‘Patriotic Education’ Is How White Supremacy Survives
No, Trump can’t rewrite school curriculums himself, but a thousand mini-Trumps on the nation’s school boards can
It feels strange, as mourners gather outside the Supreme Court, to be writing of anything but the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the looming prospect that Donald Trump will seal the court into a new era of right-wing absolutism unprecedented in our lifetimes. It’s hard not to think of the future, of all that will be lost. But the past, too, is under threat. The news cycle moves so fast now that you may have already forgotten Thursday’s outrage, Trump’s announcement of a “1776 Commission” to promote a “patriotic education” that defines love of country as unquestioning loyalty to (some of) its leaders. But Trump — and the aides who drove the project — have more in mind than the current moment. “Patriotic education” is his historical hydroxychloroquine, a know-nothing attempt to cover up the past that challenges his present — the 1619 Project and generations of work by scholars and activists to recognize the centrality of white supremacy in American history and to topple it, just like the Confederacy’s stone tributes to treason and hate.
Liberals who want to dismiss Trump’s latest salvo as so much campaign fodder point to the fact that the federal government doesn’t set school curriculums — a failure yet again to grasp that Trumpism is a noxious movement as much or more than the work of a man; that, while no, Trump can’t instill “patriotic education” in the nation’s schools, a thousand mini-Trumps, school board strongmen, can; and that many more teachers will censor themselves for fear of running afoul of parents such as the one who, according to NPR, wrote that America-hating faculty will only grasp what Trump called “the magnificent truth” of our past “once they’re looking into the barrel of a gun.” Christian nationalists have been getting that gun ready for a long time. Patriotic education isn’t a last-minute campaign stunt of 2020. It’s the result of a decades-long effort, beginning with a modern Christian right that built its power not through national elections but through local school boards.