, with whatever means they have, according to what they see as their interests.
If America is going to preserve for its citizens a better alternative in the world, it will need to be ruled by public sentiments that seem to be at home in Hank’s Roadside Bar & Grill.
This post is the second in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Story podcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020. Here is the first installment.—Eds. I ended my last (and first) meditation with the reflection that, under our circumstances and leaving historical and philosophical subtleties and complexities aside,…
This post is the second in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Story podcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020. Here is the first installment.—Eds.
I ended my last (and first) meditation with the reflection that, under our circumstances and leaving historical and philosophical subtleties and complexities aside, it seemed a good idea to “reframe” our politics for a moment and make the elections on November 3, 2020, hinge on one question: “Do you stand with the Party of 1619 or the Party of 1776?”
My reasoning was that, roughly speaking, politicians seeking election under the banner of the Democratic Party, at all levels, can fairly be said to belong to the “Party of 1619,” and politicians seeking office under the banner of the Republican Party, again roughly speaking, can fairly be said to belong to the “Party of 1776.”
I took the “Party of 1619” to represent the multiculturalist view prevailing in almost all American institutions of higher learning, and in American culture, media, and big business. According to this multiculturalist view, America is essentially a racist or genocidal—that is, a systemically evil—country. Evil is worthy of hatred, as is a systemically evil country.
“The Party of 1776” represents the old-fashioned and common-sense view that the most essential thing about America is precisely the well-known anti-racist (and anti-genocidal!) American principle: “All men are created equal.” This good, great, and true principle is worthy of huge love, as is the country dedicated to it.
The immediate occasion for these thoughts was the launch of the New York Times’s “1619 Project.” The stated ambition of this project is to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 [rather than 1776] as our true founding.” According to this reframing, “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA” of America. A “racist ideology,” viewing “black people [as] an inferior, subhuman race,” governed the 1776 American “founding.”
Therefore, according to the 1619 Project, when Jefferson and the other white Americans drafted and approved the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” they did not mean to include their black slaves in the phrase “all men.” Driven by their racist, white-supremacist ideology, the white American “founders” did not put an immediate end to slavery, as they should have done, and they drafted and ratified a pro-slavery Constitution.
True Scholarship, not Punditry
Did Jefferson and the others mean to include blacks when they wrote “all men”? Should the founders have abolished slavery as part of their founding? Was the founders’ Constitution pro-slavery?
There is a long historical record, rich with documents that shed light on these questions, and there is abundant scholarship addressing the questions especially in the past couple of generations.
Some scholars who have devoted much of their lives to such questions disagree about them. Some of the most influential scholarship of the past couple of generations did answer, more or less, “No, Yes, and Yes” to these questions: the founders did not mean to include blacks when they wrote “all men”; they should have abolished slavery as part of the founding; and the Constitution is a pro-slavery document. The architect of the 1619 Project, who is a journalist not a scholar, relies on this establishment scholarship for the historical and moral authority of the education she wants all Americans to have.
In addition to Lucas Morel’s fine essay on this site, I mentioned in my earlier meditation a couple of recent writings anyone serious about these questions would want to read. These writings, in several different ways, offer alternatives to the establishment view—good starting points for those wanting to think for themselves. Since then, I was grateful to have it called to my attention that the first chapter of Thomas West’s 1996 book, Vindicating the Founders, is accessible online. This is the most complete concise response I know of, both historically and philosophically, to each of the 1619 Project’s assertions I have mentioned here.
West demonstrates that the founders did, indeed, mean to include blacks when they wrote “all men are created equal”; that there is good reason to think that both justice and prudence were on the side of not immediately attempting to abolish slavery at the founding; and that it is reasonable to view the Constitution as an anti-slavery document. In my judgment, West offers such a convincing and succinct refutation of the 1619 view, and such a cogent articulation of American justice and prudence in the Revolution and Founding, that his chapter supplies the essential foundation of a curriculum that a “Project 1776” would want every American student to study.
Aside from its own exemplary reasoning, it supplies readers with many citations of relevant and interesting primary documents, and it cites scholarly and political writings that are worth considering, on various sides of the questions. Some dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of Americans, who have not yet done so, might turn to West’s book, and from it to the historical record and the scholarly literature, to find answers, and questions, for themselves.
