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1619, 1776, and Us

What the conflict over the NYT extravaganza and the much-mocked Trump commission report is really about.
March 3, 2021
1619, 1776, and Us
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851 and detail from an engraving showing how Slaves were transported on board a Slave Ship in the 18th Century (Digital illustration by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Public Domain)

Among the Trump administration’s final acts was the release, less than 48 hours before Donald Trump left office, of the “1776 Report.” It was the sole output of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission, set up last September with a mandate to promote “patriotic education” and defend America’s legacy from radicals. Chaired by Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn, the commission was disbanded by President Biden within hours of his swearing in. The report, which vanished from the White House website with the turnover of administrations, was roundly mocked, lambasted, and critiqued in the press.

While the 45-page document contained only one reference to the 1619 Project, it was clearly conceived in large part as a rejoinder to the New York Times’s multimedia special exploring slavery in America and its ramifications.

If nothing else, the 1776 Report confirmed that enlisting Trump to fight one’s battles is a terrible idea. The commission’s launch was a blatant play to exploit patriotism as a campaign issue; its report was delivered with comically disastrous timing, when Trump was a lame duck in the condition of the Monty Python parrot. As for the end product, even many commentators who lauded the report’s basic goals, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board, acknowledged that it was badly flawed. “It reads like a rather hastily thrown together pamphlet,” wrote Commentary’s Christine Rosen, who criticized the report for “sweeping statements grounded [more] in present political polemic than in complicated historical fact.”

Thus, the report lists twentieth-century progressivism among “challenges to America’s principles” on a par with slavery, fascism, and communism. Affirmative action is said to enshrine “group rights” comparable to the white supremacy championed by John C. Calhoun. And even essentially reasonable points—for instance, that slavery in Revolution-era America must be seen in the context of the institution’s ubiquity at the time—tend to be made in a jarring tone that comes across as “whataboutism” or apologetics.

Not surprisingly, the 1776 Report fiasco concluded with a Twitter victory lap for 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, who bragged to the feminist magazine Bust that the project could not be derailed by “white professors and conservatives” or by alternative projects. (For what it’s worth, one such project, 1776 Unites, is primarily the work of African-American scholars, journalists and advocates.)

But while the 1619 Project has definitely won this round, it has been mired in plenty of its own controversies since it was unveiled in August 2019, for the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves in Virginia. From the start, the project generated fierce disputation among scholars and pundits, with charges and countercharges of bad history and bad faith. The Pulitzer Prize for commentary awarded last May to the lead essay by Hannah-Jones sparked new polemics, especially because of an earlier “clarification” that critics saw as adding an asterisk to the entire work. During the long hot summer of 2020, the anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd shone a new spotlight on the project’s key issues, particularly the question of whether America’s Founders should be “canceled” as racist enslavers. (A rash of attacks on the Founders’ statues led some conservatives to dub the unrest “the 1619 riots”; Hannah-Jones responded that “it would be an honor” but later deleted the tweet.)

In September, just as Donald Trump tried to turn the 1619 Project into culture-war red meat for his campaign, the New York Times was beset by new charges of stealth editing to walk back the project’s claim that the beginning of slavery should be regarded as America’s “true founding.” Then, in October, came a long and devastating critique by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.

The debate about the 1619 Project is obviously about much more than history and historical accuracy, as important as those aspects of the debate are. For many of the participants, it is, at bottom, a debate about racism, liberalism, and identity politics in the modern-day United States. It is a conflict in which there are at least three distinct groups: the Trumpian right, which seeks to promote state-sponsored “patriotism”; the progressive left, which wants “white America” condemned as an evil empire; and people on the center-right and center-left who fully agree with the goal of confronting America’s legacy of racial oppression but reject the idea that, as New York Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein put it in his note on the 1619 Project, chattel slavery and anti-black racism are this country’s “very origin.”

