As soon as Joe Biden took office, his White House disbanded the 1776 Commission and scrapped its report, published a mere two days earlier. President Donald Trump had compiled the 1776 Commission to respond to the nefarious impact of Marxist critical race theory, which teaches that a hidden racist oppression is the true driver of American history and current society. That noxious idea arguably inspired the Black Lives Matter riots of the summer — and Biden coddled those rioters.
The 1776 Commission is history, but its members will continue to fight the noxious narratives about America’s past.
“The 1776 Report calls for a return to the unifying ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence. It quotes the greatest Americans, black and white, men and women, in devotion to these ideals,” Commission Chairman Larry P. Arnn, Vice Chair Carol Swain, and Executive Director Matt Spalding wrote in a statement Wednesday. “The Commission may be abolished, but these principles and our history cannot be. We will all continue to work together to teach and to defend them.”
While the Commission’s report has received a great deal of criticism, much of it unearned, Spalding directed the American people to read the report for themselves, rather than following the lead of left-leaning historians and dismissing it.
“The 1776 Report wasn’t written for academic historians but for the American people, and I encourage them to read it for themselves,” Spalding told PJ Media.
The 1776 Commission Report was far from perfect — after all, Trump only named the members of the Commission in mid-December 2020 and the Commission did not meet until January 15, three days before it published the report — but many on the Left have unfairly slandered the Commission and its work.
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New York Times reporters Michael Crowley and Jennifer Schuessler falsely claimed that the 18-member commission “includes no professional historians but a number of conservative activists, politicians and intellectuals.”
As a graduate of Hillsdale College who studied under Hillsdale President Larry P. Arnn and eminent Classicist Victor Davis Hanson, I really must protest. Arnn has a Ph.D. in government and worked as director of research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. He and Gilbert published twenty-three volumes of The Churchill Documents.
Victor Davis Hanson, also a member of the 1776 Commission, is a professional historian specializing in military history and classics. He holds a position at the Hoover Institution at Sanford University and has published numerous books on the ancient Greeks and warfare through the ages.
Ibram X. Kendi, a leader in the “anti-racism” movement that sees white supremacy behind almost everything, condemned the 1776 Commission Report as “calling forth our fealty to tyranny.” He urged people to “resist, like we resisted the proslavery founding fathers and their ideological descendants who wrote this report.”
Yet the report clearly condemned racism and slavery as betrayals of America’s founding ideals. It merely pointed out that slavery was not unique to America (but endemic through human history) and that the evil of race-based slavery does not destroy the good things America achieved.
The report presented a version of American history that would be familiar to every Hillsdale College student of the Western and American Heritage courses: a defense of the virtues of America while acknowledging its historic sins and struggles. This vision wrestles with the hard truths of slavery and racism while insisting that the American experiment is still fundamentally good.
Also like the Hillsdale classes, the report condemned identity politics and Progressivism, which arguably betray the values of the Declaration of Independence. “Today, far from a regime of equal natural rights for equal citizens, enforced by the equal application of law, we have moved toward a system of explicit group privilege that, in the name of ‘social justice,’ demands equal results and explicitly sorts citizens into ‘protected classes’ based on race and other demographic categories,” the report argued.
Many Americans may disagree with this conclusion, but it does clarify the differences between the notion of laws that consider the content of one’s character rather than the color of one’s skin and laws that seek to privilege one racial group over another in the name of correcting historic injustice.
Not all attacks on the report are ideological or false, however. The report does not use footnotes or endnotes to cite its sources, and Politico reported that the Commission’s report lifted a large section from an opinion piece written by Thomas Lindsay, one of the Commission’s members, in 2008. Spalding acknowledged that some of the writers repurposed their previous work for the report.
“Dr. Thomas K. Lindsay and I are both involved with the 1776 Commission and—as with other Commissioners—contributed our own work and writing, under our own names, to the 1776 Report, which was an advisory report to the President,” Spalding told Politico.
When I was a history major at Hillsdale College, submitting a paper without citing my sources and lifting large sections of text from a previous work — even my own work — would have resulted in harsh penalties. While I am sympathetic to the Commission regarding the small window of time it had to compile such a report, I find it distressing that academics of such a caliber as Arnn and Hanson would help draft and approve such a document.
However, the 1776 Commission’s work was vitally important and I do indeed hope the members of the Commission continue to work together to counter Marxist critical race theory. The New York Times‘ “1619 Project” seeks to redefine American history in terms of alleged continuing racial oppression, encouraging readers to find hidden racism where none exists. This inflames division and arguably added fuel to the riots this past summer.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler (a member of the Commission) wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” 1619 Project Founder Nikole Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots.
Portland activist Lilith Sinclair provided a chilling example of Marxist critical race theory and its ability to inspire an aimless revolution. “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities,” she said. As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the United States as we know it.”
The riots this past summer proved the most destructive (in terms of insurance claims) in U.S. history. While leftists repeat claims of “institutional racism,” the riots have victimized the black community. The destruction disproportionately hit black communities in Kenosha, Wisc., Minneapolis, and Chicago. The riots destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
For these and other reasons, many black leaders have denounced the official Black Lives Matter movement, the founders of which have described themselves as “trained Marxists.” Over 100 black pastors condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and urged Nike to distance itself from it.
The 1776 Commission existed for a noble purpose, and I hope its members will present a similar report that cites its sources in the future. It is tragic that historians and pundits across the country are demonizing America’s Founding and fueling the fires of racial grievance. Arnn, Hanson, Spalding, and the others are right to counter this destructive narrative with the truths of American history.
Biden had every right to dissolve the Commission, but he cannot silence the former commissioners. They must speak up to counter the destructive narrative that Biden seems likely to advance.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.