These Americans will find themselves engaged in a conversation full of great historical and philosophical subtleties and complexities. It is a conversation ultimately about the justice and prudence that ought to govern America, and as I wrote earlier, it deserves “as keen a searching attention from the best of minds as does the conversation in Plato’s Republic, with not only timeless but timely urgency, because not just our souls but our country and its cause are at stake.”
Millions of the Americans who will vote in November 2020 will not have time for these subtleties and complexities, and in the meantime, the multicultural project, of which the 1619 Project is a sub-department, rolls on relentlessly. The 1619 project is an expression of the American establishment, which is now a multicultural establishment. It is sponsored by the most influential American newspaper. Its architect is a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grantee. It is officially “partnering” with the Pulitzer Center and the Smithsonian Institution. Major foundations and corporations support the effort.
Since the project was launched in August, a 1619 curriculum, developed in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center, has been used in at least 2800 classrooms, in every state. The Pulitzer Center is creating and circulating original “education programming” based on the project; since August, the Center has distributed bulk copies of the 1619 issue of the New York Times Magazine to over 500 schools across the country—including every high school in Chicago, Buffalo, New York, Washington, D.C., and Winston-Salem. The Center has also helped organize engagements for the architect of the 1619 Project with its network of schools and university partners.
The aim is to make the 1619 Project’s historical and moral claims central to a curriculum that will be taught to all American children. The explicit purpose of this curriculum, according to the architect of the 1619 Project, is to make white Americans feel “guilty” and to induce non-black Americans to pay “reparations” of some sort to black Americans. Thus are those in the highest echelons of financial, educational, and cultural privilege in today’s America, including the black female architect of the project, deploying the almost inexhaustible financial and political resources of the American establishment to teach all future generations of white Americans to feel guilty about themselves and their country and to teach all future generations of black Americans to feel entitled to compensation from their non-black fellow citizens, many yet unborn.
Can We Be Proud?
Since August, when the 1619 Project was launched, America has experienced another Constitution Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving, and we’re on our way to Christmas. Each of these occasions provided another, now depressingly predictable, opportunity for the multicultural American establishment to assault public gratitude and veneration for America and its cause and to replace them with loathing.
September 17, of course, long before it officially became “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” has been an occasion for eminent authorities including Supreme Court justices to instruct American citizens that the Constitution is a pro-slavery document and at the same time a living document that means only what the latest powerful minority thinks it means.
Columbus Day is an occasion for increasing numbers of elected officials at all levels to instruct their fellow citizens, who elected them, that the day is offensive and must be regarded as Indigenous People’s Day. Needless to say, the scholarly establishment and the media cheer them on.
Thanksgiving, alas, is approaching its 400th anniversary and must face presumably more than one book-length explanation of why it is a day for American self-loathing. The New York Times honors the day this year with an article titled, “The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth.” It is written by an establishment scholar pumping his book, This Land is Their Land. You can find his Atlantic article pumping the book if you search for: “Thanksgiving belongs to the Wampanoag tribe.”
What does the Christmas season hold? I leave it to your experience and imagination.
I have argued that, while hundreds and thousands are doing the very important work of thinking the big thoughts, it is reasonable and urgently important for millions to think of the choice facing Americans in the November 2020 elections as a choice between those who think America is racist and those who think America is anti-racist: between the Party of 1619 and the Party of 1776.
These broader multicultural currents show that it could be just as reasonable and salutary to cast your vote according to which party is for National Indigenous People’s Day and which party is for Columbus Day; or according to which party thinks the Thanksgiving tradition is shameful and which party thinks the Thanksgiving tradition is a good thing; or which party thinks America should remove Christmas from all public places and which party thinks Christmas in public places is just fine.
Maybe as good a distinction as any would be between the party of all other genders and the party of all men and women. Put abstractly, the distinction is between Multiculturalism and America.
While the American multicultural establishment has been taking the occasions of Constitution Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving to express loathing for the allegedly systemically oppressive America, advocates of freedom in Hong Kong have found no better way to express their aspirations than to carry large American flags, sing the American national anthem, and chant U.S.A., U.S.A.! One can’t help comparing them with coddled millionaire football players and their multicultural corporate sponsors, who take pride in not standing for the national anthem here in the U.S.