I first wrote about the 1619 Project for The Bulwark a year ago, examining at length one of Hannah-Jones’s most controversial claims: that the American colonists’ pursuit of independence which led to the birth of the United States was motivated in large part by the desire to preserve slavery in the face of alleged burgeoning anti-slavery sentiment in England. I found that, while this claim was based on some existing scholarship—mostly focusing on the supposed impact of Somerset v. Stewart, a complex 1772 case which established that English common law did not recognize slavery where it was not sanctioned by explicit legislation—this scholarship itself was tendentious and badly flawed.

At best, claims that an anti-Somerset backlash helped precipitate the quest for independence have been based on flimsy speculation. (Thus, in the 2009 book Slavery’s Constitution, CUNY Graduate Center historian David Waldstreicher contended that Somerset caused colonial patriots such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to shift from anti-slavery sentiment to abhorrence of imperial infringement of American slaveholders’ property rights—even though neither man voiced such objections and both continued to publicly oppose slavery.) At worst, they relied on “evidence” riddled with errors or even apparent distortions, from out-of-context quotes to misrepresented texts. As it happens, the most egregious offender, University of Houston history professor and literal Communist Party propagandist Gerald Horne (whose 2014 book, The Counterrevolution of 1776, at one point misattributes a loyalist’s pro-slavery pamphlet to a revolutionary), was one of the four scholars appearing on a 1619 Project-related Times Center panel on slavery and the American Revolution on March 6 of last year, introduced by Silverstein and Hannah-Jones.

That very day, an important article—which went unmentioned at the event—raised new and devastating questions about the 1619 Project. It was a Politico essay by Northwestern University professor Leslie M. Harris, a black historian who focuses on the history of slavery, titled “I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.” Harris, who made it clear that she supported the project’s goals, revealed that a New York Times research editor had approached her to verify historical details for the Hannah-Jones piece. She wrote that she “vigorously disputed” the claim that the protection of slavery was among the primary reasons for the American colonists’ rebellion and was dismayed to see it appear in print.

A few days later, the Times ran an “update” with a note from Silverstein. The disputed passage was changed to read that “one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” (emphasis mine). A few days later, Silverstein told me in an email that this update was not a response to Harris’s article but the result of earlier feedback from a number of scholars, notably classicist Danielle Allen, author of the acclaimed 2014 book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.

In an interview last May, Harris told me that she found the update satisfactory. “I’ll be curious to see and review arguments about who these colonists are who were concerned about Great Britain,” she wrote in an email. “How many is some? I will say, if the original essay had included ‘some,’ I probably would have shrugged my shoulders, made a note to do a little more reading on the issue before I taught my next course, and moved on.”

Other 1619 Project critics—such as the five eminent historians whose harsh letter had appeared in the Times last December—were far less appeased. “The Times’s non-correction correction has nothing to do with history or journalism. It’s all about damage control,” the group’s most outspoken member, Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz, told me in an email in mid-March of last year. Wilentz also speculated that the “clarification” was intended to create “the appearance of due diligence” for the benefit of the Pulitzer Prize committee. In a telephone conversation around the same time, Brown University historian Gordon Wood dismissed the Times “clarification” as not only “belated and inadequate” but “ungracious and mealy-mouthed.” Both Wood and Wilentz also characterized the Times’s conduct as Trump-level spin and mendacity. Later, Wilentz wrote in the Washington Post that “the mistakes concerning Britain, the Atlantic slave trade and the origins of the Revolution still appear on the Times’ website, despite a subsequent no-fault ‘clarification.’”

The anti-1619 Project polemics by Wilentz and his co-signers have often been met with accusations of turf-guarding by older white scholars wedded to dated viewpoints. Even Harris’s Politico article balanced its critique of the 1619 Project with harsh words for Wilentz and Wood as historians who “underrepresent the centrality of slavery and African Americans to America’s history.” Others disagree: Raymond Lavertue, a research fellow in history at Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute, has vigorously disputed this characterization, arguing (convincingly, in my view) that both historians have dealt extensively with slavery- and race-related issues. In our email interview in May, Harris stood by her criticism, explaining that it was primarily a question of emphasis and focus: “People of African descent, along with women and other non-whites, have worked very hard to expand the meaning and the lived experience of freedom and equality. That struggle is often what is missing or under-represented in the work of Wood and Wilentz. They are more concerned with how white men defined these terms.”

