Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Trump's Executive Order for 1776 Commission

Like many of you, I'm hoping that Trump's Executive Order establishing a 1776 Commission will be rendered moot sometime within the next 12-2,215 hours. But because, like many of you, I need something to distract me from doomscrolling (and the board of directors is napping), I'm going to go ahead and look at this damn fool executive order. The short form is that this is all empty political hooey, but I'm trying to kill time here.

First, it has to be said that somebody at the White House has a real gift for hamfisted baloney writing. Right of the bat we get the purpose of this EO-- "to better enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776, and, through this, form a more perfect Union." Because he's sure he heard that "more perfect union" thingy in some patriotic program once. 

Let's go.

Section 1. Purpose.

The American founding envisioned a political order in harmony with the design of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” seeing the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as embodied in and sanctioned by natural law and its traditions.

I'm not sure a "founding" can "envision" anything. Nor am I sure about "natural law" and its traditions. So much about this EO sets off a long-time English teachers detector for "this student does not understand the words and phrases that he has copied from some other source." 

It goes on to note that the formation of a republic (notice-- not a democracy, but a republic, as all good right-leaning mansplainers will tell you) makes us really different, because it secures "through a form of government that derives its legitimate power from the consent of the governed." Which kind of gives away the game on not understanding natural laws, because those are laws that are built into nature itself. This phrase is like saying "We will be a new physics department because we will be the first to operate with gravity." Nope. The natural law--governments exist only by consent of the governed--is natural and has always been there in every single government, whether they knew it or not. What was new was enlightenment thinkers teasing out that the consent thing was a hardwired part of how governments work.

Throughout its national life, our Republic’s exploration of the full meaning of these principles has led it through the ratification of a Constitution, civil war, the abolition of slavery, Reconstruction, and a series of domestic crises and world conflicts.

A weird list. First, Reconstruction (aka "the South wins some non-military victories in Civil War overtime") is not really something to brag about. Second, why just skip over everything else? My guess- because this whole EO is still rooted in being pissed about the 1619 project and people who say we're a racist country. This is the standard comeback-- we are not, because we fought a war to free the slaves, and everything has been mostly super for Black folks ever since.

The EO says "those events establish a clear historical record of an exceptional Nation dedicated to the ideas and ideals of its founding." Because he wants to get American exceptionalism in here somewhere.

Now the angry paragraph explaining that students are being taught to hate their own country (a phrase that does a lot of heavy lifting, because, you know, maybe there were some other people who were pissed at the US too, but this isn't really their country). 

This radicalized view of American history lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured. Failing to identify, challenge, and correct this distorted perspective could fray and ultimately erase the bonds that knit our country and culture together.

Again, if we look at Trumpian history, we can note that "our country and culture" isn't meant to include everyone. Trump's "great uniter status" among his fans may be puzzling, unless you understand it to mean that Trump has been uniting Real Americans while pushing away all of Those People who Aren't Really Americans.

Now a couple of paragraphs of "we're not racist at all," featuring Abraham Lincoln and MLK. I take this as another hint that Trump didn't write this himself, because he's old enough and racist enough to have been one of the people vilifying MLK as a violent reactionary threatening our country and culture. 

Now, fasten your irony harness and sit down hard for this next part:

As these heroes demonstrated, the path to a renewed and confident national unity is through a rediscovery of a shared identity rooted in our founding principles. A loss of national confidence in these principles would place rising generations in jeopardy of a crippling self-doubt that could cause them to abandon faith in the common story that binds us to one another across our differences. Without our common faith in the equal right of every individual American to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, authoritarian visions of government and society could become increasingly alluring alternatives to self-government based on the consent of the people.

Yes, if the nation were ever to doubt some of its bedrock principles, a self-serving demagogue might use that. Such a leader might whip a core group into a frenzy by constantly scaring them with tales of Others that are coming to get them, and use that fear to install himself as a authoritarian leader, replacing allegiance to the country's principles with allegiance to himself. I'm wondering, and not for the first time-- does someone write this stuff completely oblivious to the self-description he's providing, or is it a joke ("Watch-- I'm going to tell them straight out what we're doing and they won't bat an eye")?

We're going to slip in some school choice here--the "restoration of American education" must be a local thing, and "parents and local school boards must be empowered to achieve greater choice and variety in curriculum." By the way, he wants you to know that this devotion to state and local control is why his administration "rejects the Common Core curriculum" and all efforts to impose national standards or curriculum. Yeah, he has no idea what he's talking about here.

Vigorous participation in local government has always been America’s laboratory of liberty and a key to what makes us exceptional. The best way to preserve the story of America’s founding principles is to live it in action by local communities reasserting control of how children receive patriotic education in their schools.

Is that what makes us exceptional? Because I thought it was all that other natural law consent of the governed stuff. Also, this graf begs the question-- who installed the evil country-hating curriculum that this is meant to countermand? Did not state and local boards adopt their own curriculum? If they are "reasserting" control, exactly who are they taking it back from? Because I'm pretty sure the feds didn't force anybody to adopt the 1619 project. I'm also pretty sure that most history textbooks are already plenty conservative (check this whole thread). But as already noted--political hooey.

Section 2. The President's Advisory 1776 Commission.

 120 days for the secretary of education to set this up. No more than 20 members, all appointed by the Pres. Two year term, because at the end of two years, this evaporates, because how much time do you need to whip up a complete and accurate approved patriotic history of the US. Can include folks from outside government, plus the following ex officio members (or their stand-ins): secretaries of state, defense, interior, housing and urban development and education; assistant to the President for domestic policy, and for intergovernmental affairs. Nobody gets paid for this

They have to crank out a report within a year, give some advice about celebrating the 250th USA birthday, implement a "Presidential 1776 Award" for students who know a bunch of Founding facts and stuff, make sure the patriotic education is incorporated into parks, battlefields, etc, oversee some grants, and whip up some PR activities. There will be a chair, and USED will come up with an Executive Director, as well as funding this thing. 

Section 3. Celebration of Constitution Day.

Schools gonna celebrate this day right, or we're gonna cut their federal funding. Because compliance is the American way. Also, yes, you are correct in thinking that all of the section 1 quotage is from the Declaration, not the Constitution.

Section 4. Prioritize the American Founding in Available Federal Resources.

Check the couch cushions. There has to be some money to fund this lying around somewhere, attached to some pre-existing programs. Just repurpose that stuff.

Section 5. General Provisions.

Disclaimers. This doesn't have enough force to push aside any actual laws or structures or jobs already in place.

You'll not9ice that while this has a purpose and a commission, it doesn't have a mission. The commission is supposed to meet and come up with... something. Not a curriculum, mind you, because that's not a federal job. Just write a report, in which this group of bureaucrats whips up a specially created version of 250 years or so of history. Sure.

Yes, it's a bunch of PR hooey, and may vanish entirely in the near future. Which is good, because political indoctrination is not the way you create patriots, and insisting that there's only one view of the past is not how you do history, and trying to codify a white nationalist view of our checkered and complicated past is not how you make America great. Nor is any of this how you raise real thinkers, but I've already talked about that. Here's hoping we don't ever have to talk about any of this again.

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