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.