To some extent, such judgments obviously rely on subjective perception and interpretation. Take reactions to Wilentz’s 2018 book, No Property in Man: Slavery and Anti-Slavery at the Nation’s Founding, which asserts that the currently dominant view of the Constitution as a fundamentally pro-slavery document has ignored its anti-slavery aspects—including the deliberate omission, at the insistence of James Madison and many Northern delegates, of any language overtly acknowledging slavery. To Wilentz’s critics, this is a quixotic attempt to portray the Constitution as anti-slavery, or at least as not pro-slavery. His defenders say that critics misunderstand his argument, which is that the Constitution was both pro-slavery (insofar as it contained protections for the “peculiar institution”) and anti-slavery (insofar as it did not overtly sanction “property in man” and allowed politicians to work against slavery through the democratic process).

And yet harsh criticism of the 1619 Project has come from historians who are not, by any stretch, in Wilentz’s corner of the debate. One of them is the eminent legal historian Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College in Greater Philadelphia, who has taught at many of the nation’s top law schools and authored numerous books on the history of slavery and race relations in the United States, including Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (2014). “I believe Sean Wilentz is as wrong [on slavery and the Constitution] as it is humanly possible to be,” Finkelman told me in a telephone interview in October. He also stressed that he sympathizes with the goal of showing slavery—and later, white supremacy—to be deeply woven into American history. Nonetheless, he was also scathing about the 1619 Project, especially Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer-winning essay.

“If I were grading this as a history paper, I would give it maybe a B or a B-minus,” Finkelman told me. “It is very vigorously written, and some of it is even true. But we talk about people painting with a broad brush, and in much of ‘1619,’ the authors are basically painting with a paint roller. There’s not much nuance.” Like other critics, Finkelman is particularly incensed by the idea that, as he puts it, “the Revolution is a pro-slavery plot.” This notion, he says, flies in the face of numerous well-established facts—from the absence of anti-slavery policies or even anti-slavery movements in England in the 1770s (Somerset notwithstanding) to the anti-slavery impetus that was part of the Revolution itself.

Finkelman agrees, of course, that there is much to criticize in the Revolution’s and the Founders’ record on slavery; he is especially tough on Jefferson, whom he has described as a “creepy, brutal hypocrite.” But he is scathing about the 1619 Project’s evasion of what he believes is an essential truth: that the American Revolution actually led to “a significant amount of anti-slavery” and spurred slavery’s dismantling.

“What 1619 fails to point out,” he says, “is that in 1775, slavery was legal in every jurisdiction in North and South America. It is legal in every European colony in the Americas. And, while both England and France won’t let you bring your slave into the country, both are actively involved in the African slave trade to their new world colonies.” He notes that “at the beginning of the Revolution all the states prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa. These were the first prohibitions on the trade in the Atlantic world.” By 1784, five Northern states—Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—had either abolished slavery outright or passed laws phasing it out. Pennsylvania was first, with the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which mandated that “every Negro and Mulatto child born within this State after the passing of this act” would be held in servitude (but not slavery) until age 28 and then be free for life. While this was a fairly conservative form of emancipation, Finkelman says it was nonetheless revolutionary: “It is the first time that any country, any government, any legislature has said, ‘We are going end slavery.’”

What’s more, Finkelman says, the Pennsylvania statute—which was not only anti-slavery but anti-racist, stating that all human beings were God’s creation regardless of “difference in feature or complexion”—was explicitly based on the ideas of the Revolution: Its preamble discussed the colonists’ fight for liberation from British tyranny and the need to extend the “manifold blessings” of liberty to fellow humans.

