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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

FELLAS: President Trump’s Orwellian 1776 Commission is a threat to democracy

President Trump’s 1776 Commission aims to rewrite America’s imperialist and racist history.
Hunter Long
The American flag embodies American ideals, not skewed patriotism. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

As educational institutions across America, like Vanderbilt, are attempting to modernize and broaden their curriculums to include marginalized voices and paint the most accurate portrait of American history, President Trump wants to take us back 250 years—to 1776. On Sept. 17, he announced the “1776 Commission,” a program aimed to “restore patriotic education to our schools.” 

The name is parodying The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project designed to shed light on the often overlooked darkness in America’s past and the implications today, dubbed “toxic propaganda” by Trump in his announcement. His attempt to censor education, discredit teachers and intellectuals and rewrite history should be seen for what it is: an attempt to rewrite the more shameful elements of our country’s history and racist dog-whistling for his nativist base in an election year.

Trump’s desire to rewrite the past recalls the work of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s “1984.” The Ministry’s function was to rewrite history, precisely because a country’s dominant, historical narrative was essential to people’s understanding of themselves.  As Orwell wrote, “if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” 

Trump decried our “adversaries” —countries like China and North Korea—for pushing “anti-American” narratives and suggested that teaching American history through rose-colored glasses is the solution. In doing so, he ignored the fact that a squeaky clean retelling of a country’s history, like what the “1776 Commission” aims to implement, mirrors similarly censored histories in those “[adversarial]” countries.

 Further, he criticized schools for teaching “critical race theory,” with the goal of “rip[ping] apart friends, neighbors, and families,” but here, he ignores the fact that this country is already fractured by racism, and we cannot build a unified country without addressing the divides inherent in our political system. And additionally, the racism and other marginalization in the United States took root even before the foundation of this country and remains today as a result of that historical context.

How can we dismantle systems of oppression and work to greater unity without understanding how we got to this fractured place?

But Trump knows all of this. He isn’t interested in uniting; that’s never been his goal. Instead, he divides with racist statements (like calling Mexican immigrants “drug dealers,” “criminals,” and “rapists”) believing that he can prevail in the election with only the support of one distinct part of the country.

Additionally, Trump invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for a world “where children are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But this demonstrates precisely the issue with Trump’s “patriotic” curriculum. He wants America to recast our history, minimizing the impact of slavery, colonialism and bigotry, and implied that MLK would have supported his attempt to rewrite history. But MLK warned against the “white moderate”—those that overlook racism in favor of keeping peace and spent his whole life bringing awareness to the plight of Black people in America. Trump’s blatant twisting of MLK’s words to fit his narrative of an infallible country is exactly what will happen if we implement a curriculum more focused on concealing the past in the name of “patriotism” than upon revealing the truth of our country’s history, good and bad.  

Teaching the truth about American history and uplifting stories of marginalized people will not, as Trump claimed in his speech, “destroy our country,” and we can’t be patriots without fully understanding the country we claim to love. As famous American author James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

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About the Contributors
Nora Fellas, Former Deputy Opinion Editor
Nora Fellas (‘24) is from New York and is in the College of Arts and Science studying English literature and Chinese. In her free time, she loves to read, listen to music and play with her dog, Maisie! You can reach her at [email protected].
Hunter Long, Former Multimedia Director
Hunter Long (’21) is from Austin, TX and double majored in molecular biology and medicine, health and society. He is an avid lover of film photography, good music and all things coffee. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Tony Stark
3 years ago

The goal of the 1619 project is to change the core narrative of America from one of slow progress to one of stagnant irredeemability. The goal of the 1619 project is to make black people feel like America is *inherently* racist, wasn’t made for them, and will never include them, and to alienate recent immigrants by telling them they aren’t a part of the core American story. The 1619 project, besides containing many falsehoods, is designed to destabilize America. It’s propaganda, and if Trump retaliates with his own, that is bad for everyone, but it’s still possibly better than the alternative. We must teach the terrible truth of what those Americans did, but we should also teach hope and gratitude instead of despair and rage. We should teach our children that they can learn from the past, that America is fundamentally good, that they aren’t forever branded as oppressed or oppressors. Remember, we still have to live here, and if enough people start hating the idea of America, there will eventually stop being an America.

3 years ago

What he is doing is arguably bad, but one can also make the exact same argument for the mandatory implementation of the 1619 project. The 1619 project is historical inaccurate, as many scholars and fact checkers have pointed out, and is about distorting history for political motives. It is no different than the 1776 commission. You can’t scream and cry when the team you aren’t on starts doing what your team has been doing the whole time.

3 years ago

Beautifully stated, thank you.