Those brave people in Hong Kong don’t want to be us; they want to be free. Maybe there is little America can do to help them. But the America that multiculturalism despises used to give them, and votaries of freedom everywhere, something to believe in. That is no small thing—not just for them; for us.
Clearly many registered and elected Democrats love America and are pained at seeing their Party and other American institutions taken over by a multicultural Left that despises America. Nonetheless, as far as I can tell, the Democratic Party is being taken over by the multicultural Left right before our eyes, just as other American political, educational, cultural, religious, and business institutions have already been taken over. The broader takeover represents the crisis of our time. It is, in President Obama’s polite word, the “transformation” of America.
And therefore, roughly speaking, if I am right, it is urgently important to recognize that a vote for a Democrat at any level is a vote for the multicultural project to “transform” America because America is “systemically” evil (racist, bigoted, sexist, genocidal, etc.). If Democrats want to repudiate the multicultural agenda, God bless them—they can help save the country—but Republicans must compel them to do that or to get unelected in 2020. The fate of the country depends on it.
After the dust settles, there will be time enough to figure out the many policy questions that might reasonably divide Republicans. If the country is politically settled on its essential principle of justice, more or less sound policy will follow. If the country abandons its principle for multicultural tyranny, sound policy will be practically impossible.
This post is the first in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Story podcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020.—Eds. It was the first day of class and students were taking their seats. An earnest young sophomore came up and asked if she could make an announcement:…
This post is the first in a series by Christopher Flannery (author of The American Story podcast) reflecting on America’s identity and founding ideals—and their implications for 2020.—Eds.
It was the first day of class and students were taking their seats. An earnest young sophomore came up and asked if she could make an announcement: a rally for social justice was taking place on campus that day. I told her that seemed an auspicious beginning to our semester.
We were studying what I thought was the greatest book yet written on the question of justice, Plato’s Republic. It is a book in which Socrates—reputedly the wisest of men—expresses great regard for justice, but claims that he knows next to nothing on the subject. The student’s concern with justice, like Socrates’, seemed perfectly reflective of the human condition. Human beings need justice. We can’t be complete without it. It is one of the perfections of human nature. An unjust man is a bad man, just as an unjust country is a bad country, and everybody knows this without the aid of philosophy, much less science. Every political community reflects this natural fact. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”
The confidence of this young woman also seemed a reflection of the human condition. She knew that people ought to be just, and she knew what justice was with enough certainty that she could urge her classmates to join her in pursuing it, fighting for it. Like this young woman, every political community has a natural need of confidence in its justice. This confidence justifies asking fellow citizens for the ultimate sacrifice in the country’s cause, and it justifies punishing injustice. And yet, though every man and woman and every country needs confidence in its own justice, human experience and reflection repeatedly demonstrate that countries and men and women—like Socrates—regularly fall short of an adequate understanding of what justice is.
Cephalus, the good-humored old man who appears at the beginning of the Republic, very reasonably and unquestioningly assumes that justice is something like being honest and giving people what belongs to them. Socrates raises his usual questions about this sensible and confident view of justice, and it begins dimly to appear that you can’t be just without being prudent; nor can you be prudent without being just. A conversation ensues that has never been equaled in its searching depths, layers of complexity, and stunning beauty. At the end of this inexhaustible conversation, Socrates may be as uncertain as ever about what justice is, or prudence for that matter, but it seems clearer than before that men and women and countries by nature need both of these comprehensive virtues.
The American Declaration of Independence seems to confirm this. The people of the United States of America assume their separate and equal station among the powers of the earth by asserting a distinctively American principle of justice, “that all men are created equal [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But immediately following that first famous assertion of American justice, the revolutionaries emphatically acknowledge the need for prudence in the application of justice: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
The American experiment in self-government shows that it is not just in great books that justice and prudence can be seen as essential and inseparable virtues of political life. Just where this American principle of justice comes from, what it means, and how prudence must give it life, are among the greatest questions in American history. These questions have given rise to real-life conversations, deliberations, and actions comparable to Plato’s Republic in their scope and complexity, with the added compliment to humanity that they are the speeches and deeds of real men and women.
