Trump and the Fight for the History Classroom

If the Trump Presidency has taught national conservatives anything, it’s that we must take the offensive in the culture wars and not lay supine, politely beseeching tolerance from our foes; it’s that the libertarian strategy of enlightened pluralism will not be brooked by an ever more implacable foe. This is why President Trump’s September 17th “Remarks at the White House Conference on American History” and subsequent Executive Order establishing the 1776 Commission should not be forgotten as the hollow gesture of a waning presidency, but remembered and studied as the adumbration of a battle plan awaiting execution.

In his speech on the anniversary of the signing of the American Constitution, President Trump argues that the cultural Marxism of the academic left is less an exercise of harmless armchair historicizing and coffee shop revolution than a concerted effort to undermine America from within, one impressionable youth at a time. “In order to radically transform America,” Trump asserts, “they [the academic left] must first cause Americans to lose confidence in who we are, where we came from, and what we believe.”

Once the bedrock of our nation is jackhammered into oblivion, as Trump’s executive order points out, the rest comes more easily: “Without our common faith in the equal right of every individual American to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, authoritarian visions of government and society could become increasingly alluring alternatives to self-government based on the consent of the people.” Whether it be the outer reaches of the alt-right, or the Antifa radicals that establishment Democrats refuse to condemn, we are already facing a reckoning with the aforementioned premonition.

What can be done? Lamentably, President Trump’s policy prescriptions, as outlined in his speech, miss the mark somewhat, as if after calling the troops to battle he would have them garrison again in the ghettos of conservative safe spaces. “A restoration of American education grounded in the principles of our founding that is accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling must ultimately succeed at the local level.  Parents and local school boards must be empowered to achieve greater choice and variety in curriculum at the State and local levels.”

Unfortunately, it is too late for a strategy of decentralization in the battle to portray our nation as a fair, just, and ultimately virtuous land. Especially given the stagnant at best—and perhaps shrinking, given the Presidential election results in Arizona and Georgia—map of red states, it is simply not enough for Republicans to rely on localized patriotism and the “laboratories of the democracy” to grab the American history classroom from the clutches of the cultural left, whose steady march through the institutions of education has gone unchecked for far too long.

As always, California is a mirror into the nation’s future. And it ain’t pretty. Take for instance the mandated ethnic studies class, already a required course in all Cal State University system classes, and now, unsurprisingly, it’s on track to appear in California primary schools. The one problem, as detailed in a Los Angeles Times article on the subject, is that for all the slicing and dicing of Americans into racialist categories, at least one of the sous chefs is going to be unhappy. Do Armenian Americans or Arab Americans deserve more content coverage in an ethnic studies course than southeast Asians or Pacific Islanders? If the progressive takeover of education—and humanities education in particular—continues apace, the question of ethnic studies nationwide will not be a matter of if, but when.

So, again, what can be done? Firstly, the goal of the 1776 Commission should not be simply to “advise”—as the executive order states—“departments and agencies […] with regard to their efforts to ensure patriotic education”; rather, the commission, or a new one to be created at a later date, should propose a set of standards and a curriculum replete with primary and secondary texts which ensure serious study of America’s founding principles, not just their shrugging off as the reflection of “white privilege” or slavery-enabling apologias. Republicans, in a concerted effort, could promote a nationalized curriculum in patriotic education. While such a proposal would be a non-starter on the left coasts, it would nonetheless generate a national conversation about how American history is taught and why.

Furthermore, the opprobrium such a curriculum would receive from the left would build upon one of the core strengths of President Trump’s tenure as culture-warrior-in-chief: it would smoke the radicals out of their foxholes and bring them into plain view for the American people to see. President-Elect Biden’s coalition is wobbly at best, and he arguably won the election despite the statue-toppling, name-changing, and plaque-removing left, not because of it. To watch these same people come out of the woodwork on Biden’s watch, after he ran on restoring decency and normalcy, would be an electoral gift to the GOP; it would pay dividends with suburban swing voters who voted Biden into office thinking he was a Harding only to find out he was a Hindenburg flailing to keep America out of the hands of the revolutionary vanguard.

While the GOP applies pressure at the level of primary education, Republicans should take a two-pronged approach to re-establishing a meaningful presence for conservatives in history academia. Such an approach should be directed at Ivy League schools in particular, which disproportionately shape elite opinion in government, media, and the prestigious private schools from which they draw many of their students. Wealthy conservatives, as well as established think tanks and other institutions, should provide scholarships and other resources such as application consulting to graduate students in the humanities, especially history, with a track record of conservative thought.

What is more, conservative donors to endowments should tie donations to the study of conservative thought and canonical texts, and even to affirmative action for right-of-center professors seeking employment and/or tenure at said universities. If the schools in question try to thwart either the scholarship programs or the endowment money tied to positive discrimination, conservative media can and should wage a war in the court of public opinion over why universities embrace every kind of diversity under the sun except for diversity of thought. The old-guard, country-club Republicans will chafe and pull at their neck collars over such an overtly confrontational strategy to promote patriotism in American education, but the fight is long overdue and is in line with the plainspoken, hard-hat conservatism of the future GOP.

Image: Michael Vadon, Public Domain

Kurt Hofer

Kurt Hofer holds a PhD in Spanish Golden Age literature and teaches history in a Los Angeles-area independent school.

2 thoughts on “Trump and the Fight for the History Classroom

  1. Just one simple comment. Of all the people in the USA to use as a model for upholding tradition, fair and even playing fields, and democracy, the last to be chosen for that role should be the current President, who has tried in the courts to overcome the democratic will and desire of the majority of USA citizens. And he’s not through yet. Please rethink.

  2. “Wealthy conservatives, as well as established think tanks and other institutions, should provide scholarships and other resources such as application consulting to graduate students in the humanities, especially history, with a track record of conservative thought.”

    Not just the humanities, but the fields of education and teaching as well.

    One little known fact is that about 2/3 of young K-12 teachers quit teaching in less than three years, or never teach at all. Some of these are conservatives who feel like Don Quixote tilting at the overwhelming leftist bias and walk away.

    We need to nurture these people.

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