What Is ‘Patriotic Education?’ Trump Announces Strange Program On Eve Of Election Day

KEY POINTS

  • Donald Trump has signed an executive order on the eve of the presidential election promoting “patriotic education” 
  • It stands in direct opposition to efforts like the 1619 Project to reframe U.S. history with a focus on civil rights and slavery
  • Critics were quick to decry the move as essentially straight from the playbooks of fascist and authoritarian regimes, but his supporters seemed pleased

With Election Day just hours away, President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order to establish a “1776 Commission” to promote “patriotic education.”

The purpose of “patriotic education” through the commission’s creation is to “better enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.”

The framing of the order and its stated contents stand in direct opposition to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which seeks to reframe U.S. history through the consequences of slavery.

The executive order — it comes the day before an election in which Trump trails in polls — drew bold opinions along partisan lines. Some users on social media were quick to note the similarities to fascist and authoritarian regimes.

Trump announced the signing on his Twitter account, citing the “radical indoctrination” of students.

The text of the order itself is no less strident, decrying “a series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship [that] has vilified our founders and our founding.”

The text appears to be thinly veiled references to the 1619 Project, an effort by the Times on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the Virginia colony in 1619.

Like Trump’s executive order, the 1619 Project has sought to influence education in the U.S., partnering with schools to change civics classes to include information on slavery. 

Before Trump’s order, the 1619 Project had faced its share of scrutiny. An opinion piece by Times columnist Bret Stephens noted that many U.S. history scholars see the 1619 Project to some degree as reductionist, unnecessary or even factually incorrect. The project has given a partial response, noting the difficulties and complexities of managing such an ambitious undertaking.

Objections from scholars, however, are mild compared to how some on the political right view the project. The project has been slammed as nothing short of an attempt by liberal elites to discredit American values, a belief reflected in the language of this newest order. It prompted Sen Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to introduce legislation banning schools from teaching the curriculum through the Saving American History Act of 2020. 

The text of  “the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission” document states that without “common faith,” subsequent generations will be “in jeopardy of a crippling self-doubt” that would, somehow, inevitably lead to authoritarianism.

Many on Twitter accused Trump himself of leading that authoritarian charge, noting the similarities between this order and the hyperpatriotic regimes of Nazi Germany and Mao Communism in China. 

Others attacked Trump for attempting to score political points with his base in the midst of a pandemic.

Some Trump supporters appreciated the executive order because of its timing. 

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