Won’t Know Much About History

The old song said, “Don’t Know Much About History.” If Joe Biden gets his way, we could revise the title to “Won’t Know Much About History.”

One of the last things outgoing-President Trump did was to sign an executive order to acknowledge America’s special history. This is the 1776 Commission initiative. It is geared toward teaching American school children about America’s true source of greatness.

But one of the first things incoming-President Biden did was to sign an executive order nullifying Trump’s 1776 initiative.

After Biden’s action—on his first day in office, as if this were a high priority—the 1776 Commission responded with a joint statement from its chairman, Dr. Larry P. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, prominent conservative African-American scholar Dr. Carol Swain, retired professor of Vanderbilt Law School, and Dr. Matthew Spalding, the vice president and dean of the school of government of Hillsdale’s D.C. campus.

These scholars noted, “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. 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.”

The 1776 Report the commission released observes: “The declared purpose of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission is to ‘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.’ This requires a restoration of American education, which can only be grounded on a history of those principles that is ‘accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.’”

Meanwhile, a group of historians condemns the 1776 Commission as being simplistic and misleading: “The report actually consists of two main themes. One is an homage to the Founding Fathers, a simplistic interpretation that relies on falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements. The other is a screed against a half-century of historical scholarship, presented largely as a series of caricatures, using single examples (most notably the ‘1619 Project’) to represent broader historiographical trends.”

There is indeed a battle over American history. This is not just a battle over dry historical dates and names. It’s a battle over who we were, what we are, and what we will be.

What is America? In its essence, it is self-governance under God. Our Constitution is predicated on the Declaration of Independence, which mentions God four times. In effect, our founders declared their independence from England and their dependence upon God.

Why is America special? The 35th president, John F. Kennedy, put it this way, in his inaugural address, January 20, 1961: America is predicated on “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Jarrett Stepman of the Heritage Foundation wrote an entirebook on the conflict over teaching the past, entitled, The War On History. He told me, “I think there’s been a long-term push, especially in education, not just the K-12 level but certainly from higher education, to basically turn around Americans and make them think that, ‘Well not only is our past unexceptional, it’s exceptionally bad.’ And I think that that narrative is so big in society now. “

He added, “You look at polls about young Americans, especially at the college level, many of them think, when they’re asked the question, ‘Was America ever great?’…they say ‘no.’ That’s a dramatic change and I think that that’s an important battleground for Americans today.”

Stepman says we should learn from the past to correct the present and work toward a more just future: “We’re not a perfect country, as human beings are certainly not perfect. But this country has done a lot of great things. I think that American history has a lot to be proud of. And I think Americans should be proud of that. I think there are unfortunately a very powerful group of activists in this country, a lot of people in academia and higher education, who want to change that, who want to make Americans feel like their country is built on something terrible.”

In short, notes Stepman, “We want to build off of our history, not destroy it.”

I am of the persuasion that God did something unique in politics and world governance in the creation of the United States. Yes, slavery and mistreatment of the Native-Americans were there almost from the beginning. But these were in violation of the promise of America. They happened despite the promise of America, not because of it. And it was that promise that leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King appealed to in abolishing those injustices. History matters a great deal.

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