Are Trump supporters patriotic

US President dissolves History Commission : Joe Biden and the Cold Civil War

Mischa Honeck is Professor of the History of Great Britain and North America at the University of Kassel.

Liberal America breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden heralded the political turnaround in the first hours after he was sworn in. By decree, the new president settled with the policies of his predecessor.

At the top of Biden's list were well-known projects such as the return to the Paris climate agreement or the freeze on the border wall with Mexico. With another stroke of the pen, Biden liquidated the 1776 Commission, an advisory body that had been established just three months ago, and which was supposed to emphasize Donald Trump's demand for "patriotic history lessons" in all schools in the country.

One may wonder that in times of crisis the dissolution of a semi-prominent group of scholars was one of the first official acts of the new government. Fundamentally, however, is at stake for those involved. Who are we? How did we become what we are? Can history heal a divided nation? If so, which historical narrative is actually capable of doing this?

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Observers see in the history dispute of the past weeks a new quality of the culture war between the conservative and progressive part of the USA, which now shows the features of a cold civil war. The reason for the founding of the 1776 commission seems to confirm this narrative.

The Republican Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton denounced the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project”, which the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones started two years ago, as “left-wing propaganda” about the 400-year history of suffering of African Americans to move to the center of the nation's historical self-assurance.

For Trump's supporters, the 1776 commission was an act of patriotic self-defense

This paradigm shift drove the chief ideologues of the “Make America Great Again” faction to the barricades. In November 2020, for example, the national republican women's organization welcomed the establishment of the 1776 commission as an act of patriotic self-defense. The liberal dominance in the media and at universities means that shame instead of pride is becoming the key emotional currency in history lessons.

Where are patriotic love and national togetherness? Will the erosion of those supposedly primeval American virtues put an end to the reconciliation of the warring camps before it begins? Decent people on both sides, one might think, would reduce the concerns of the not so young New Right to this denominator.

The history of whitewashing in US history is long

This reading is highly problematic for two reasons. On the one hand, it obscures the long tradition of "whitewashing" in American historical culture - a coloring of one's own past, which with a lot of pathos fuses the heroic deeds of virtuous, daring, mostly Anglo-Saxon men into a narrative of national greatness. That this whitewashing arises from the logic of rule of white nationalism was shown more than a hundred years ago by the conflict over the legacy of the American Civil War.

Criticism of slavery and segregation was frowned upon in white America, where after 1900 monuments were even erected for renegade Confederates. The research of the African American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, who paid tribute to the democratic pioneering work of the black population of the south after 1865, was little heard. Instead, historians such as Ullrich Bonnett Philipps and William Dunning downplayed the violence against African Americans and celebrated the end of the reconstruction period as a necessary step towards reconciliation between northern and southern states.

The misunderstanding of history went so far that enslaved people were reinterpreted as malefactors

The racist falsification of history reached its preliminary climax in 1915 with the silent film Birth of a Nationwho glorified the Ku Klux Klan and reinterpreted the formerly enslaved as malefactors. Even the man in the White House took part in the hymns of praise. Woodrow Wilson is said to have said "Terribly true" and "Story as written in a flash," after a private screening.

The path led from the racist consensus of the turn of the century to the consensus school of the middle of the century, which in the fifties gave itself the appearance of an anti-totalitarian history. In the major ideological conflicts of the 20th century, moral support was required. Leading representatives of the historians' guild provided them by emphasizing the identity-forming power of the universal ideas of freedom of 1776. The villains were called Hitler and Stalin, not John C. Calhoun or Andrew Jackson. Anyone who nevertheless dealt with the crimes of slavery or the excesses of violence against the North American natives was on the verge of treason.

During the Cold War, critical historians were defamed as communists

The few who dared, among them the African-American historian John Hope Franklin and his Jewish colleague Herbert Aptheker, became the target of anti-communist agitation. Significantly, it was the intervention of a foreign scientist that shook the very foundations of the Weißwäscher story. In his internationally acclaimed study An American Dilemma In 1944, the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal described racial segregation as a brake on the American promise of progress. Myrdal's influence extended to the highest levels of the US judicial system. The Supreme Court cited Myrdal's work in 1956 in its decision to declare segregation unconstitutional in public schools.

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement brought about a turning point

Almost forty years later, the first shot of the current wars of history was fired. With the social upheavals of the 1960s, the balance of power at the universities slowly changed. Inspired by the civil rights movement, a group led by the revolutionary historian Gary Nash designed an ambitious curriculum concept for the teaching of history in elementary and high schools in 1994, which included the historical experiences of disadvantaged groups in the canon of American history education. For conservatives, Nash's National History Standards were a red rag.

Led by Lynne Cheney, the wife of future Vice President Dick Cheney, opponents of the Standards launched a furious press campaign that anticipated many of the allegations made by the 1776 commission. Left historians like Nash, it is alleged, paid homage to the golden calf of multiculturalism and sacrificed the US success story on the altar of political correctness. The media scolding had an effect: The Senate in Washington rejected the standards with only one vote against. The whitewashers could book an important victory.

The "1776 Report" is an expression of an embarrassing battle of retreat

But the search for a pluralistic story that does justice to the diverse spaces of experience of a multi-ethnic democracy could no longer be stopped. Especially among the young people who took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands after the death of George Floyd last year, the approval of a more inclusive, colorful, and sometimes even more uncomfortable story is overwhelming. On the other hand, if you look at the “1776 Report” written by the commission from the ridge of today's research, you can see little more than an embarrassing battle of retreat.

Here comes the second problem of those commentators who speak of fair competition between two schools of thought. It is the blatant breach of scientific rules that characterizes the actions of Trump's whitewashers. Your propaganda pamphlet does not contain a single footnote. In addition, there is not a single professional historian among the authors. Seldom has the reaction of the venerable American Historical Association, the oldest association of historians in the United States, been so violent and valued for its impartiality. Full of “falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions and misleading statements”, the report turns history into a caricature and “out of historical ignorance a civic virtue.” Trump's presidency, as one could sum up with a pinch of sarcasm, had reached its logical end: from fake news to Fake history.

Even without the 1776 Commission, the reactionary historical image will find buyers

The 1776 commission may have been a short-lived haunt. However, their reactionary view of history will find enough buyers. Education policies in the United States are a matter of state and local government; This applies not least to the question of which textbooks are used in history lessons. In Republican strongholds, school authorities will continue to cling to whitewashed national history, and their arch-conservative advocates in Congress will continue to equate critical questioning of their own past with brainwashing. It is to be hoped that an attitude will prevail in the ailing American democracy as the young African-American poet Amanda Gorman articulated so movingly at the inauguration of Joe Biden: “Because being an American is more than a pride that we inherit. It is the past that we step into and how we fix it. "

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