President Biden wasted no time following his inauguration on Wednesday afternoon, quickly sitting down to sign 17 different executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from his new White House post.
Among those orders the new president set into motion are moves to rejoin the Paris climate accord, the end to a Trump-era ban on predominantly Muslim and African countries as well as the swift disbanding of former President Trump’s 1776 Commission.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” Biden said during his Inaugural Address at the Capitol, delivered to a crowd shrunken by coronavirus risks and threats of violence. “Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build, and much to gain.”
The 1776 Commission
Trump had just established the 1776 Commission in September, an apparent counter to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project that sought to educate American students about our nation’s past with slavery. Trump called the project “toxic propaganda” last year, while blaming an uprising of Black Lives Matter demonstrations on U.S. school curricula, saying “the left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.”
The “patriotic education” commission, made up of an 18-person panel that included no professional historians, had just released a report two days earlier on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day aimed at countering what it said were efforts “to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one,” according to the White House website at the time.
In the report released on a holiday meant to honor the Civil Rights Movement, the commission made claims that “the Civil Rights Movement was almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the founders,” criticizing affirmative action policies and arguing that identity politics are “the opposite of King’s hope that his children would ‘live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ “
A swift disbanding
It was Trump’s hope that the insights in the commission’s report would be used in classrooms across the nation, part of a right-wing push to shift the language used in American schools and universities, which the panel described as “hot beds of anti-Americanism.” In a public meeting of the commission this month, some members held out hope that President Biden would keep it alive, but an executive order disbanded the commission and withdrew the report just two days following its release.
James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, told The Associated Press that the report is intended to discredit contemporary public policies rooted in America’s progressive reform movement, and shared concerns that the report could still end up in some classrooms despite President Biden’s executive order.
“Historians need to be paying attention to curriculum conversations in localities and at the state level,” Grossman said. “The nonsense that’s in this report will be used to legitimate similar nonsense.”
After the report was removed from a White House website, some of its authors moved to make it available on conservative websites. In an opinion piece published by the Heritage Foundation, one of the commissioners, Mike Gonzalez, said the members “intend to continue meeting and fulfilling the charges of our two-year remit.”
Experts are quick to remind that President Biden’s rescinding of the Trump-era project does not end the fight over American history.
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