Today’s topic should have been very easy for me to select. As of Friday morning I had a topic in mind and intended to write this article Saturday morning (the latter I am doing). Then the bombshell news of RBG’s death came as my wife and I ate Friday’s dinner. That will be the topic of at least the next two day’s articles and I’m certain will be mentioned in many that follow. Last week President Trump made a remark during one of his pep rallies that is both chilling and reminiscent of the actions of autocrats of the last 100 years. Today let’s explore that.
Trump announced that he was forming a 1776 Commission to put together a curriculum to teach right wing mythology. He didn’t use those words –they would have been truthful – but that is effectively what he said. He told Bubba (who ate it up) that this was to counter the left wing un-American teachings in our schools. He was referring to our traditional public schools; many of the privates are already right wing indoctrination centers. Hey, Bill Barr needs a place to spew his venom before college students and not get booed off the stage. (I could go on and on about this but space and time are limited.)
Trump was mainly referring to the teaching of American history. I was fortunate to be born in America and am very happy to be an American citizen (like most Americans, largely by virtue of the 14th Amendment). Add ‘em up and subtract ‘em; this is the best country in the history of the planet and has been for the entire sixty-eight years of my existence. All that considered, it neither means that America is the best in everything nor perfect. American history must be taught accurately including looking at our shortfalls and how we have overcame many of them. Allow me to review a few cases focusing on the original Constitution.
Despite the best efforts of Abigail Adams (the wife of John Adams and our second First Lady) women were not granted the right to vote in the original Constitution. That was rectified by the 19th Amendment and this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of women (white women at least) being able to vote in a presidential election.
Slavery was not directly addressed in the original Constitution and by default was legal in the original United States. That is often referred to as America’s Original Sin. Like a few other defects it was one of the politically necessary compromises of our founding. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, outlawed slavery in America. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, supposedly guaranteed all men the right to vote but it didn’t really work that way in much of the South for about a century. Right wing mythology to the contrary aside, the Civil War was primarily fought over the issue of slavery also had a lot to do with its actual end. The Jim Crow era with its accompanying violent white supremacist activities was an improvement but a grossly insufficient one.
In the original Constitution slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person – but had no voting rights – in order to give the South more representation. The 13th Amendment also negated that but voter suppression aimed at the decedents of those slaves is still alive and well today particularly in several southern states.
In the original Constitution voters did not directly elect their United States Senators. That didn’t change until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913. As recently as this Congress at least one Republican Senator has expressed his willingness to change that. The Senate still has an archaic rule requiring proposed legislation to be read on the floor because many of the early Senators could not read. Today with voters electing literate (although in some cases I question that) Senators that rule is rarely invoked and then only as a delay tactic.
Here is the bottom line: Controlling education and turning it into indoctrination with willful disregard for the facts –regardless of how uncomfortable they may be – is what autocrats of the left and right have done. Just take a look at the history of the last 100 years and you can come up with many examples of this. The attempt to do the final assault on the American educational system and turn it into an indoctrination system is too important and potentially dangerous to ignore.
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