The president has frequently shown that he is most comfortable in the international sphere palling around with authoritarian figures, and on Thursday he borrowed a page from their playbook. Speaking at what the administration called the White House Conference on American History, Trump announced that he would soon sign an executive order establishing a “national commission to support patriotic education.”
Trump, who expresses his performative love of country by hugging the flag once a year at a conservative conference, said that “our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls.” More specifically, he announced the intention to form a “1776 Commission” to provide counter-programming to the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, a special issue and subsequent free curriculum much-maligned by conservatives which seeks to “place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center” of the nation’s history.
“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump said. “It will destroy our country.” To ensure his point was made, he added that “teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.” The president did not clarify when he intended to issue the executive order, though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did add on Thursday that the federal government does not have the authority to establish a national curriculum.
While Trump is not a perfect student of American history — or a casual reader of any kind, for that matter — he has paid little attention to his education policy for the majority of his time in office. One particular oversight is becoming blindingly clear this fall, as U.S. school systems are left without serious federal guidance for reopening amid a pandemic. In July, after pressuring public-health efforts to relax the standards for school reopening, Trump threatened to withhold aid from districts that did not return to physical classrooms.