One of Joe Biden’s first acts as President will be to issue an executive order dissolving the 1776 Commission, a commission aimed at rebutting the New York Times’ 1619 Project, his transition team announced this morning. It’s sure to be one of many actions Biden will take in the early days of his presidency to chip away at the legacy of his predecessor.
When President Trump issued his own executive order creating the panel of right-wing politicians, activists, and academics (but, notably, no working historians) in November, it was ostensibly “to better enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776.”
Its true purpose was to rebut the 1619 Project, which received a levy of criticism from cultural conservatives, mainly because it refused to flinch at America’s true legacy of slavery. It tells a story of American history that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
The 1619 Project is a collection of pieces written by journalists and academics initially published in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the English colony of Virginia. It won a Pulitzer Prize and led to a curriculum that’s being taught in schools around the country, despite GOP efforts to censor it.
The 1776 Commission tells a very different story. Its report, released on Monday, lists slavery, progressivism, fascism, communism, and “racism and identity politics” as “challenges to America’s principles.” Consider the worldview of people who would list progressivism alongside slavery as challenges and you begin to get an idea of the reactionary, ahistorical story told by the report.
“This report skillfully weaves together myths, distortions, deliberate silences, and both blatant and subtle misreading of evidence to create a narrative and an argument that few respectable professional historians, even across a wide interpretive spectrum, would consider plausible, never mind convincing,” historian James Grossman told the New York Times.
Biden’s dissolution of the commission will get the government out of a shouting match with the New York Times, which is a good thing. Hopefully, it will also open the door for more American children to be exposed to the 1619 Project so that they develop a more accurate, less nationalistic view of American history than the ideologues on the soon-to-be-dismantled commission.