Here is my 2012 Religious Freedom Day lecture at Mary Washington University:
I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 1809 Josiah Quincy (MA), the only Federalist in Congress, tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson. His attempt failed by a vote of 117 to 1.
On Jan. 25, 1809, Quincy rose to denounce the president as he had done numerous times in the past. This time was different, as Quincy alleged that Jefferson had failed to carry out his duties as chief executive. The president’s “high misdemeanor,” according to Quincy, was that he kept Benjamin Lincoln, the customs collector for the port of Boston, in federal office despite the man’s protestations that he was too old, and too feeble, to do his job. In 1806 Lincoln had written to Jefferson proposing to resign his office, but Jefferson asked him to stay on until he had appointed a successor. The president did so to nominate Henry Dearborn, his friend and the secretary of war, to this important position before his eventual retirement to Monticello. Jefferson wanted to reward his longtime ally with the Boston collectorship, but first, he needed to keep the long-serving Dearborn in the War Department until the foreign crisis with Great Britain over trade restrictions and the impressment of American sailors was resolved.
Quincy saw it differently, alleging that Jefferson unfairly allowed a federal official to be paid a $5,000 annual salary “for doing no services.”
Quincy’s motion received intense pushback in the floor debate that followed, as both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists objected to it. Seventeen Congressmen in total spoke against even considering the resolution, a high number for any House debate at the time. Thomas Gholson, an administration ally from Virginia labeled Quincy’s impeachment attempt as a “ridiculous proposition” while William A. Burwell, Jefferson’s former private secretary now a Virginia Congressman, referred to the ploy as something out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”
Read the entire piece here.
Donald Trump seems to believe that Mike Pence can overturn the votes of the Electoral College tomorrow when Congress certifies the results.
Here is Trump last night in Georgia:
And earlier today:
CNN is reporting that Trump and Pence had an unscheduled lunch today.
Is Trump right?
Let’s start with the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1:
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President…
The Constitution says that the sitting Vice President does have a role in the certification process. His role is to open the results (presumably in envelopes) sent to him by the states. It is purely ceremonial.
Now let’s move on to the pertinent parts of the 12th Amendment.
The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;-The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;-The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President…
The 12th amendment requires electors to cast one electoral vote for president and one electoral vote for vice president. This was necessary after Thomas Jefferson and his VP running mate Aaron Burr both received the same number of electoral votes in the president election of 1800. Learn more about what happened here. Notice that the language related to the Vice President’s role in opening the certified votes does not change with the 12th Amendment. His job is to open envelopes. It is a role that is purely ceremonial.
The final document of note is the Electoral Count Act of 1887. This act was passed ten years after the controversial presidential election of 1876. It clarifies the role of the vice-president in the certification of the Electoral College votes. Here is the pertinent part of the act as codified in 3 U.S. Code 15:
Congress shall be in session on the sixth day of January succeeding every meeting of the electors. The Senate and House of Representatives shall meet in the Hall of the House of Representatives at the hour of 1 o’clock in the afternoon on that day, and the President of the Senate shall be their presiding officer. Two tellers shall be previously appointed on the part of the Senate and two on the part of the House of Representatives, to whom shall be handed, as they are opened by the President of the Senate, all the certificates and papers purporting to be certificates of the electoral votes, which certificates and papers shall be opened, presented, and acted upon in the alphabetical order of the States, beginning with the letter A; and said tellers, having then read the same in the presence and hearing of the two Houses, shall make a list of the votes as they shall appear from the said certificates; and the votes having been ascertained and counted according to the rules in this subchapter provided, the result of the same shall be delivered to the President of the Senate, who shall thereupon announce the state of the vote, which announcement shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the United States, and, together with a list of the votes, be entered on the Journals of the two Houses.
Here is Joe Biden doing his ceremonial duty on January 6, 2017:
Here is Al Gore certifying the election of George W. Bush. Very awkward, but necessary:
The rest of the Electoral Count Act explains the entire process of dealing with objections. The Vice President’s only role in dealing with objections (which several members of the House and Senate, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz will bring) is to “call” for written objections.
In the end, there is nothing Pence can do to change the election results at tomorrow’s certification ceremony. It may take some time because of the objections, but Congress will certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Biden will be inaugurated on January 20.
ADDENDUM (8:37pm): Apparently Pence is going to do the right thing.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson edited a copy of the Christian gospels? In this episode, Smithsonian curator and author Peter Manseau joins us to talk about the so-called “Jefferson Bible” or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. We explore Jefferson’s religious beliefs and how his “Bible” was appropriated by later generations.
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We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge! Stay tuned.
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Harris began with John Lewis. Who is John Lewis? Get up to speed with these posts.
Harris gave a shoutout to the real heroes of this election. Democracy survived this week because of the work of these women and men:
Kamala Harris was wearing a white pantsuit, presumably to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Here is historian Chris Gehrz:
Kamala Harris is the first woman VP in American history. I am the father of two daughters:
There was a pro-family vibe tonight that I have not seen since Obama:
Biden came out looking fit and ready to go. And yes, Springsteen was involved!
I wrote a piece about this Springsteen song back in 2012:
A great day for educators, especially those of us who study and teach in the humanities. Jill Biden is a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. She plans to continue teaching during Joe’s presidency. One of our own is in the White House!
There was a lot of historical references–direct and indirect–in tonight’s Biden speech:
And some American civil religion:
Biden wants to bring the country together. He will have his work cut out for him:
In addition to Ecclesiastes, Biden referenced this popular Christian song:
And yes, this was sung at my wedding in 1994.
Evangelicals liked this song too, Kevin! 🙂 It was a fixture of the evangelical “praise song” movement:
It was a good day for the United States of America
Some thoughts on the final debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.
On the format:
The mute button definitely worked. Kristen Welker did a solid job as moderator. Trump was under control. He started-out very mellow:
Symbolic gestures are important, especially in a pandemic:
This continues to be the essence of Trump’s approach to the coronavirus:
I have no idea what Trump meant when he criticized Biden for “selling pillows and sheets”:
Seth Cotlar gets it right:
When Trump attacked Biden’s family, Biden did not get into the mud. (There is a lot of material about the Trump family he could have used). Instead, he appealed to American families:
When Biden talked about American families and their “dinner table” concerns, Trump accused him of being a “typical politician.”:
Trump kept pushing lies about Biden’s positions on health care and fracking:
In one the better moments of the debate, Biden said that Trump was confused about the identity of his opponent in this election, especially as it relates to health care. Biden does not support socialized medicine. He actually won the Democratic primary against the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who do favor socialized medicine. He reminded the viewers who Trump was running against:
The moderator, Kristen Welker, asked Trump about how his administration manage to lose the parents of 545 immigrant children. Trump claimed that they these children were brought to the country not by their parents, but by “coyotes.” Biden pushed back hard, saying that these children came to the United States with their parents and they were separated. Trump’s failed to exercise any degree of empathy for these children. It was painful to watch.
As a side note, I had interesting exchange on Twitter on this issue with court evangelical and GOP operative Ralph Reed:
I am not holding my breath about Reed’s decision to revisit this issue 10 days before an election.
Welker asked Biden and Trump about “the talk” African-American parents give their children about the dangers they will face in a racist society. Bruce Springsteen summarized this well in his song “American Skin”:
Here is the lyric:
41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”
Biden responded to this question with a clear statement about systemic racism, lamenting that such a “talk” is necessary in the United States of America. Trump never answered the question. Instead he said this:
Trump claimed he was the “least racist” person in the room. Then he backpedaled a bit, saying he couldn’t be entirely sure that he was the “least racist” person in the room because the lights were too bright and he was unable to see everyone.
Trump then went after Biden for his role in drafting the 1994 Crime Bill. This bill was controversial because it increased incarceration in an attempt to stop crime. It led to more prison sentences and aggressive policing that hurt people of color who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.
Biden has said that his support of the 1994 bill was a mistake and he regrets it. He said the same thing last night. But what confuses me is why Trump always criticizes him on this front. Wouldn’t a “law and order” president like Trump who does not believe in systemic racism be in favor of such a bill? After Trump’s response to racial unrest this summer, one might think he would have been chomping at the bit to support such a bill. Biden lost a chance to point this out.
New York Times columnist David Brooks weighed-in on the debate:
Biden said that he wanted to phase out the oil industry because it is bad for the environment. Trump implied that Biden’s statement alienated people in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ohio. Perhaps it did, but Biden stood his ground. Historian Andrew Wehrman put it succinctly:
Biden’s claim to be the president of all Americans reminded me of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address:
Trump did fine. As CNN’s Dana Bash put it, the “bar was very low” for Trump and he managed to clear it.
Biden did fine as well. He had some nice moments.
I don’t think the debate changed much, especially since Trump is probably going to stay some more stupid stuff tomorrow and everyone will forget about last night’s debate.
Here is a taste:
Nothing better explains the Republican rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than the record crowds that thronged polling places for the first days of early voting this week in Georgia and Texas.
The historic number of Americans who stood in long lines to cast their ballot in cities from Atlanta to Houston symbolizes the diverse, urbanized Democratic coalition that will make it very difficult for the GOP to win majority support in elections through the 2020s. That hill will get only steeper as Millennials and Generation Z grow through the decade to become the largest generations in the electorate.