Things got real for Socrates, too, of course. Athens put him to death for the perceived injustice of his imprudent questions. And this, too, seems a reflection of the human condition: it seems that Socrates will always be with us, imprudently questioning the justice of our ways, and we will always imprudently be putting Socrates to death for his injustice.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is confident of her justice. So is her employer, the New York Times. Her recent official job description was “domestic correspondent for the New York Times Magazine focusing on racial injustice.” Hannah-Jones and her employer are also confident of her prudence. She is, in her own word, the “architect” of the 1619 project launched by the New York Times a couple of months ago (see Lucas Morel’s essay on the project). The ambition of this project is to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.” To understand 1619 as the true founding of America is to understand America as founded not on justice and prudence but on injustice and imprudence.
According to Hannah-Jones, 1619 marks “the beginning of American slavery,” when “Jamestown colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans” in August of that year. Hannah-Jones and her 1619 projecters understand the injustice of slavery to be more essential to America than the principle of justice proclaimed in 1776. In their view, which is more or less the view of the American multicultural establishment, “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” A “racist ideology” governed Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Declaration of Independence at the nation’s founding. When Jefferson and the other white Americans drafted and approved the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” they did not mean to include their black slaves in the phrase “all men.” According to the ideology that governed the founding, “black people belonged to an inferior, subhuman race.” The imprudence that followed from this unjust ideology was that America did not immediately abolish slavery at the first moment of its independence.
Hannah-Jones says this 1619 Project is the most important work in her life.
She quite rightly wants to bring all the rigor at her disposal to getting all the facts and arguments right. “Every piece in here,” she writes about the 1619 issue of her magazine, “is deeply researched. It is backed up by historical evidence. Our fact checkers went back to panels of historians and had them go through every single argument and every single fact that is in here.”
Unfortunately, her rigor and precision and lucidity fall short in important ways. Lucas Morel points out some of these in his essay. Allen Guelzo and Timothy Sandefur remind us of other facts and arguments that anyone wanting to think seriously about these important questions would want to consider. I write here and cite these writings not to end conversation, but to begin one. It is a conversation about the justice and prudence that ought to govern America, and it requires as keen a searching attention from the best of minds as does the conversation in Plato’s Republic, with not only timeless but timely urgency, because not just our souls but our country and its cause are at stake.
1619, 1776, 2020
Of course, like Cephalus, and Athens, and Socrates himself, we are not likely to exhaust the questions of justice and prudence here. And while the conversation goes on, we all have decisions to make—this natural and unavoidable urgency of life plays hell with justice and prudence. To take just one decision that must be made by millions of Americans while some thousands of Americans devote themselves to thinking through America’s justice and prudence: if unforeseeable events don’t intervene and if we continue to follow law and precedent, on November 3, 2020, Americans have a president, and a House of Representatives, and a third of the U.S. Senate to elect, just to mention national offices. There are few questions more fundamental in those elections than the one we are discussing here: Is America a country with anti-black racism in its DNA, a country governed by an ideology according to which “black people belong to an inferior, subhuman race”? Or is America the country Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. believed it to be: a country dedicated to the proposition that all men, meaning all human beings, are created equal?
The millions of Americans voting on November 3, 2020, will not have read Hannah-Jones’s essay, or this meditation, or the other essays I mention. Much less will they have read the many books written on these subjects, some of which I hope to discuss in future meditations. The politicians seeking their votes will not have read these either, though some of their staffers will have done. But very roughly speaking—because very rough speaking is generally all that is possible in politics—those politicians seeking office under the banner of the Democratic Party represent the thinking of those multiculturalist scholars, intellectuals, and journalists who believe the America founded in 1776 is a racist country, and that because racism is evil and worthy of hatred, the America of 1776 is evil and worthy of hatred. The Democratic Party is the Party of 1619.
And very roughly speaking, those politicians presenting themselves under the banner of the Republican Party represent the thinking of those non-multiculturalist scholars, and intellectuals, and journalists who believe the America of 1776 is the opposite of racist. They think that America stands for the distinctively American principle of justice proclaimed in 1776, that all men are created equal. And because this principle is good and even great(!), and what is good is lovable, and what is good and great is hugely lovable, America is worthy of love, worthy of huge love. The Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, is the Party of 1776.
Leaving historical and philosophical subtleties and complexities aside, it would save a lot of ad money and place all other issues in a helpful perspective, I think, if we “reframed” our politics for a moment and made the elections on November 3, 2020, hinge on one question: Do you stand with the Party of 1619 or the Party of 1776?