Finkelman also stresses that the omissions, overgeneralizations, and outright inaccuracies in the 1619 Project, and specifically in the Hannah-Jones essay, are not limited to the analysis of slavery and the American Revolution. For starters, he notes, “the Africans who arrived in 1619 are not slaves, they are indentured servants; many of them become free, some of them become landowners.” (This fascinating chapter in black history in America has been discussed in articles by historian Nell Irvin Painter and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist E.R. Shipp.) Or take Hannah-Jones’s blanket assertion that slaves were “barred from learning to read”: Laws against literacy instruction for slaves and even free blacks certainly existed, but not in all slave states, mostly not until the 1830s, and mostly banning group schooling. And there’s the crude caricature of Abraham Lincoln as a racist—in Finkelman words, “a bad cartoon” that ignores the complex, rapidly shifting political realities of the era and erases facts that don’t fit the narrative, such as Lincoln’s friendship with Frederick Douglass.

To show that Lincoln “opposed black equality” and supported a whites-only democracy, Hannah-Jones cites his own words: “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.” But context matters. Lincoln uttered these words in his famous Peoria speech in 1854, and at least twice more in 1858, on August 21 and 31. At Peoria, he spoke of “the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.” And while he attempted to remain respectful of the “constitutional rights” of slaveholders and affirmed the need to defer to majority prejudice against full equality, he suggested that this prejudice may not accord “with justice and sound judgment.” Repeating these remarks in 1858 during a campaign debate with Stephen Douglas—in which, as Finkelman notes, Lincoln had to assuage white voters’ fears of race-mixing—Lincoln once again acknowledged his own prejudices and the possibility that blacks and whites may never live together as equals; but he also made a powerful statement of equality that Hannah-Jones ignores:

There is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . . I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.

In view of the glaring flaws of Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project essay, it’s not surprising that her Pulitzer Prize should have sparked negative reactions. “Given the number of problems that were raised with the essay, I have real questions about whether the judges took those critiques seriously,” Rutgers University history and journalism professor David Greenberg told me in a telephone interview last May. Like most of the project’s critics, Greenberg stresses that “devoting a special magazine issue to the role of race and racism in American history is a good and commendable idea” and that the issue contained much that was “valuable and worthwhile.” But he also believes that the Times badly mishandled the controversy—“circling the wagons and trying to walk back some of the language without admitting walking it back”—and that the Pulitzer judges “seemed to go out of their way to make a statement.”

When I approached New York University historian and then-Pulitzer board chair Steve Hahn around the same time, he emailed back to say that he could not discuss the board’s deliberations. Several months later, Hahn was more forthcoming with the Washington Post, saying that “any serious historian would have questions about some of the claims and how they were made” and that he brought his concerns to fellow board members, but the majority was not swayed.

The persistent questions about the 1619 Project’s accuracy may have been behind another stealth edit—this one on the Pulitzer website. The original text of the May 4 Pulitzer Prize announcement for Hannah-Jones, found via the Internet Archive and also preserved on Facebook, read, “For a sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.” At some point by the end of May, “deeply reported” was taken out and replaced with “provocative.” My queries about this change to several Pulitzer website staffers went unanswered.

The disputes about specific facts point to a more fundamental question about the nature of the American experiment—and of modern-day America. Was the United States born as a flawed democracy that failed to extend its ideals of liberty and equality to black Americans, or as a faux democracy whose ideals of liberty and equality were merely a smokescreen for the enslavement and oppression of blacks? Did black Americans fight for their freedom and human rights almost entirely on their own, or in a multiracial alliance in which white abolitionists and civil rights advocates played a key role? Are America’s enduring racial problems and inequities primarily the result of a legacy of past oppression and complicated societal dynamics, or of a white supremacy that remains “baked into” our institutions by design?

These are incredibly complicated questions. And yet consistently choosing the second answer, which is the core narrative of the 1619 Project, not only encourages a crude monocausal interpretation of complex social problems but also leads to a bleak outlook that delegitimizes the American political system and enshrines racial balkanization.

Of course, the 1776 Report is a good example of how not to make a “flawed democracy” argument. The section that deals with the painful question of the Founders’ slaveholding, for instance, falls back on the but-they-personally-opposed-it cliché, asserting that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wanted to end slavery but had to accept the political compromises necessary to hold the republic together. The reality, as the work of recent historians shows, is far messier.