Every young conservative judge that the GOP has stacked onto the federal courts amounts to a sandbag against that rising demographic wave. Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Barrett—whom a slim majority of Republican senators appears determined to seat by Election Day—represent the capstone of that strategy. As the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity limits the GOP’s prospects, filling the courts with conservatives constitutes what the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz calls “the right-wing firewall” against a country evolving electorally away from the party.
Jefferson’s irritation in the early 19th century may most closely resemble the frustration building among Democrats, as the GOP races to seat Barrett before an election that could provide Democrats with unified control of government, perhaps resoundingly. In the 1800 election, Jefferson ousted Adams, and his Democratic-Republican Party took the House and the Senate, beginning a quarter-century of complete political dominance. But in a long lame-duck session after their 1800 defeat, Adams’s Federalists passed legislation substantially expanding the number of federal judges. Adams, much like McConnell now, worked so tirelessly to fill those positions that Jefferson privately complained he had “crowded [them] in with whip & spur.” (Separately, Adams and the Senate rushed to confirm John Marshall as the Supreme Court’s chief justice after the Federalist in the job resigned weeks after Election Day.) Even “at 9 p.m. on the night of March 3, 1801, only three hours before officially leaving office, Adams was [still] busy signing commissions,” wrote James F. Simon in his book What Kind of Nation.
There are so many lessons we can learn from the presidential election of 1800. For example, when we claim that we are living through “the most divisive campaign” in history, 1800 offers perspective:
The election of 1800 also figured prominently in the Broadway play Hamilton, although much of its treatment of the election is historically inaccurate.
In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I focused on the religious aspects of the election. Many northeastern evangelicals believed that if Jefferson was elected he would come for their Bibles and close their churches. (Sound familiar?)
And as Sara Georgini of the Papers of John Adams reminds us in a recent piece at Perspectives on History Daily, the election of 1800 also offers some lessons on the peaceful transition of power. Here is a taste of her piece:
John Adams chased the dawn right out of Washington, DC, departing the half-built city shortly after four o’clock in the morning on March 4, 1801. He knew it was time to go. In a battering election that pitted Adams against his friend-turned-rival Thomas Jefferson, the New England Federalist suffered a humiliating and life-changing defeat. His popular predecessor, George Washington, swung into a second term easily. But the rules of the game had changed: Adams faced violent factionalism from within his administration, a seething press, rampant electioneering, and the eruption of party politics.
To many, Adams’s track record in office was controversial at best, thanks to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and an unpopular foreign policy with France. While the second president summered at his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, Alexander Hamilton and a newly minted corps of campaigners trawled for votes. Fanning out across cities and towns, they set political fires in the local press that blazed across the very states Adams needed to win, and wouldn’t. He watched from afar, loathing the campaign tactics taking root. “If my administration cannot be defended by the intrinsic merit of my measures & by my own authority, may it be damned,” he wrote to his son Thomas Boylston Adams in late August. The elder Adams held strong opinions on elections, informed by his close study of classical republics and Renaissance state formation. He hoped to be known as the 18th-century ideal of a disinterested public servant, so a hard loss at the polls meant one thing: Transfer power peacefully to a new president, thereby safeguarding the office and the nation it served.
The election of 1800 did not invent this idea, but it did engrave America into history as a democracy. Both men vying for the presidency would have known Plato’s caution. Democracies thrived on the verge of oligarchy, and executive power—embodied by either president or king—risked turning into tyranny the longer its tenure. When did John Adams know his presidency was over, and what did he do about it? In the most technical sense, he lived (awkwardly) with the impending loss of power from December 1800, when key electoral votes failed to tip his way. He was not eager to stick around and watch the next inauguration.
Read the rest here.
Donald Trump has turned Critical Race Theory (CRT) into a campaign issue in the hopes of winning white evangelicals and other conservatives who fear that an academic theory that they know little about is somehow threatening American democracy. Between his attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project, he just might win back a few 2016 voters who were contemplating pulling the lever for Biden or another candidate in November.
On Friday night, September 4, 2020, Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, released a memo demanding that the Executive Branch stop teaching CRT as part of required “training” sessions for federal employees.
Vought’s memo condemns seminars that expose employees to the idea that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or “benefit from racism.” All programs that include discussions of “white privilege” or the notion that the United States is an “inherently racist or evil country,” the memo states, must immediately “cease and desist.”
Trump may have learned about CRT from a segment on Fox News. On September 2, 2020, Fox host Tucker Carlson interviewed Chris Rufo, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank best known for its advocacy of the “intelligent design” view of creation. After studying CRT for six months, Rufo concluded the theory has become the “default ideology of the federal bureaucracy” and is being “weaponized against the American people.” He described CRT as “a cult indoctrination” and demanded that Trump bring an end to it immediately. The president was apparently listening.
So what should we make of CRT? Like all academic theories, we ought to engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups based on the color of their skin.
In their helpful introduction to CRT, scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Sefancic identify five major themes of this theory.
First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.
Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.
Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.
Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.
Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.
Critical race theorists are often suspicious of liberalism, both the Left and Right variety. As a product of the Western intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, liberals champion universals—the things that we hold in common as human beings regardless of race. CRT celebrates what makes human beings unique and different. The appeal to the universal values of the Enlightenment, its adherents argue, always favors the White people who have defined and benefited from those values.
Much of CRT sounds a lot like some of the things I learned in college, seminary, and graduate school. Back then we studied these things under the rubric of “American history” and “Christianity.”
For example, I don’t remember reading anything about CRT while working toward my Ph.D in American history. But I did not need these high-falutin academic theorists to see how racism was embedded in the history of the republic. All I needed to do was study the documentary record with my eyes open. One cannot ignore the long history of White people oppressing Black people. White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not. To acknowledge white privilege is to be a good historian.
It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty, freedom, and individual rights are still with us. Indeed, racism is “ordinary” and “common” in American life. It is not some kind of aberration practiced by a few “bad apples” who make occasional appearances in the narratives we teach about the past.
A few weeks ago I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that defined Black men and women as slaves for the purpose of quelling disgruntled poor whites (former indentured servants) who had a propensity for social and political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of these marginalized White colonials.
Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other instances in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.
Trump’s decision to root-out CRT will inevitably win him points with his Fox-News-watching Christian conservative base, but is CRT something Christians should fear?
As an undergraduate and seminary student at evangelical institutions, I learned that Christians should not be surprised by injustice and evil in this world. Rather, we should expect it. The world is a fallen and broken place. My professors drilled this into my head through a reading and re-reading (occasionally in the original Hebrew language) of Genesis 3. Sin manifests itself in both individual lives and cultural systems.
Since Christians believe in human sin, we should have no problem embracing CRT’s affirmation of systemic racism. At the same time, we should always be ready to offer hope–rooted in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the promise of resurrection—as a means of healing a world that is broken. We may never overcome the damage of systemic racism on this side of eternity, but we cannot ignore our call to be agents of reconciliation.
Is it true that White people have no incentive to do anything about racial injustice because they benefit from it? American history certainly bears this out. The story of our nation is filled with White men and women who witnessed racism on a regular basis and did nothing to stop it. Some of them knew it was wrong but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Others simply did not care.
Christian critics of CRT celebrate abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, but these courageous activists were the exceptions to the rule in 19th-century America. The “heroic man” or “heroic woman” view of the history of moral reform does not account for the long record of White Christian complacency on racial injustice. In the end, any Christian who takes a deep dive into the American past will find heroes to emulate, but they will also find that most White people were complicit in sustaining a system of white supremacy.
What about the social construction of race? When Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) that Africans were “inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” he was degrading the human dignity of Black people, men and women created by God in His image. Racism entered the world when sinful human beings forged communities that privileged some and excluded others.
Christians can also agree, to an extent, with the idea of intersectionality. We all possess different social identities and there are times when we face injustice that stems from those identities—injustices that our legal system fails to address.
Our urge to downplay the identities that define us as human beings is understandable and, in many cases, good. A flourishing society will always be built upon the things we hold common as human beings. A thriving Church will always be built upon the knowledge that one day White Christians and Christians of color will share together in the new heavens and new earth promised in the Book of Revelation. A central message of the Book of Acts and Pauline epistles is summed-up best in Galatians 3:38: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all one in Christ.”
But God has also made us different. We are products of history. Our faith will always be understood and navigated through the circumstances that have shaped us and provided us with multiple identities in this world. While we all want to be one in Christ, and should always be about the work of reconciliation and unity as Jesus reminded us in John 17, we must also remember, as theologian Miroslav Volf writes, that God notes not only our “common humanity,” but also our “specific histories.”
Finally, CRT’s emphasis on storytelling is something Christians should value. The Christian tradition is full of men and women telling stories of suffering, sin, and redemption. When Black people tell their stories of encounters with racism it should provoke empathy in the hearts of White Christians. We understand the power of testimony.
Of course, stories can be manipulated for selfish or political ends. And personal experience does not always translate to expertise on a subject such as African American history or literature. But those who dwell on these matters miss an opportunity to cultivate a more just democracy through compassion and understanding. It is time to exercise some humility. This means we need to stop talking and start listening to the stories African Americans are telling us.
In the end, if critical race theorists can teach me something I don’t know about how I may have benefited from white oppression (even if I may not commit overt acts of racism) or how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to consider it?
As a Christian, I want to see the world through the eyes of my faith. I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of CRT and reject other parts. I know very few academics—Christian or secular—who adopt theories in toto.
