President Joe Biden issued a flurry of executive orders last week, and some represent positive steps toward history education, anti-discrimination and racial reconciliation.
Biden rightly reversed former President Donald Trump’s misguided attempt to ban diversity training for federal employees. Biden revoked former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission and its recent report that was supposed to promote “patriotic education” but was widely panned by historians.
And the newly inaugurated president signed a broad executive order aimed at requiring all federal agencies to make equity a central factor in their operations and to report back about efforts to eliminate systemic discrimination. Biden’s orders send the right messages about a federal commitment to the national reckoning on race-based bias, discrimination and equity ignited in part by the Minneapolis death of George Floyd while in police custody. The orders can be a positive force for healing, reconciliation and unity.
Trump, on the other hand, promoted ignoring many truths and important research about American history in promoting his slanted brand of patriotism.
Reportedly after watching a Fox News story on diversity training last September, Trump directed the Office of Management and Budget to identify federal spending related to any training that discussed critical race theory or anything else that suggests racism exists in the U.S. The Trump administration wanted to end funding for what it labeled “divisive, anti-American propaganda sessions.”
Trump then created the 1776 Commission, reportedly to debunk The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning commentary “The 1619 Project,” which despite its flaws added substance to the discussion over the lasting consequences of slavery in America.
Trump’s commission released a report last week on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that was criticized by many historians as political propaganda that lacked scholarship and downplayed slavery and other important elements of American history.
The report emphasized teaching students to love their country and incorrectly argued that the civil rights movement contradicted the “lofty ideals” espoused by the Founding Fathers.
“It’s an insult to the whole enterprise of education. Education is supposed to help young people learn to think critically,” David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale University, told The Associated Press. “That report is a piece of right-wing propaganda.”
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued previously, teaching the truth about this nation’s history is not un-American. Expanding our knowledge base about how America evolved — mistakes, cruelties and all — promotes better understanding of where the nation is today. Loving America and being honest about its past are not mutually exclusive ideas.
Fortunately, Biden recognizes the dangers in glossing over negative elements of America’s past. And his equity-sensitive directives rightly seek to build a more fair and inclusive future.
— Star Tribune