Washington did evolve from accepting slavery as normal to viewing it as abhorrent, a shift that was very much the result of the Revolution and its ideas of liberty. (He also dramatically changed his mind on the enlistment of black soldiers in the Continental Army, which he initially opposed but later actively promoted; Columbia University historian Eric Foner writes that his troops were “more racially integrated than any American fighting force until the Korean War.”) The shift in Washington’s views had practical results. He renounced the buying and selling of slaves, even when it would have been in his interest, he increasingly sought to keep slave families together, and he tried to devise a way to emancipate not only his slaves but the “dower slaves” belonging to his wife Martha as part of her first husband’s estate—a plan he wanted to finance by selling off or renting nearly all of his lands. However, the 1776 Report’s claim that “by the end of his life, he freed all the slaves in his family estate” is simply not true: Washington’s will did grant freedom to his 123 slaves but only after his wife Martha had died, too, unless she freed them first. (As she did in January 1801, about a year after Washington’s death; however, upon her own death in 1802, her dower slaves reverted to her heirs, and a number of families were separated as a result.)

Worse, Washington’s anti-slavery sentiment did not stop him from deviously rotating his enslaved domestics while living in Philadelphia during his presidential term in order to circumvent Pennsylvania state law which would have given them freedom after six months’ residency. “I wish to have this accomplished under pretext that may deceive both them and the Public,” wrote Washington to his secretary Tobias Lear. His change of heart about slavery also did not stop him from repeatedly trying to reclaim a runaway slave, Martha Washington’s maid Ona Marie Judge, while indignantly rejecting her offer to return if she were promised freedom after the Washingtons’ deaths. The president explained to a New Hampshire customs agent he enlisted in the effort that he favored emancipation if “practicable,” but did not want to reward “unfaithfulness.”

The 1776 Report’s attempt to absolve the Founders of hypocrisy is even more dubious in the case of Jefferson, whose evolution after 1776 led him to be more hostile toward abolitionist advocacy—due in large part to his belief that it could destabilize the republic, but also, perhaps, to his self-interest as a master of a large family business operated by enslaved workers.

But where the 1776 Report absolves too much, the 1619 Project (and other literature in the same vein) demonizes. “On the issue of American slavery, I am an absolutist: enslavers were amoral monsters,” wrote New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow last June, in a piece about monument removal with the self-explanatory title, “Yes, Even George Washington.” Blow dismisses the view that slaveholders were “simply men and women of their age”: “There were also men and women of the time who found slavery morally reprehensible. The enslavers ignored all this and used anti-black dehumanization to justify the holding of slaves and the profiting from slave labor.” But both Washington and Jefferson did condemn slavery as morally reprehensible, and the denunciation of the slave trade that Jefferson originally wrote for the Declaration of Independence stressed that it was traffic in “MEN,” with capitals for emphasis. Even Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, written in the early 1780s and containing some appallingly racist passages, deplored slavery as evil and expressed hope for “total emancipation.”

The end point of the 1619 Project’s logic, explicitly expressed by some of its supporters, is that the Founders should be regarded similarly to Hitler and other architects of the Holocaust. The absurdity of this claim should be self-evident. Hitler and the Nazis hijacked a multiethnic, religiously tolerant liberal democracy and methodically turned it into a racist, rabidly anti-Semitic, and ultimately genocidal dictatorship. The Founders inherited slavery as a longstanding practice sanctioned by the empire they rebelled against; they led a revolution whose central idea—that “all men are created equal” and that life and liberty are “unalienable rights”—inspired a surge of anti-slavery sentiment around the world. They also remained ambivalent about slavery, taking steps to curb it—the delayed ban on the slave trade, the prohibition on slavery in the Northwest territory—while making compromises that protected its existence in the South.

Just how far the impulse to “cancel” historical figures over slavery-related sins can be seen in the attack last June on the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, the Union Army commander during the Civil War, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park—justified by some activists on the grounds that Grant himself was briefly a slave owner. (As a struggling farmer in Missouri in 1858, he was given a slave, William Jones, by his father-in-law; the next year, he freed Jones after obtaining a court order permitting the manumission.) When Politico writer Marc Caputo deplored the vandalism as “Lost Cause meets Crazy Cause” and noted that “Grant was a man of his time, imperfect,” this prompted a response from Hannah-Jones: “I’m not going to comment on the statue being pulled down or Grant’s bonafides. But I wonder if you all ever think about how it sounds to black people who bore and bear the brunt of racism when you say someone who owned another human being ‘was a man of his time.’” In a later, since-deleted tweet, Hannah-Jones also went the Hitler analogy route, making the absurd claim that “Hitler was a man of his time” to explain why the phrase was offensive.

