Trump’s ‘Last Great Lie’ Is the 1776 Report That Whitewashes Slavery

“Doing bad history is a really good way to continue to divide people,” one historian said of the report.
January 19, 2021, 4:26pm
President Donald Trump speaks about the repatriation of Native American remains and artifacts from Finland, in the Oval Office at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Trump administration chose a federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to release a 45-page report whitewashing America’s history of slavery and the role of its leaders in protecting the institution. 

The report is the product of the 1776 Commission, which was announced by President Donald Trump at the White House last September as a “national commission to promote patriotic education.”

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“It will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding,” Trump said at the time. 

The report takes the ridiculous view that the understanding of American history based on primary sources is a partisan “political agenda,” and criticizes educators who present an accurate portrayal of history to students.

“Any time teachers or administrators promote political agendas in the classroom, they abuse their platform and dishonor every family who trusts them with their children’s education and moral development,” the report says. 

The report glaringly erases the involvement of the Founding Fathers and other Early American leaders in slavery. “The most common charge leveled against the founders, and hence against our country itself, is that they were hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles, and therefore the country they built rests on a lie,” claims the report, which was a response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

“This charge is untrue, and has done enormous damage, especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric.”

Perhaps most incredible is the labeling of John C. Calhoun, a vice president and U.S. senator who was perhaps the federal government’s most ardent and prominent defender of slavery in America’s first century as a republic, as a forerunner to modern-day “identity politics.”

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“Like modern-day proponents of identity politics,” the report says, “Calhoun believed that achieving unity through rational deliberation and political compromise was impossible; majority groups would only use the political process to oppress minority groups.”

Historians harshly criticized the report. “It does not take long to read this report as the last great lie from a Trump administration of great lies,” Boston University historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi wrote in a Twitter thread. 

“I think my biggest qualm with it was the idea that American history has only recently started to be critiqued,” Dr. Robert Greene, an assistant professor of history at Claflin University in South Carolina whose research focuses on African American history and American history post-1945, told VICE News.

“If one looked at it through the lens of African-American history, then it is obvious that not everyone has agreed with any sort of ‘consensus’ about the nation's past.”

The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH), a 100-plus-year-old nonprofit dedicated to the study of Black history which also created Black History Month, quoted founder Carter Woodson and his call for “a more complete and honest rendering of the historical record” in a statement to VICE News. 

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“It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration and the folks who produced the 1776 report have continued to misinterpret the institution of slavery and its impact on African-American history,” Dr. Lionel Kimble, an associate professor of history at Chicago State University and vice president for programs for the ASALH, told VICE News.

“Doing bad history is a really good way to continue to divide people, tell lies about what is true American history, and discredit the power and impact and pain associated with the institution of slavery.” 

Kimble particularly took issue with the idea that the founders had “no choice but to perpetuate the institution of slavery,” and were simply products of their time. “People always have choices to make about how they live their lives,” Kimble said. 

Despite the obvious wrongs in the 1776 report, however, Greene said the force of its backing from the Trump administration makes it notable even though it bears little difference from“the standard right-wing view on American history these days.” 

“What makes it a little different is having the full support of the White House,” Greene said. “That alone makes it something worth paying attention to.”