“Left-wing mobs have torn down statues of our founders, desecrated our memorials and carried out a campaign of violence and anarchy,” Trump said. “Whether it is the mob on the street, or the cancel culture in the boardroom, the goal is the same: to silence dissent, to scare you out of speaking the truth and to bully Americans into abandoning their values.”
Trump positioned himself as a defender of American exceptionalism against activists trying to destroy the country’s sense of self, as he continues to search for a message that resonates with voters as they continue to be battered by the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic devastation.
“To grow up in America is to live in a land where anything is possible, where anyone can rise and where any dream can come true, all because of the immortal principles our nation’s founders described nearly two and a half centuries ago,” he said.
The formal speech is just one element of a broader effort by Trump and his administration to push back against the racial justice protests that have taken off across the country after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minnesota in May.
The Office of Management and Budget recently disseminated a directive to federal agencies to stop any use of “critical race theory” or a “divisive, un-American propaganda training session.”
The EPA has put off an internal speaker series on environmental racism to review its compliance with the OMB memorandum, and POLITICO reported last week the Department of Education is scouring a host of internal forums, ranging from book clubs to training documents, to root out “Anti-American propaganda” in service of the White House’s directive.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from schools in California and elsewhere that include teaching lessons based on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which recasts the centrality of slavery’s role in the formation of the country. It is unclear whether the Education Department is seriously considering such an action, or whether it would even be able to go after such funds given that federal law bars it from exerting “any direction, supervision or control” over school curriculum.
On Thursday Trump called such teachings a “twisted web of lies” and likened critical race theory to “a form of child abuse.” He said he intended to sign an executive order to form the “1776 Commission” and would serve as a counterweight to promote patriotic education.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project, later tweeted: “These are hard days we’re in but I take great satisfaction from knowing that now even Trump’s supporters know the date 1619 and mark it as the beginning American slavery. 1619 is part of the national lexicon. That cannot be undone, no matter how hard they try.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday lauded a rival Black American history initiative, dubbed 1776 Unites, that professes to offer “a more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States“ than things like the 1619 project.
“Curriculum is best left to the states and local districts at local education agencies, but we can talk about curriculum that actually honors and respects our history and embraces all of the parts of our history and continues to build on that,“ DeVos said. “Because we know that if we do not know and understand history, we are bound to repeat it.“
The Trump administration’s efforts come as high-profile police killings of Black Americans have escalated racial unrest across the country and elevated its salience in the presidential campaign.
The president on Thursday sought to tie turmoil over recent months to the broader effort to combat racial inequality and grapple with racism’s prevalence throughout American history.
“The left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools,” Trump asserted, while making a direct appeal to parents as he seeks to reverse sagging support among suburban voters and other key groups.
“American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square,” Trump said. “Not anymore.”
The president’s remarks also included a barb at Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, with Trump saying he wanted to include a statue of Caesar Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Biden’s home state of Delaware, in his proposed monument to “American heroes.” A statue in Wilmington of Rodney, who owned slaves, was removed in June amid racial justice protests.
“Joe Biden said nothing as to his home state’s history and the fact that it was dismantled and dismembered, and a founding father’s statue was removed,” Trump said. “Today, America will give this founding father, this very brave man who was so horribly treated, the place of honor he deserves.”
Matthew Choi contributed to this report.