by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Sumantra Maitra writes for the Martin Center about academia’s role in distorting history.
On July 4 at Mt. Rushmore, President Trump praised Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Louis Armstrong; it was a significant political and cultural speech, comparable to Trump’s speech extolling Western civilization and Chopin’s symphonies at Warsaw in 2017.
Trump also ordered a federal project called the Garden of National Heroes, mandating the artwork to be classical and “not abstract or modernist.” On the same day, The Washington Post published an article by a professor urging Americans to consider the global legacy of 1776 as furthering “white supremacy.” The Post wasn’t the only one. While major news outlets focused on the evils of America, Trump vowed to defend America’s positive legacy and save George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, the four icons on Mt. Rushmore.
One recent book saw this split coming. The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America’s Past by Jarrett Stepman, published in October 2019, argued that this tipping point was coming sooner than one expected.
Trump might have been an unlikely messenger of cultural conservatism, but structural forces would compel this binary because that is the nature of politics during times of Hobbesian social strife. Incidentally, Stepman points out that it was Trump who warned about the slippery slope and argued that reshaping history won’t stop at Confederate monuments, as revolutionary movements have a momentum of their own.
“Trump’s insinuation that activists would turn their attention to the Founders after they were done with Confederates was mocked by many in the media and even some historians on the premise that the difference between the Founders and the Confederates would be obvious to Americans,” Stepman writes. Yet, in recent weeks, statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt were toppled or desecrated, not to mention the same treatment for statues of Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Spanish Catholic saints, and even, for some reason, Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass.
The war on history didn’t stop at the Confederates.