The impeccably credentialed National Association of Scholars, which strives for, among other things, truth in academic discourse, focused in a recent webinar on the peril that truth faces amid our present racial anxieties.
The new “truth” being vetted on the progressive left is that the whole of American history stems from chattel slavery.
The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Fourth of July — forget it. Everything we thought we knew about America is false. Slavery is the sun around which our national solar system spins. We have a new explanation of the American story, tailored to shame us in the face of white racism. America didn’t begin in 1776; it began in 1619, with the arrival of the first African slaves. Our intellectual elite class is finally latching on. It remains for the rest of the country to catch up. Or so goes the new theme song, with lyrics crafted by the authors of The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” The Times’ purpose — I am not exaggerating — is to effect national repentance through an altered understanding of slavery as our central experience. The project’s keystone outrage is the assertion that the colonists threw off British rule so as to make the new world safe for human bondage.
Into the fog of misinformation steps valiantly the National Association of Scholars, its webinar offering corrective truths that you wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago — five, even — would require firm restating.
The distinguished historian Wilfred McClay of Oklahoma University and the longtime civil rights activist Robert Woodson say, in essence, in their presentations: Huh? Where’d this stuff come from? They say so, nonetheless, not on the basis of gape-mouthed wonderment but of genuine knowledge of their country’s history, not least its historical grappling with the conundrum of white-Black relations and how to get them right for the whole nation’s sake.
I commend the National Association of Scholars website as the place to go for taking in the webinar as a whole. I shall not attempt, in this small space, to recount the two learned participants’ bristling defense of America’s track record as a free society — full of deficiencies (as all human enterprises must be), faltering at times, unfinished, but effulgent with the light of sheer effort to meet the challenge of planting liberty’s banner in a new land. The “1619 Project,” despite the Pulitzer Prize it earned The Times, is long-faced, lugubrious, narrow-eyed and closed-minded on the subject. America’s leading historians of the colonial/Revolutionary/federal period have joined hands with McClay and Woodson in dismissing the eccentric slant of the “1619 Project” on what the founders and their heirs were up to, e.g., preserving slavery.
The Constitution that our outrageous founders crafted guarantees, among other treasures, free speech. The “1619 Project” folk have every right to contend, if they desire, that George Washington whipped 10 slaves every day before breakfast. Yet freedom depends on truth and on any society’s adherence to it. The notions of substituting falsehoods for demonstrable and long-received truths about the country we live in is dangerous to that country’s prospects. The effects of hatred resulting from sharp divisions are in play in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon, and other luckless venues.
A great irony presently on view is the contention over on the progressive left that President Donald Trump is a lousy, !#%#$#@ liar. (Except that no one bothers, in our liberated times, to say “!#%#$#@” anymore!) I wouldn’t doubt that Trump himself understands that, oft times, he makes up stuff out of thin air and then says, like Dr. Cure-All on his vividly painted wagon: “Step right up, folks! Gaze on my never-fail potion for the room-uh-tiz!” Numerous of us wish he’d stop it.
However, among the oldest of human truths is that two wrongs don’t make a right. You don’t make up for a Trumpian distortion by lying about the nation he heads — overstating its human sins, calumniating its heroes and heroines, imputing the lowest motives to its institutions.
The “1619 Project” is a lie — a fabric of distortions, omissions and irrelevancies so far out of sync with the facts as hardly to compete with what we’ve known about ourselves and our country since … always. We’ll get past this. The necessity of getting past it — that’s the tragedy.
William Murchison is writing a book on moral reconstruction in the 21st century. His latest book is “The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.”