On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wrote a piece that celebrates King’s legacy and highlights the work that still needs to be done around racial justice and equality. Other writers did the same because that’s generally what writers do to commemorate the holiday—unless you’re a writer for the Trump administration.
It’s clear that President-reject Donald Trump intends to use his presidential platform to promote unabashed white nationalism until his very last day in office. We already knew this, but to solidify that white supremacist legacy—his only real legacy as president and in general—his administration chose MLK Day to release a report from its 1776 Commission. Surprising to nobody Black, the newly released report excuses slavery and the Three-Fifths Compromise as necessary to make America great the first time around.
For those who aren’t familiar with the 1776 Commission, it’s Trump’s ode to white fragility, which he announced last September as a response to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ The 1619 Project, which was published in the New York Times in 2019 and earned her a Pulitzer Prize for her lead essay. The 1619 Project was praised by many historians but decried by white conservatives who got their star-spangled pantaloons all in a bunch over a Black journalist presenting a version of American history that didn’t center whiteness.
Trump—your favorite neo-Nazi’s favorite neo-Nazi—got so full of his own Tang-flavored white tears that he threatened to withhold funding from any institution of learning that included the project in its curriculum, all while pushing his love letter to white power as curricula for schools across the nation, because, for whatever reason, he didn’t think the version of American history already taught in schools was white-centric enough.
So the 1776 Commission report for racists who think The Birth of a Nation gets a bad rap and is actually great American cinema is 45 pages long. (I can’t help but think that releasing 45 pages of white supremacy is an intentional way of celebrating the 45th president.) You’re welcome to read the whole thing on your own time—you’re also welcome to glue your eyeballs to a radiator and crank the heat up until the nob breaks off—but I’m going to give you the highlights starting with the commission’s thoughts on slavery.
From the report:
The most common charge levelled against the founders, and hence against our country itself, is that they were hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles, and therefore the country they built rests on a lie. This charge is untrue, and has done enormous damage, especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric. Many Americans labor under the illusion that slavery was somehow a uniquely American evil. It is essential to insist at the outset that the institution be seen in a much broader perspective. It is very hard for people brought up in the comforts of modern America, in a time in which the idea that all human beings have inviolable rights and inherent dignity is almost taken for granted, to imagine the cruelties and enormities that were endemic in earlier times. But the unfortunate fact is that the institution of slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.
I know what you’re thinking: Those were a lot of words just to say, “Oh come on, everybody does the slavery thing!” The segment of the report for people who are running out of closet space for their growing noose collection goes on to talk about how some Founding Fathers owned slaves, but it’s cool because they also publicly denounced slavery. Obviously, it’s OK for me to let my dog shit on everyone’s lawn as long as I take a pro-pooper-scooper stance while doing it. Seriously, the report talked about how George Washington owned slaves but came to dislike slavery later in life and had freed all of his slaves by the time he died—as if he’s honorable for not taking his slaves with him to the afterlife because, shit, somebody has to pick his cotton in Hell.
The report goes on to justify the Three-fifths Compromise—a standard that lawmakers agreed on in 1787 that basically said Black people are human beings, but only a little bit—by stating that “as a question of practical politics, no durable union could have been formed without a compromise among the states on the issue of slavery.” In other words: Millions of Black humans suffering bondage, torture, indignity and severance from family and ancestry was a small price to pay for American
It’s a report that decries progressivism and identity politics while making the case that America should be praised for ending the very thing it allowed to exist for roughly 250 years and followed with another 100 years (at least) of legal second-class citizenship for Black people. It’s racist trash just like the soon-to-be ousted president that spawned it.