WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump used one of his last days in the White House on Monday to fight the culture war, while President-elect Joe Biden observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day by volunteering to help feed the needy.
With less than 48 hours to go before Wednesday’s inauguration, Trump laid low in the heavily fortified capital while the White House provided no details about how the president was spending his final hours in office.
Barred from Twitter, Trump issued a proclamation on the federal holiday earlier Monday encouraging “all Americans to recommit themselves to Dr. King’s dream by engaging in acts of service to others, to their community, and to our Nation.”
Later, his White House issued a a 45-page document dubbed the “The 1776 Report,” which claimed that “identity politics makes it less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be attained by pursuing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.”
The report seems to be a response to The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which traced the story of slavery through American history and became a lightning rod for Trump and conservatives, who saw it as an attack on their view of American history.
The report, written by a group of mostly white and conservative academics, claims that the nation’s founders detested slavery even though many of them owned enslaved people. It suggests that Declaration of Independence eventually led to the end of slavery in the U.S., barely mentioning the Civil War’s decisive role in abolition.
Scholars assailed the report, with one comparing it to a “bad middle school civic textbook from 1955” and another dismissing it as “racist nonsense from the early 20th century, accentuated by some Southern Strategy and culture war paranoia.”
“Don’t open it, delete the file, burn your computer, and make sure to salt the earth wherever the people on the Commission go,” added another.
James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, told NBC News that he didn’t make it past the table of contents, and a single section title — “The American Mind” — before concluding that the report was a likely failure.
“There is no single American mind,” he said. “This alone signals that this report will fail to appreciate the diversity of ideas, cultures and perspectives that is one of the great assets of our nation.”
Citing a section of the report that compared affirmative action to ideas advanced by John C. Calhoun, the Southern politician and ardent defender of slavery, Grossman added that the document is “offensive to Dr. King’s legacy.”
The White House also issued an executive order from Trump on Monday playing a similar chord, offering details for his proposed “National Garden of American Heroes,” an idea he first promoted last summer during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests and the removal of monuments honoring Confederate soldiers and other controversial historical figures.
The proposed garden does not seem to have the funding, location or much else necessary to see it become a reality. New national monuments, even noncontroversial ones, often take decades to build. The World War II Memorial on the National Mall, for instance, opened 17 years after it was first proposed in Congress.
But Trump, who last month vetoed a military funding bill that would have rechristened some bases named after Confederate generals, said the garden was “America’s answer to this reckless attempt to erase our heroes, values and entire way of life.”
In his executive order, Trump said the garden would honor a seeming grab bag of 244 Americans, from Samuel Adams to Kobe Bryant, including some non-Americans, like the British director Alfred Hitchcock.
Meanwhile, Biden and his wife, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, helped bag food for the needy at local charities.
Their inaugural committee called on supporters to participate in a national day of service Monday, organizing some 2,500 service events across the country, and was hosting online event with speeches and music celebrating King on Monday night.
Harris formally resigned her Senate seat at noon Monday, as expected. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has tapped the outgoing California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to serve out the remainder of Harris’ term, which ends in 2022.
“We are here today as part of what we collectively, all of us who were volunteering, see as our responsibility as part of Dr. King’s legacy,” Harris told reporters as she volunteered at a charity in Washington. “And we’re here to obviously renew the commitment that we should each have to serve.”
Gallup, which has been polling the job approval of presidents since 1938, released its final survey of the Trump presidency Monday. It found that Trump’s popularity has hit a personal all-time low of 34 percent and that on average, over his entire four-year term, Trump had the worst approval rating of any president on record.
Other recent polls, though, including a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, found Trump’s approval rating largely unchanged.
Trump has not been seen publicly for days.
But first lady Melania Trump, standing at a blue lectern emblazoned with the presidential seal, delivered the kind of farewell address Monday that would be unremarkable in any other era, but was notable now because her husband has so far refused to make a similar gesture.
“Be passionate in everything you do,” Melania Trump said in a video of her remarks, weeks after the Capitol was stormed by pro-Trump rioters, “but always remember that violence is never the answer and will never be justified.”