There is much truth in CRT, and all truth is God’s truth. We have nothing to fear.
I agree entirely with The Washington Post editors:
D.C. MAYOR Muriel E. Bowser (D) may be right that President Trump and other Republicans deliberately misinterpreted a report from the District’s committee on renaming schools, buildings and other government facilities. No one ever recommended that the Washington Monument or other federal memorials be bulldozed. The District, though, played right into the hands of Mr. Trump and other critics with the clumsy rollout of a report that, while well intentioned, was overbroad in its recommendations and failed to distinguish between historical figures with no admirable characteristics and those who made significant contributions to society.
Amid the national reckoning about racism that followed the killing of George Floyd, Ms. Bowser appointed a committee to review the namesakes of schools, buildings and other government-owned facilities in Washington. District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (or DCFACES) spent two months looking at more than 1,300 government-owned assets — schools, recreation centers, public housing — to identify those with names that are “inconsistent with D.C. values and in some way encouraged the oppression of African Americans and other communities of color or contributed to our long history of systemic racism.” Using criteria that included participation in slavery, the committee concluded that about 150 individuals who have something named after them were “persons of concern” and recommended that dozens of sites — including 21 schools — be renamed.
Most of the controversy over the committee’s report centered on the initial inclusion of federal properties: It recommended that Ms. Bowser urge federal authorities to add plaques providing context about slave ownership or other oppression of people of color to the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and other famed locales in the capital. But more problematic was the use of bright lines to disqualify people seemingly with no regard for the whole of their lives. Benjamin Franklin, for example, seems to have been targeted because he once owned slaves; never mind that he signed the Declaration of Independence, was the first postmaster general and later renounced slavery and became a leading abolitionist.
Read the rest here.
Here is Mark Silk at Religion News Service:
In case you hadn’t heard, last week President Donald Trump attacked his presumptive Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, on religious grounds. “No religion,” declared Trump. “No anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God.”
It’s been 220 years since the religion card was played so bigly in an American presidential campaign. The precedent is more apt than you might think.
The election of 1800 pitted the incumbent president, John Adams, against his old-friend-turned-bitter-rival Vice President Thomas Jefferson. In the two-party system that had emerged in the 1790s, Adams was the Federalist, Jefferson the Democratic-Republican. The Federalist case against Jefferson centered on charges that he was a “Jacobin,” a radical on the order of the French revolutionaries he had admired since serving as American ambassador to France in the late 1780s.
In a series of newspaper articles published in 1798, Alexander Hamilton attacked those revolutionaries for trying to “undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society,” not least by “the attempt … to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole people to Atheism.”
Hamilton claimed that Jefferson was, like them, an atheist who, with the help of fellow American Jacobins, would pursue the same agenda if elected. In the words of another Federalist writer, the choice was clear: “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT … [or] JEFFERSON AND NO GOD.”
Unlike Trump, John Adams did not himself attack Jefferson for irreligion. And unlike Biden, who called Trump’s attack “shameful,” Jefferson did not publicly respond to the attacks. As he wrote to James Monroe, “As to the calumny of Atheism, I am so broken to calumnies of every kind … that I entirely disregard it.”
Read the entire piece here.
The analogy is not perfect, but there are certainly similarities. Trump’s words about Biden play upon white evangelical fears over the decline of “Christian America.” Similarly, anxiety over the secular assault on America’s Christian political institutions played a predominant role in the presidential election of 1800. Adams was a New England Federalist who defended the idea that republics only survive when built upon the moral foundations of Christianity. Jefferson, Federalists believed, was most responsible for allowing infidelity to flourish in America.
Jefferson had the support of frontier, largely uneducated, evangelicals–such as Methodists and Baptists–who shared his commitment to religious liberty. It is noteworthy that the religious liberty-loving ordinary farmers supported that supposed “anti-God” candidate.
The Federalists, mostly members of the educated classes, called attention to Jefferson’s heretical beliefs: Jefferson did not believe in the Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. He was not the kind of leader who should be the president of a Christian nation, the Federalists said, and they were prepared to stage an intense political campaign to discredit him before the American people.
The attacks on Jefferson’s supposed godlessness were relentless. William Linn, a Federalist minister from New York, chaplain of the House of Representatives, and a former president of Queens College (today Rutgers University), opposed Jefferson’s candidacy because of the vice-president’s “disbelief in the Holy Scriptures…his rejection of the Christian religion and open profession of Deism.” Linn feared that under Jefferson’s rule, the United States would become a “nation of Atheists.” Linn made clear that “no professed deist, be his talents and acquirements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place [the presidency] by the suffrages of a Christian nation.” He even argued that the act of “calling a deist to the first office must be construed into no less than rebellion against God.” For Linn, the evangelical choice was clear. If the people were to choose “a manifest enemy to the religion of Christ, in a Christian nation,” it would be “an awful symptom of the degeneracy” of America.”
Upon hearing that Jefferson was elected, frightened New England evangelicals thought that the new president’s henchmen would soon be coming to their towns and homes on a mission to take away their Bibles.
Recently, the University of Pennsylvania decided to remove a Whitefield statue on campus because the evangelist promoted and defended slavery in eighteenth-century Georgia.
Here is a taste of Zoey Weisman’s piece at The Daily Pennsylvanian:
Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wrote in the University-wide email that, after considering Whitefield’s support for and advancement of slavery in the American colonies, they have decided to take down the statue that stands in front of the Morris and Bodine sections of Ware College House.
“Honoring him with a statue on our campus is inconsistent with our University’s core values, which guide us in becoming an ever more welcoming community that celebrates inclusion and diversity,” the email read.
Although the email vowed the statue would be removed from campus, it contained no mention of when it would be removed or whether it would be replaced with another figure.
The bronze statue of Whitefield was created by R. Tait Mckenzie in 1919. Whitefield, a prominent evangelical preacher in the mid-18th century who successfully campaigned for slavery’s legislation in the Georgia colony — where the practice had been previously outlawed — owned 50 enslaved persons himself.
Penn’s announcement to remove the Whitefield statue comes shortly after other Ivy League institutions have made efforts to reconcile their ties with slavery and racism. Last Saturday, Princeton University announced that it will remove the name of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs and a residential college due to his record of supporting racist practices and segregation as president.
Whitefield’s connection to the University comes from his church meeting house located on 4th and Arch streets in Philadelphia, the email read, which Penn founder Benjamin Franklin purchased for the Academy of Philadelphia that eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. The email made no mention the lifelong friendship between Whitefield and Franklin, or Whitefield’s ownership of enslaved persons.
Since the announcement, the University has removed a 2013 Penn Today article called ‘For the Record: George Whitefield’ that described Franklin’s relationship with Whitefield, but failed to mention any of the preacher’s ties to slavery. The article was still accessible earlier this week.
Read the rest here.
You can also read the official University of Pennsylvania statement. It makes an effort to separate Whitefield from the university’s founding in 1740: “Whitefield’s connection to Penn stems from a church meeting house he owned at 4th and Arch streets in Philadelphia which was purchased by Ben Franklin to house the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor to the University of Pennsylvania. Given that Whitefield prominently advocated for slavery, there is absolutely no justification for having a statue honoring him at Penn.” (I believe a Wyndham Hotel now sits on the spot where the Whitefield meeting house was located, or at least that is what I tell students and K-12 teachers when I give them tours of colonial Philadelphia).
The Penn statement makes it sound as if Franklin answered a classified ad for a vacant building that just happened to be owned by Whitefield. It ignores the fact that Whitefield and Franklin were close friends, worked together on projects of moral improvement, and even thought about establishing a colony in Ohio. (The history of the Whitefield statue published on the website of the University of Pennsylvania archives is more nuanced about the relationship between the two men).
I am not writing to defend Whitefield or to criticize Penn’s decision to remove the statue. They can do whatever they want with it. Whitefield will continue to be an important and flawed figure in American history and Penn’s decision will not “erase” history. News of the removal, as historian Peter Choi points out, might also awaken contemporary evangelicals to the fact that one of their heroes helped to contribute to America’s history of systemic racism.
Indeed, Whitefield’s relationship to slavery was morally problematic. Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd, a somewhat sympathetic biographer of Whitefield, refuses to give the “Grand Itinerant” as pass on slavery. Here is a taste of a piece he published in 2015 at The Christian Century:
Here is a man who was the most tireless gospel preacher of his era, and who seemed to care a great deal about orphans and African American converts. But he also became one of colonial America’s staunchest advocates for slavery’s expansion. Are we permitted to admire such a man, in spite of his glaring blind spots? (The question is hardly limited to Whitefield: we might ask the same about slaveowning historical figures from George Washington to Stonewall Jackson.)
I do admire Whitefield because of his passionate commitment to the gospel, but his relationship to slavery represents the greatest ethical problem in his career. It represents an enduring story of many Christians’ devotion to God but frequent inability (or unwillingness) to perceive and act against social injustice. Instead of condemning Whitefield as irredeemable, I would suggest that we let his faults—which we can see more clearly with 300 years of hindsight—caution us instead. Even the most sincere Christians risk being shaped more by fallen society than by the gospel.
Read the rest here.
As Kidd notes, many important people in colonial and revolutionary America owned slaves. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come immediately to mind. It is also worth noting that the university’s decision to remove the Whitefield statue from campus seems to break with some prominent American historians who have weighed-in on our current monument debate.
For example, Harvard’s Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, has argued that Jefferson statues and monuments should remain in place because the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third United States president made major contributions to American life that went beyond his commitment to the institution of slavery.
I think it is important not to go from one extreme to the other. And while it is true that many of the Virginian Founding Fathers – Washington, Jefferson, Madison – all owned slaves, we put up their statues not to commemorate their slave holding but for different reasons. So these statues, I think, need to be contextualized historically. We shouldn’t shy from the fact that many of these men were slave owners, but we should also be able to judge each case individually. The Confederate statues have no redeeming qualities to them, but other statues certainly do.
I don’t know what Gordon-Reed or Sinha would say about the Whitefield statue. (Sinha discusses Whitefield in her book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition). But it is fair to ask whether Whitefield, like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, also made contributions to American life that extend beyond his defense and promotion of slavery.
I am not in the camp of historians who believe that Whitefield had something to do with the American Revolution, but I do think there are many Americans–past and present–who would say that the evangelical message he preached had a spiritual and moral influence on their lives. Christians continue to read Whitefield’s sermons for their devotional value. The evangelical movement he helped to found, though not without its flaws, has been a source of meaning and purpose for many Americans. And the evangelical theology he championed, promoted, and popularized also influenced many future abolitionists.
As Jessica Parr has argued in her book Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivialism, and the Making of a Religious Icon, Whitefield’s legacy is a complicated one:
To slaves owners and slaves alike, Whitefield also represented the duality of Christianity in the lives of slaves. For those who opposed slavery, his preaching about equality in the eyes of God inspired antislavery sentiments. Black abolitionists invoked his preaching. White abolitionists invoked his early criticisms of slavery. And although many a southern planter doubted his sincerity, Whitefield was also a model of proslavery paternalistic slaves’ well-being (spiritually and otherwise) but who saw no contradiction between slave owning and his faith.
What if we thought about the University of Pennsylvania’s Whitefield monument in the same way American historians have been thinking about Confederate monuments? Most American historians today argue that Confederate monuments should be removed because they were erected during the Jim Crow era as a celebration of the Lost Cause. In 1931, African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois wrote,
The most terrible thing about War, I am convinced, is its monuments,–the awful things we are compelled to build in order to remember the victims. In the South, particularly, human ingenuity has been put to it to explain on its war monument, the Confederacy. Of course, the plain truth of the matter would be an inscription something like this: “Sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.” But that reads with increasing difficulty as time goes on. It does, however, seem to be overdoing the matter to read on a North Carolina Confederate monument: “Died Fighting for Liberty!”
Most of these monuments were erected between 1900 and 1920 for the purpose of advancing the cause of white supremacy. Read historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage here. Read the American Historical Association here.
They were also erected to celebrate Confederate military officers like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These men were traders to their country.
So why was the Whitefield statue was erected? It was unveiled on the Penn campus in June 1919. Here is how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the event:
A quick search at Newspapers.com reveals that the erection of the monument drew attention throughout the country and beyond. Reports of the event–some more extensive than others–appeared in newspapers in Victoria, BC; Corsicana, TX; Paducha, KY; Annapolis, MD; Harrisburg, PA; Pittston, PA; Wilmington, DE; Tampa Bay, FL; Lexington, NC; Pittsburgh, PA; Chanute, KS; Atlanta, GA; Winfield, KS; Casper, WY; Nashville, TN; Salisbury, NC; Wausau, WI; Lawrence, KS; and Winston-Salem, NC. An article in the Harrisburg Telegraph discussed Whitefield’s visit to south central Pennsylvania and his relationship to John Harris, the founder of the city.
Rev. Wallace MacMullen’s speech on the occasion was published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on June 16, 1919. It focused on Whitefield’s evangelical convictions, his relationship with John and Charles Wesley, his powerful preaching in the British transatlantic world, his printed sermons, his family life, and his commitment to education.
As might be expected at such an event, there was no mention of Whitefield’s flaws or his promotion of slavery in Georgia. Unlike the Confederate monuments, the Whitefield statue was not erected in 1919 to celebrate slavery, white supremacy, or racism. It was erected because Whitefield had a connection to the University of Pennsylvania, was a friend of Ben Franklin, had made significant contributions to the religious life of America, and was an advocate of learning.
Of course the Penn administration may view statues differently than historians such as Gordon-Reed or Sinha or Yale historian David Blight. Perhaps they believe that any statue of a slaveholder has no place on their campus. If that is the case, then the removal of Whitefield is consistent with the university’s beliefs.
I am thus assuming, based on the way they handled the Whitefield statue, that Amy Gutmann (President), Wendell Pritchett (Provost), and Craig Carnaroli (Executive Vice President) would also argue for the removal of statues commemorating Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, Patrick Henry, or John Hancock. They were all slaveholders and many of them were complicit in the preservation of slavery between 1776 and 1789. Of course the university would have no reason to have a statue to any of these figures on campus, but let’s remember that Quaker William Penn also owned slaves. This might get a little closer to home. (For the record, there is no statue of Penn on the University of Pennsylvania campus).
And let’s not forget that Ben Franklin was also a slavemaster. As David Waldstreicher writes in his book Runaway America:
Franklin’s antislavery credentials have been greatly exaggerated…His debt to slavery, and his early persistent engagement with controversies surrounding slaves, have been largely ignored. He profited from the domestic and international slave trade, complained about the ease with which slaves and servants ran off to the British army during the colonial wars of the 1740s and 1750s, and staunchly defended slaveholding rebels during the Revolution. He owned a series of slaves between about 1735 and 1781 and never systemically divested himself of them…He declined to bring the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked to do so by the abolition society that he served as president. There are enough smoking guns, to be sure, to condemn Franklin as a hypocrite, Jefferson-style, if one wishes to do so.
While Franklin relied upon slaves and servants for his success, he also, later in life, became an abolitionist. If the Penn administration ever has to justify the three Franklin statues that currently stand on the campus, I am sure they will appeal to this anti-slavery work. They would probably argue that Poor Richard was a complex person. They might even say that his role in the preservation of American slavery should not be the only thing that defines him and his legacy. Whitefield, however, does not seem to get the benefit of such complex and nuanced thinking.
Have you seen Trump’s new campaign ad?
As Bruce Springsteen once said, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”
Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic. In 1800, the Connecticut Courant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery and robbery.
In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of False Influence.”
In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either. I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement. Watch:
And here is Richard Nixon in 1968, another “law and order” president:
Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population. For example, there are groups who want to defund the police. Television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us. They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transforms them “into imminent threats.”
Jason Bivins, another scholar of fear, has noted that “moral panics” tend to “rely on presumptions more than facts; they dramatize and sensationalize so as to keep audiences in a state of continual alertness.” For example, Joe Biden does not want to defund the police. Nor do most Democrats. Yet Trump has managed to convince his followers that Biden and the Democratic Party are imminent threats to the country because of their supposed views on this issue.
Many of the people who will be scared by this new Trump ad are evangelical Christians. I wrote about their fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
A lot of conservatives liked Trump’s speech on Friday night. I am told that The Wall Street Journal gave it a positive review.
I commented on the speech here, but I thought I would say a few more things about Trump’s use of history. My comments are in bold.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. And Governor Noem, Secretary Bernhardt — very much appreciate it — members of Congress, distinguished guests, and a very special hello to South Dakota. (Applause.)
As we begin this Fourth of July weekend, the First Lady and I wish each and every one of you a very, very Happy Independence Day. Thank you. (Applause.)
Let us show our appreciation to the South Dakota Army and Air National Guard, and the U.S. Air Force for inspiring us with that magnificent display of American air power — (applause) –and of course, our gratitude, as always, to the legendary and very talented Blue Angels. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Let us also send our deepest thanks to our wonderful veterans, law enforcement, first responders, and the doctors, nurses, and scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus. They’re working hard. (Applause.) I want to thank them very, very much.
COMMENT: Over the weekend Trump claimed that 99% of the nation’s COVID-19 cases were “totally harmless.” This claim was even debunked on Fox News. What does this say about his real view of the “scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus.”
We’re grateful as well to your state’s Congressional delegation: Senators John Thune — John, thank you very much — (applause) — Senator Mike Rounds — (applause) — thank you, Mike — and Dusty Johnson, Congressman. Hi, Dusty. Thank you. (Applause.) And all others with us tonight from Congress, thank you very much for coming. We appreciate it.
There could be no better place to celebrate America’s independence than beneath this magnificent, incredible, majestic mountain and monument to the greatest Americans who have ever lived.
COMMENT: Mount Rushmore is a majestic place. I would like to see it one day. It was also built on Lakota land. Earlier in my career I had a student who did a summer internship at Mount Rushmore. As someone who wanted to tell the truth about the nation’s past, she would often mention the Lakota connection during her tours. Needless to say, she took a lot of criticism from visitors who did not want to be confronted with such history. But this must be part of any conversation about this monument. It is part of what it means to live in a democratic society.
Today, we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. (Applause.) I am here as your President to proclaim before the country and before the world: This monument will never be desecrated — (applause) — these heroes will never be defaced, their legacy will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Anyone who teaches American history will always talk about the legacies of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. They are not under threat. They will be taught based on what they did with their lives–what they said, how they behaved, and how they led. Trump will be judged the same way.
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
COMMENT: This transcript comes from the White House. This is why the chants are included.
THE PRESIDENT: We gather tonight to herald the most important day in the history of nations: July 4th, 1776. At those words, every American heart should swell with pride. Every American family should cheer with delight. And every American patriot should be filled with joy, because each of you lives in the most magnificent country in the history of the world, and it will soon be greater than ever before. (Applause.)
Our Founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity. No nation has done more to advance the human condition than the United States of America. And no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Trump is right. July 4, 1776 is important and should be commemorated. Some of the ideals that drove the Revolution were the same ideals that led to the abolition of slavery. On the other hand, these ideals were not consistently applied to all people. Morally, July 4, 1776 has a mixed legacy. Any history teacher who does not embrace this kind of complexity is not doing her or his job. Watch:
It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. (Applause.) They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: “…all men are created equal.”
COMMENT: Again, what does “all men are created equal” mean in 1776 and in the larger context of the American story? This is a wonderful way of exploring American history with students. This is a conversation we are having in our history classrooms and one that needs to be taking place more regularly in American life.
These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our Founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights — given [to] us by our Creator in Heaven. And that which God has given us, we will allow no one, ever, to take away — ever. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Americans have always been good Whigs. We have always put faith in the kind of progress Trump describes here. (I am reminded of Paul Tillich’s definition of faith as one’s “ultimate concern”). But this “march of freedom” has not been “unstoppable” for all Americans.
And let’s talk about rights and God. Jefferson and many of the founders believed that our rights come from God. But they rarely connected this general statement with specific rights. This leads to questions that are more theological than historical. For example, does the right to bear arms come from God? Was Jefferson right when he said that rights–all rights–are “endowed by our Creator?” Again, let’s have this conversation–perhaps in our churches.
Seventeen seventy-six represented the culmination of thousands of years of western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason.
COMMENT: I have no idea what this means.
And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure.
COMMENT: Not really. Many of Trump’s political opponents also root their arguments in America’s founding ideals. American socialists often grounded their arguments in such ideals.
Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.
COMMENT: How widespread is this “merciless campaign?” Has Trump magnified it because he needs an issue to run-on in November? It sure seems like it. Who is “wiping out our history?” Has Trump ever visited a history classroom? The idea that our children are indoctrinated should be offensive to classroom teachers who train students to think critically about their textbooks and the world.
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE PRESIDENT: Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them. (Applause.)
COMMENT: The fact that Trump does not talk about the tearing-down and defacing of Confederate monuments is revealing. He never mentions them during this speech. It leaves us to wonder if Trump believes that it is time for these monuments to go. But today, without a script in front of him, we saw the real Trump. He tweeted: “Has [NASCAR driver] Bubba Wallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest rating EVER!” This seems like a defense of the Confederate flag. This tweet is much more fitting with the Trump administration’s pronouncements on race than anything he said in this speech.
According to his evangelical Christian press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump is neutral on the Confederate flag. Watch:
And as long as we are talking about Bubba Wallace, perhaps Trump should try to understand why an African American NASCAR driver, or any African American for that matter, might be alarmed when they see a rope tied into a noose. This tweet not only illustrates Trump’s utter failure to empathize with others, but it also shows that he knows nothing about the history of the nation he was elected to lead.
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
COMMENT: And the crowd goes wild!
THE PRESIDENT: One of their political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America. (Applause.) This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly. We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life. (Applause.)
In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Is cancel culture a problem? Perhaps. But here Trump is just playing to the base for the purpose of stoking their fears.
Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.
COMMENT: Again, many of the protesters are drawing from American ideals. Some are not, but many are.
To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not on my watch! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: True. That’s very true, actually. (Laughter.) That is why I am deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: I am pleased to report that yesterday, federal agents arrested the suspected ringleader of the attack on the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C. — (applause) — and, in addition, hundreds more have been arrested. (Applause.)
Under the executive order I signed last week — pertaining to the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act and other laws — people who damage or deface federal statues or monuments will get a minimum of 10 years in prison. (Applause.) And obviously, that includes our beautiful Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)
COMMENT: What is often missing in this debate over the tearing-down of monuments is the fact that it is illegal. It is destruction of property. This was wrong during the American Revolution and it is wrong today. I understand the anger and the violence–it is an American tradition. But conversations about which monuments should stay and which ones should go need to take place with the help of historians and public officials.
Our people have a great memory. They will never forget the destruction of statues and monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others.
COMMENT: I hope they won’t forget this. It is the responsibility of historians to make sure that this does not happen. It is also our responsibility to contextualize this moment in our history.
The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions.
Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.
COMMENT: “Extreme indoctrination?” “Hate their own country?” Again, he needs to get a better sense of what is happening in public school history classrooms around the country. I doubt he will get such a perspective from his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a woman who has never attended a public school and endorses policies that undermine them.
This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore. They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Today, we will set history and history’s record straight. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Trump could have made this point with an appeal to complexity. But he doesn’t understand complexity. Historical complexity does not win him votes.
Before these figures were immortalized in stone, they were American giants in full flesh and blood, gallant men whose intrepid deeds unleashed the greatest leap of human advancement the world has ever known. Tonight, I will tell you and, most importantly, the youth of our nation, the true stories of these great, great men.
COMMENT: Again, complexity.
From head to toe, George Washington represented the strength, grace, and dignity of the American people. From a small volunteer force of citizen farmers, he created the Continental Army out of nothing and rallied them to stand against the most powerful military on Earth.
COMMENT: Generally true, although I’m not sure the Continental Army wins without France.
Through eight long years, through the brutal winter at Valley Forge, through setback after setback on the field of battle, he led those patriots to ultimate triumph. When the Army had dwindled to a few thousand men at Christmas of 1776, when defeat seemed absolutely certain, he took what remained of his forces on a daring nighttime crossing of the Delaware River.
They marched through nine miles of frigid darkness, many without boots on their feet, leaving a trail of blood in the snow. In the morning, they seized victory at Trenton. After forcing the surrender of the most powerful empire on the planet at Yorktown, General Washington did not claim power, but simply returned to Mount Vernon as a private citizen.
COMMENT: Perhaps Trump could learn from Washington’s humility.
When called upon again, he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and was unanimously elected our first President. (Applause.) When he stepped down after two terms, his former adversary King George called him “the greatest man of the age.” He remains first in our hearts to this day. For as long as Americans love this land, we will honor and cherish the father of our country, George Washington. (Applause.) He will never be removed, abolished, and most of all, he will never be forgotten. (Applause.)
COMMENT: The good folks at Mount Vernon interpret Washington in all his complexity.
Thomas Jefferson — the great Thomas Jefferson — was 33 years old when he traveled north to Pennsylvania and brilliantly authored one of the greatest treasures of human history, the Declaration of Independence. He also drafted Virginia’s constitution, and conceived and wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a model for our cherished First Amendment.
After serving as the first Secretary of State, and then Vice President, he was elected to the Presidency. He ordered American warriors to crush the Barbary pirates, he doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase, and he sent the famous explorers Lewis and Clark into the west on a daring expedition to the Pacific Ocean.
He was an architect, an inventor, a diplomat, a scholar, the founder of one of the world’s great universities, and an ardent defender of liberty. Americans will forever admire the author of American freedom, Thomas Jefferson. (Applause.) And he, too, will never, ever be abandoned by us. (Applause.)
COMMENT: All true about Jefferson. He was also a slaveholder and probably raped his slave Sally Hemings.
Abraham Lincoln, the savior of our union, was a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin on the American frontier.
The first Republican President, he rose to high office from obscurity, based on a force and clarity of his anti-slavery convictions. Very, very strong convictions.
He signed the law that built the Transcontinental Railroad; he signed the Homestead Act, given to some incredible scholars — as simply defined, ordinary citizens free land to settle anywhere in the American West; and he led the country through the darkest hours of American history, giving every ounce of strength that he had to ensure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people did not perish from this Earth. (Applause.)
He served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces during our bloodiest war, the struggle that saved our union and extinguished the evil of slavery. Over 600,000 died in that war; more than 20,000 were killed or wounded in a single day at Antietam. At Gettysburg, 157 years ago, the Union bravely withstood an assault of nearly 15,000 men and threw back Pickett’s charge.
Lincoln won the Civil War; he issued the Emancipation Proclamation; he led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all time — (applause) — and ultimately, his determination to preserve our nation and our union cost him his life. For as long as we live, Americans will uphold and revere the immortal memory of President Abraham Lincoln. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Again, mostly accurate. Of course Lincoln was also a white supremacist, a war-mongerer, and a believer in government solutions to American problems.
Theodore Roosevelt exemplified the unbridled confidence of our national culture and identity. He saw the towering grandeur of America’s mission in the world and he pursued it with overwhelming energy and zeal.
As a Lieutenant Colonel during the Spanish-American War, he led the famous Rough Riders to defeat the enemy at San Juan Hill. He cleaned up corruption as Police Commissioner of New York City, then served as the Governor of New York, Vice President, and at 42 years old, became the youngest-ever President of the United States. (Applause.)
He sent our great new naval fleet around the globe to announce America’s arrival as a world power. He gave us many of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon; he oversaw the construction of the awe-inspiring Panama Canal; and he is the only person ever awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was — (applause) — American freedom personified in full. The American people will never relinquish the bold, beautiful, and untamed spirit of Theodore Roosevelt. (Applause.)
COMMENT: True. Roosevelt was also an imperialist, nativist, and white supremacist.
No movement that seeks to dismantle these treasured American legacies can possibly have a love of America at its heart. Can’t have it. No person who remains quiet at the destruction of this resplendent heritage can possibly lead us to a better future.
COMMENT: Very few people want to “dismantle” the legacy of these men. But we can point out their flaws and still “love America.” There is a difference between “history” and “heritage.”
The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society. It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance, and it would turn our free and inclusive society into a place of repression, domination, and exclusion.
They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced. (Applause.)
COMMENT: This is rich coming from such a divisive president. Also, who is “us” here.
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth.
COMMENT: Is America exceptional? Yes. It is exceptional for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that right now it is the only country (with perhaps the exception of Brazil) that still does not have COVID-19 under control. Is it the most “just” nation “ever to exist on earth?” Maybe. But the bar is pretty low. Again, let’s have this conversation outside of the culture war framework.
We are proud of the fact — (applause) — that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and we understand — (applause) — that these values have dramatically advanced the cause of peace and justice throughout the world.
COMMENT: Was the United States founded on Judeo-Christian principles? This is a contested idea. I wrote a book about it. Has the United States advanced peace and justice throughout the world? Yes and no. But these kinds of answers are not useful in a political rally.
We know that the American family is the bedrock of American life. (Applause.)
COMMENT: I agree. But it is hard to hear this from the guy who separated families at the border and put kids in cages.
We recognize the solemn right and moral duty of every nation to secure its borders. (Applause.) And we are building the wall. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Are we building the wall?
We remember that governments exist to protect the safety and happiness of their own people. A nation must care for its own citizens first. We must take care of America first. It’s time. (Applause.)
We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed. Every child, of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God. (Applause.)
COMMENTS: This is true. But it is also code for “All Lives Matter.”
We want free and open debate, not speech codes and cancel culture.
We embrace tolerance, not prejudice.
We support the courageous men and women of law enforcement. (Applause.) We will never abolish our police or our great Second Amendment, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms. (Applause.)
We believe that our children should be taught to love their country, honor our history, and respect our great American flag. (Applause.)
We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel to Almighty God. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Actually, this last couple of statements contradict the earlier remarks about free speech, tolerance, and rights.
This is who we are. This is what we believe. And these are the values that will guide us as we strive to build an even better and greater future.
COMMENT: Again, who is “we”?
Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny. In toppling the heroes of 1776, they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty that we feel for our country, and that we feel for each other. Their goal is not a better America, their goal is the end of America.
COMMENT: We have seen these references to American destiny before. When acted upon, the pursuit of American destiny has never gone well for people of color or the poor.
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE PRESIDENT: In its place, they want power for themselves. But just as patriots did in centuries past, the American people will stand in their way — and we will win, and win quickly and with great dignity. (Applause.)
COMMENT: We will see if Trump’s people stand in the way of anything in November. I wonder what “winning” looks like here.
We will never let them rip America’s heroes from our monuments, or from our hearts. By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the Civil War; they would erase the memory that inspired those soldiers to go to their deaths, singing these words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “As He died to make men Holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.” (Applause.)
They would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery in America and, ultimately, around the world, ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years. Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream, and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights. They would tear down the beliefs, culture, and identity that have made America the most vibrant and tolerant society in the history of the Earth.
COMMENT: Trump is right. Many of the founding principles eventually contributed to the end of slavery and did inform the Civil Rights movement, but I am not sure what Trump means by “tear apart documents.”
My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
THE PRESIDENT: It is time for our politicians to summon the bravery and determination of our American ancestors. It is time. (Applause.) It is time to plant our flag and protect the greatest of this nation, for citizens of every race, in every city, and every part of this glorious land. For the sake of our honor, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our union, we must protect and preserve our history, our heritage, and our great heroes. (Applause.)
Here tonight, before the eyes of our forefathers, Americans declare again, as we did 244 years ago: that we will not be tyrannized, we will not be demeaned, and we will not be intimidated by bad, evil people. It will not happen. (Applause).
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
THE PRESIDENT: We will proclaim the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and we will never surrender the spirit and the courage and the cause of July 4th, 1776.
Upon this ground, we will stand firm and unwavering. In the face of lies meant to divide us, demoralize us, and diminish us, we will show that the story of America unites us, inspires us, includes us all, and makes everyone free.
We must demand that our children are taught once again to see America as did Reverend Martin Luther King, when he said that the Founders had signed “a promissory note” to every future generation. Dr. King saw that the mission of justice required us to fully embrace our founding ideals. Those ideals are so important to us — the founding ideals. He called on his fellow citizens not to rip down their heritage, but to live up to their heritage. (Applause.)
COMMENT: Totally agree. Now let’s see Trump lead us in this direction. Until then, this is empty rhetoric. At this stage of his presidency these words have no meaning. Again, this speech must be considered in the context of the entire Trump administration. It is going to take more than a speech to win back public trust.
Above all, our children, from every community, must be taught that to be American is to inherit the spirit of the most adventurous and confident people ever to walk the face of the Earth.
Americans are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars.
COMMENT: Let’s remember (again) that “Manifest Destiny” was an attempt to drive native Americans from their land in the name of God and progress.
We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Applause.) We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen — (applause) — Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton — General George Patton — the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali. (Applause.) And only America could have produced them all. (Applause.) No other place.
We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan. We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream — it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)
Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon — and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.
We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra — (applause) — the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 — (applause) — and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.
COMMENT: I don’t see how people can praise such a speech. It is full of contradictions. First off, many of the people Trump mentions here would no doubt be outspoken critics of the Trump presidency. (Although we will never know for sure, of course). Second, these men and women all applied American ideals in different ways. After spending the entire speech articulating a very narrow view of the Revolution’s legacy, Trump makes an empty appeal to diversity here.
Americans must never lose sight of this miraculous story. You should never lose sight of it, because nobody has ever done it like we have done it. So today, under the authority vested in me as President of the United States — (applause) — I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past. I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live. (Applause.)
COMMENT: My thoughts on this.
From this night and from this magnificent place, let us go forward united in our purpose and re-dedicated in our resolve. We will raise the next generation of American patriots. We will write the next thrilling chapter of the American adventure. And we will teach our children to know that they live in a land of legends, that nothing can stop them, and that no one can hold them down. (Applause.) They will know that in America, you can do anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything. (Applause.)
Uplifted by the titans of Mount Rushmore, we will find unity that no one expected; we will make strides that no one thought possible. This country will be everything that our citizens have hoped for, for so many years, and that our enemies fear — because we will never forget that American freedom exists for American greatness. And that’s what we have: American greatness. (Applause.)
Centuries from now, our legacy will be the cities we built, the champions we forged, the good we did, and the monuments we created to inspire us all.
My fellow citizens: America’s destiny is in our sights. America’s heroes are embedded in our hearts. America’s future is in our hands. And ladies and gentlemen: the best is yet to come. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
THE PRESIDENT: This has been a great honor for the First Lady and myself to be with you. I love your state. I love this country. I’d like to wish everybody a very happy Fourth of July. To all, God bless you, God bless your families, God bless our great military, and God bless America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Historians realize that the past is complex. Human behavior does not easily conform to our present-day social, cultural, political, religious, or economic categories. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson is the most complex personality of all of the so-called founding fathers. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence–the document that declared that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom–one of the greatest statements on religious freedom in the history of the world. He was a champion of education and founder of one of our greatest public universities–the University of Virginia. As a politician, he defended the rights of the common man, and he staunchly opposed big and centralized governments that threatened individual liberties. As president, he doubled the size of the United States and made every effort to keep us out of war with Great Britain.
At the same time, Jefferson was a slaveholder. Though he made several efforts to try to bring this institution to an end, he never succeeded. Jefferson needed his slaves to uphold the kind of Virginia planter lifestyle–complete with all it consumer goods and luxury items–that he could not live without. He was in constant debt. And he may have been the father of several children born to his slave Sally Hemings.
Another example of the complexity of the past is the ongoing debate over whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I recently published a book titled Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? In the course of my promotion for the book–at speaking engagements and on radio shows across the country–I was often asked how I answered this question. I found that most people came to my talks or tuned into my radio interviews with their minds already made up about the question, looking to me to provide them with historical evidence to strengthen their answers. When I told them that the role of religion in the founding of America was a complicated question that cannot be answered through sound bites, many people left the lecture hall or turned off the radio disappointed, because such an answer did not help them promote their political or religious cause.
Yet the founding fathers’ views on religion were complex, and they do not easily conform to our twenty-first-century agendas. The founding fathers made sure to keep God and Christianity out of the United States Constitution but did not hesitate to place distinctly Christian tests for office in most of the local state constitutions that they wrote in the wake of the American Revolution. Some founders upheld personal beliefs that conformed to historic orthodox Christian teaching, while others–especially major founders such as Adams, Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin–did not. The founders opposed an established church and defended religious liberty while at the same time suggesting that Christianity was essential to the health of the republic.
The life of Jefferson and the debate over Christian America teach us that human experience is often too complex to categorize in easily identifiable boxes. The study of the past reminds us that when we put our confidence in people–whether they are in the past (such as the founding fathers) or the present–we are likely to be inspired by them, but we are just as likely to be disappointed by them. Sometimes great defenders of liberty held slaves, and political leaders who defended a moral republic rejected a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the inspiration of the Bible. Historians do their work amid the messiness of the past. Though they make efforts to simplify the mess, they are often left with irony, paradox, and mystery.
Historians must come to grips with the fact that they will never be able to provide a complete or thorough account of what happened in the past.
Even the best accounts of the past are open to change based on new evidence or the work of historians who approach a subject with a different lens of interpretation. In this sense, history is more about competing perceptions of the past than it is about nailing down a definitive account of a specific event or life. As [historian David] Lowenthal notes, “History usually depends on someone else’s eyes and voice: we see it through an interpreter who stands between past events and our apprehension of them.” While the past never changes, history changes all the time. Think, for example, about two eyewitness accounts of the same auto accident. Even if we can assume that drivers involved in the accident believe that they are telling the truth about what happened, it is still likely that the police will receive two very different accounts of how the accident occurred and two different accounts of who caused the accident. It is thus up to the police officer in charge, or perhaps a judge, to weight the evidence and come up with a plausible interpretation of this historical event. But let’s imagine two weeks after the paperwork is filed and the case is closed, a reliable witness to the accident emerges with new evidence to suggest that the person who the judge held responsible for the accident was actually not at fault. This new information leads to a new historical narrative of what happened. History has changed. This is called revisionism, and it is the lifeblood of the historical profession.
The word revisionism carries a negative connotation in American society because it is usually associated with changing true facts of the past in order to fit some kind of agenda in the present. But actually, the historian who is called a “revisionist” receives a high compliment. In his book Who Owns History?, Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor Eric Foner recalls a conversation with a Newsweek reporter who asked him, “When did historians stop relating facts and start all this revising of interpretations of the past?” Foner responded, “Around the time of Thucydides.” (Thucydides is the Greek writer who is often credited with being one of the first historians in the West). Those who believe “revisionism” is a negative term often misunderstand the way it is used by historians. Revisionists are not in the business of changing the facts of history. Any good revisionist interpretation will be based on evidence–documents or other artifacts that people in the past left behind. This type of reconstruction of the past always take place in community. We know whether a particular revision of the past is good because it is vetted by a community of historians. This is called peer review. When bad history does make it into print, we rely on the community of historians to call this to our attention through reviews.
A few examples might help illustrate what I mean when I say that revisionism is the lifeblood of history. Without revisionism, our understanding of racial relations in the American South after the Civil War would still be driven by the what historians called the “Dunning School.” William Dunning was an early twentieth-century historian who suggested that Reconstruction–the attempt to bring civil rights and voting rights to Southern Blacks in the wake of the Civil War–was a mistake. The Northern Republicans who promoted Reconstruction and the various “carpetbaggers” who came to the South to start schools for blacks and work for racial integration destroyed the Southern way of life.
In the end, however, the South did indeed rise again. In Dunning’s portrayal, Southerners eventually rallied to overthrow this Northern invasion. They removed blacks from positions of power and established a regime of segregation that would last for much of the twentieth century. These so-called redeemers of Southern culture are the heroes of the Dunning School, an interpretation of Reconstruction that would inform D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the most popular, and most racist, motion pictures of the early twentieth century.
In the 1930s the Dunning School was challenged by a group of historians who began to interpret the period of Reconstruction from the perspective of the former slaves. Rather than viewing the Blacks in the post-Civil War South as people without power, these revisionist authors provided a much richer understanding of the period that included a place for all historical actors, regardless of skin color or social standing, in the story of this important moment in American history….
In the end, all historians are revisionists. The Christian historians R.G. Collingwood wrote that “every new generation must rewrite history in its own way; every new historians, not content with giving new answers to old questions, must revise the questions themselves.” This may mean that a historian will challenge the cherished myths of a particular culture or uncover evidence that does not bode well for a patriotic view of one’s country. (At other times, of course, evidence could strengthen the public bonds of citizenship). As new evidence emerges and historians discover new ways of bringing the past to their audiences in the present, interpretations of specific events change. This makes history an exciting and intellectually engaging discipline.
At his July 3, 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, Donald Trump said:
And here is the text of the executive order:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Purpose. America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices. Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before. Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens. In 1784, the legislature of Virginia commissioned the earliest statue of George Washington, a “monument of affection and gratitude” to a man who “unit[ed] to the endowment[s] of the Hero the virtues of the Patriot” and gave to the world “an Immortal Example of true Glory.” I Res. H. Del. (June 24, 1784). In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.
These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal. They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten. These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation. These monuments express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union. They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes. In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come. To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.
To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed. Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down. Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.
These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn. My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory. In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.
Sec. 2. Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes. (a) There is hereby established the Interagency Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes (Task Force). The Task Force shall be chaired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), and shall include the following additional members:
(i) the Administrator of General Services (Administrator);
(ii) the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA);
(iii) the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH);
(iv) the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP); and
(v) any officers or employees of any executive department or agency (agency) designated by the President or the Secretary.
(b) The Department of the Interior shall provide funding and administrative support as may be necessary for the performance and functions of the Task Force. The Secretary shall designate an official of the Department of the Interior to serve as the Executive Director of the Task Force, responsible for coordinating its day-to-day activities.
(c) The Chairpersons of the NEA and NEH and the Chairman of the ACHP shall establish cross-department initiatives within the NEA, NEH, and ACHP, respectively, to advance the purposes of the Task Force and this order and to coordinate relevant agency operations with the Task Force.
Sec. 3. National Garden of American Heroes. (a) It shall be the policy of the United States to establish a statuary park named the National Garden of American Heroes (National Garden).
(b) Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Task Force shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that proposes options for the creation of the National Garden, including potential locations for the site. In identifying options, the Task Force shall:
(i) strive to open the National Garden expeditiously;
(ii) evaluate the feasibility of creating the National Garden through a variety of potential avenues, including existing agency authorities and appropriations; and
(iii) consider the availability of authority to encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals, for display at the National Garden.
(c) In addition to the requirements of subsection 3(b) of this order, the proposed options for the National Garden should adhere to the criteria described in subsections (c)(i) through (c)(vi) of this section.
(i) The National Garden should be composed of statues, including statues of John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
(ii) The National Garden should be opened for public access prior to the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026.
(iii) Statues should depict historically significant Americans, as that term is defined in section 7 of this order, who have contributed positively to America throughout our history. Examples include: the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers. None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.
(iv) All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.
(v) The National Garden should be located on a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history. The site should be proximate to at least one major population center, and the site should not cause significant disruption to the local community.
(vi) As part of its civic education mission, the National Garden should also separately maintain a collection of statues for temporary display at appropriate sites around the United States that are accessible to the general public.
Sec. 4. Commissioning of New Statues and Works of Art. (a) The Task Force shall examine the appropriations authority of the agencies represented on it in light of the purpose and policy of this order. Based on its examination of relevant authorities, the Task Force shall make recommendations for the use of these agencies’ appropriations.
(b) To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law and the other provisions of this order, Task Force agencies that are authorized to provide for the commissioning of statues or monuments shall, in expending funds, give priority to projects involving the commissioning of publicly accessible statues of persons meeting the criteria described in section 3(b)(iii) of this order, with particular preference for statues of the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.
(c) To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, these agencies shall prioritize projects that will result in the installation of a statue as described in subsection (b) of this section in a community where a statue depicting a historically significant American was removed or destroyed in conjunction with the events described in section 1 of this order.
(d) After consulting with the Task Force, the Administrator of General Services shall promptly revise and thereafter operate the General Service Administration’s (GSA’s) Art in Architecture (AIA) Policies and Procedures, GSA Acquisition Letter V-10-01, and Part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, to prioritize the commission of works of art that portray historically significant Americans or events of American historical significance or illustrate the ideals upon which our Nation was founded. Priority should be given to public-facing monuments to former Presidents of the United States and to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery. Such works of art should be designed to be appreciated by the general public and by those who use and interact with Federal buildings. Priority should be given to this policy above other policies contained in part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, and revisions made pursuant to this subsection shall be made to supersede any regulatory provisions of AIA that may conflict with or otherwise impede advancing the purposes of this subsection.
(e) When a statue or work of art commissioned pursuant to this section is meant to depict a historically significant American, the statue or work of art shall be a lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation.
Sec. 5. Educational Programming. The Chairperson of the NEH shall prioritize the allocation of funding to programs and projects that educate Americans about the founding documents and founding ideals of the United States, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with applicable law, including section 956 of title 20, United States Code. The founding documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. The founding ideals include equality under the law, respect for inalienable individual rights, and representative self-government. Within 90 days of the conclusion of each Fiscal Year from 2021 through 2026, the Chairperson shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that identifies funding allocated to programs and projects pursuant to this section.
Sec. 6. Protection of National Garden and Statues Commissioned Pursuant to this Order. The Attorney General shall apply section 3 of Executive Order 13933 of June 26, 2020 (Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence), with respect to violations of Federal law regarding the National Garden and all statues commissioned pursuant to this order.
Sec. 7. Definition. The term “historically significant American” means an individual who was, or became, an American citizen and was a public figure who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history. The phrase also includes public figures such as Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and the Marquis de La Fayette, who lived prior to or during the American Revolution and were not American citizens, but who made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States.
Sec. 8. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
Does Trump think he is building another Trump Tower?
Just to reiterate, there will be statues of: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
1. We should not get too worked-up about this order because there is a chance Trump will be voted out of office in November 2020. In other words, this national garden may never happen.
2. Let’s not get too caught-up in debating who should be “in” and who should be “out.” This is actually what Trump wants to happen. Historians should just ignore these plans. By giving too much attention to this we lend credibility to the proposal. (I know–I should be taking my own advice here!). This is not a debate over state history and social studies standards.
3. How much will this national garden cost the American taxpayer? If Trump really cares about history he should fund its study in schools. His budgets should provide more money for already existing historic sites and teacher training.
4. Let’s say Trump wins in 2020 and this national garden becomes a reality. Would I visit it? Maybe. But I would not go there to teach my students about the lives of these so-called “heroes.” I rely on my classroom lectures and discussions, primary sources, legitimate public history sites, and good books and articles to do that. I would, however, consider taking students to this place to teach them about the Trump administration much in the same way that I take students to Confederate monuments at Gettysburg to teach them about the Lost Cause. This is what historians mean by contextualizing monuments. Like the Confederate monuments we are fighting over today, monuments often tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in history that they commemorate. Confederate monuments were erected in the early 20th century as symbols of white supremacy and Jim Crow. Some of the figures Trump wants to memorialize in his national garden seem like random choices, but others speak volumes about Trump’s America and his 2020 re-election bid.
For example, the founding fathers are revered by Trump’s white conservative base. Good history teachers visiting this garden might say something to their students about founders chic. They might note that on the very day of this executive order millions of Americans were watching a movie-version of a Broadway play about Alexander Hamilton. All of this explains why George Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were chosen. (I don’t know why Dolley Madison was chosen over Martha Washington and Abigail Adams). I am sure Abraham Lincoln was chosen as an honorary founding father.
The African American selections (there are no native Americans) are Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson. These are all safe choices, although a good history teacher might show this video in preparation for the class trip. There are reasons why W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, or Barack Obama were not chosen. (Future students will certainly wonder why the first Black president in American history was not selected). When viewed in the larger context of the Trump presidency, a legitimate argument could be made that these men and women were picked in an attempt to show Trump is not a racist.
Trump and his people are obsessed with military strength. We thus get Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Ronald Reagan, and Douglas MacArthur.
And Trump needs his white evangelical base in November. He hopes a statue of Billy Graham, or at least the announcement of such a statue, might help deliver these votes.
Trump has an obsession with space and aviation. (Trump mentioned going to Mars during his Mount Rushmore speech). I would have my students read or watch his recent Cape Canaveral speech before we visited the national garden. We thus get Christa McAuliffe, Amelia Earhart, and the Wright brothers. Frankly, I am surprised he did not pick Charles Lindbergh, an early proponent of “America First.”
Was Henry Clay, the architect of the American System, chosen because of Trump’s infrastructure plans? Future history teachers will tell students that these plans never got off the ground, despite multiple “infrastructure weeks,” because Trump undermined them with tweets and other self-initiated scandals.
And, of course, any historian would have a lot to say about why Antonin Scalia made the cut instead of John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hugo Black, or Oliver Wendell Holmes.
But in the end, I would put money on this national garden of heroes going the way of Trump’s border wall and many of his other grandiose plans. It won’t happen.
In case you missed it, Trump gave a speech at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota on the night of July 3, 2020.
Read the text here.
Watch the entire event here:
1. Mary Hart
2. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem introduced Trump by appealing to America’s founding ideals. She said, “Let’s not destroy history.” This is in interesting exhortation from the governor of South Dakota. What is Noem doing to fund the teaching of history in South Dakota schools? In 2015, the state dumped early American history. I am not sure if things have changed since 2015, but back then I wrote this piece.
3. Noem said that her state prides itself “on the close-knit nature of our community.” She praised all the South Dakotans for showing-up and then said that the crowd included people “from across the nation.” The crowd was packed like sardines into what looked like a small space. I saw very few masks.
4. Noem and Trump did not mention anything about the tearing-down, removal, and defacing of Confederate monuments. The focus was entirely on the monuments to the “founding fathers.” Does anyone know how many non-Confederate monuments were defaced or torn down in the last month?
6. Historian Seth Cotlar tweeted this: “I can’t stress enough how angry and reactionary this speech is, on a day that celebrates the violent, statue-destroying revolution that birthed America.” Is Cotlar right? Let’s start here. You may also want to read this book.
7. Trump tried to make the case that Democrats and protesters are trying to “erase American history.” Meanwhile, millions of Americans were ignoring his speech because they were watching a movie about the American founding on Disney+.
8. At one point Trump said, “George Washington will never be removed, abolished, or forgotten.” I am sure the good folks at Mount Vernon are on it.
9. At another point of the speech, Trump threw thousands of history teachers under the bus when he said, “Our children are taught in school to hate their own country.” The only people who would believe this are Fox News viewers or people who have never set foot in a real history classroom.
10. As I watched the speech, I could not help but wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump invoking his name. The same goes for Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, not to mention Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt.
11. It sounds like white supremacist Steven Miller wrote this speech. There is a reason why he is one of the few people who have been with the administration since the beginning.
Here is Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic:
The president of red America has always viewed himself as a war time president, with blue America, rather than any foreign nation, as the adversary. His speech last night may have been his most explicit in trying to convince his America that “I alone” can protect them from change https://t.co/UKzU6jSVyW
— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) July 4, 2020
It sounds like Trump was at it again earlier this evening:
Happy July 4th “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists the anarchists, the agitators, the looters and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” Trump said from a podium https://t.co/U2W5oBTt2h via @nbcnews
— Shannon Pettypiece (@spettypi) July 5, 2020
When it comes to American history, Trump is the one who has “absolutely no clue.” He doesn’t even read the teleprompter in an inspiring way. And then he has the nerve to attack history teachers.
Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:
…the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them. His approach to history also reveals his narcissism. When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American history he is about to enter.” Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.” The columnist is right: Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself. Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office. Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind. This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it. Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity. This isn’t conservatism; it is progressive thinking at its worst. Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is a danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.”
Samuel Rodriguez is upset about the prohibition on singing in California churches.
You cannot permit tens of thousands to march in protest without masks and demand that 100 worshipers refrain from singing. That my friend is the very definition of discrimination. @GavinNewsom please stop discriminating! #inalienablerights
— Samuel Rodriguez (@nhclc) July 3, 2020
Jim Garlow agrees with Rodriguez:
You are exactly correct! And Newsom even demanded one cannot sing/worship in church. Despotic
— Jim Garlow (@JimGarlow) July 4, 2020
Here is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer would probably respond to Rodriguez and Garlow.
Meanwhile, court evangelical journalist David Brody loved Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:
This speech at #MountRushmore tonight by @POTUS was excellent. It fully captured the cultural battle ahead for America. Why sugarcoat it? @realDonaldTrump tells it like it is. What he said tonight is a winning message in 2020.
— David Brody (@DavidBrodyCBN) July 4, 2020
Here is Brody again:
Memo to liberals who think @realDonaldTrump is going to lose: big celebrations at Mount Rushmore with military flyovers and patriotism galore resonate with the majority of Americans. I understand it doesn’t play well with far left latte sippers but you have a BIG blind spot
— David Brody (@DavidBrodyCBN) July 4, 2020
I don’t think you need to be a “far left latte sipper” to be troubled by what happened last night at Mount Rushmore. It was a “big celebration” during a pandemic with no masks or social distancing on a weekend in which the CDC warned people about gathering in large crowds. We already know that Don Trump Jr.’s wife tested positive for COVID-19. And don’t even get me started on Trump’s use of the American past to divide the country on Independence Day. I wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump’s speech. By the way, I am not “far left” and have probably had ten latte’s in my life. I prefer the $1.00 large McDonald’s coffee on my way to campus. 🙂
Charlie Kirk, an evangelical Christian, bids his followers to come and die:
You must be willing to sacrifice everything for our country. America is worth putting everything on the line. Time to save America.
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 4, 2020
Does anyone want to help Kirk, the co-director of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, reconcile the previous tweet (above) with the one below this paragraph? I am not sure he understands the meaning of “liberty requires responsibility.” As Christian moral philosopher Josef Pieper wrote, “It is the concern of the just man…to give others due rather than to obtain what is due him.” But what does Pieper, one of the great Christian intellectuals of the 20th century, know? He is not, after all, 26-year-old Trump wonder boy Charlie Kirk:
Liberty requires responsibility. If you are scared, stay home. Don’t make us stay at home. No more lockdowns. They don’t work, and do nothing but please tyrannical politicians. Open America!
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 4, 2020
And then there is this:
America needs four more years of Trump to survive.
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 4, 2020
Lance Wallnau is attacking another so-called “prophet” and, in the process, offers his own prophesy. He says the coronavirus, racial unrest, Christians “taking a knee,” and the tearing down of monuments are all judgments of God on America. If you have time, read the thousands of comments on the right of the video and then come back and let’s talk about my “fear” thesis.
Jenna Ellis, a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, is getting into the “America was founded as a Christian nation” business.
If you’d like to know the true, full, legal and philosophical defense of our Judeo-Christian heritage in America’s founding principles and system of government, as provided in our founding documents, I invite you to read my book.https://t.co/FXthwWnlhh
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) July 4, 2020
She also liked Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:
This speech from @realDonaldTrump will be remembered as one of the finest & boldest defenses of America’s Judeo-Christian founding principles and our claim as one Nation & one people to our God-given freedom & liberty from an American President! ