President Trump offered an archconservative defense of American history on Thursday in a speech in which he shamed educational programs that seek to emphasize the role of slavery in the country’s founding as “toxic propaganda,” instead centering what he said was US virtue and nobility.
He also announced he planned to erect a statue of Caesar Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Delaware who enslaved roughly 200 people.
Speaking alongside copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington, DC, at an event promoted as the first White House Conference on American History, the president delivered a thinly veiled election campaign speech in which he attacked liberal politicians, the media, and Joe Biden.
“We are here today to declare that we will never submit to tyranny,” he said, referring to protesters who demonstrated this summer for a racial reckoning in the US. “We will reclaim our history, and our country, for citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed.”
As he continues to campaign for reelection by stoking racial and cultural fears, Trump vowed to set up what he described as a “national commission to promote patriotic education” in America’s schools, to be called “the 1776 Commission” — a rebuke of the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
That 2019 series of stories from New York Times Magazine, which was subsequently turned into an educational curriculum designed to be taught in schools, sought to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
Like other Republicans who have attacked the project, Trump decried it as “an ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together.”
“This project rewrites history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
In response, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the 1619 Project, noted wryly on Twitter, “The White House Conference on American History has not a single Black historian on it. Strange.”
The president also said he would order that a monument of Caesar Rodney be erected in the park of statues he decreed in July be built to honor American heroes.
Rodney is known for riding through the night in July 1776 from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a tie-breaking vote among the Delaware colony to declare independence from England. Like many of the Founding Fathers, he also enslaved about 200 Black people on a plantation he owned.
Another statue of Rodney was removed in Wilmington in June amid the wave of monuments that were taken down or vandalized around the world during the racial justice protests that followed the death of George Floyd.
“Joe Biden said nothing as to his home state’s history and to the fact that it was dismantled and dismembered and the Founding Father’s statue was removed,” said Trump, attacking a political rival as he stood in the presence of some of America’s most sacred documents. “Today America will give this Founding Father, this very brave man who was so horribly treated, the place of honor he deserves.”