As bad as the 1776 Report is, it is not wrong in its plea for historical context and perspective and in its observation that many progressive Americans who embrace the 1619 Project narrative ignore the onetime ubiquity of enslaved labor and other cruelties.

In the midst of last summer’s racial “reckoning” that expanded from the U.S. to Europe, the BBC News website published a remarkable article by Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani titled “My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves.” Nwaubani matter-of-factly reports that both the sale of slaves to the West and domestic slavery were the norm in nineteenth-century Nigeria, and the British ban on the slave trade was widely resented. (African slavery was far from benign: Nwaubani notes that slaves were sometimes sacrificed in religious rituals or buried alive as part of a master’s funeral.) In her view, holding men like her slave-trading great-grandfather to twenty-first-century norms is not only unfair but culturally insensitive: “Assessing the people of Africa’s past by today’s standards would compel us to cast the majority of our heroes as villains, denying us the right to fully celebrate anyone who was not influenced by Western ideology.”

Such ironic inversions of standard narratives of oppression are not unique. For instance: The Georgetown University campus in Washington, D.C. is host to a statue (received in a 2000 cultural exchange with Russia) of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the giant of nineteenth-century Russian literature and great-grandson of an African slave who is revered as a black cultural figure by some black Americans. As it happens, he was also an owner of bonded peasants, or serfs, whose status was little better than that of slaves in America. (In other words, Washington, D.C. has a monument to a black man who legally owned white people: as they say, let that sink in.) Not unlike Jefferson, Pushkin wrote lofty words praising liberty and denouncing servitude. Yet he had sex with young women who were not in a position to refuse and used 200 serfs as collateral for a loan he took out before his marriage.

But the insistence that cultural context extenuates nothing puts “woke” progressives on a par with right-wingers who insist that Muhammad’s marriage to a child bride—a fairly common practice across cultures in the premodern world—makes him a “pedophile” and marks Islam as evil. The founding generation of the United States lived in a world in which women’s rights were severely circumscribed, slavery was the natural way of things, and even free domestic servants, apprentices and workers could be slapped, punched, and beaten with sticks or straps as part of “correction” and discipline.

If the Founders can be appropriately held to a higher standard, it is precisely because the ideals they championed were and remain so important. Twenty years ago, in a wonderful book, Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism, the late African-American civil rights activist, historian, and journalist Roger Wilkins wrote:

I love the opportunity this nation affords me to engage in struggles for decency. That, in my view, is the greatest legacy of the founders. The governmental system, wrapped in the aura of freedom and limited by a devotion to rights, has created the field on which so many of us of different races, genders, and sexual orientations have been able to grow into full and potent citizens.

Wilkins was candid and unsparing about the Founders’ own failures of decency, including little-known facts such as Washington’s attempts to reclaim the runaway slave Ona Judge. But he also wrote, “To be human is to live with moral complexity and existential ambiguity.” Those are qualities missing from 1619 Project discourse.

The ill-fated 1776 Commission and its report will likely be remembered, if they are remembered at all, for promoting the idea that Trumpian populist nationalism stands on one side and the 1619 Project on the other. But that’s a false dichotomy. There is a message that stands in opposition both to the basic premise of the 1619 Project and to Trumpism. That was the message delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his viral video a few days after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol to stop Joe Biden from being certified as the winner of the election. Schwarzenegger spoke of serving “the ideals on which this country was founded.” If we are seeking to reclaim the nation’s soul after the last four years, “our founding ideals were a racist lie” is not a great place to start.

Cathy Young

Cathy Young is a writer at The Bulwark, a columnist for Newsday, and a contributing editor to Reason. Twitter: @CathyYoung63.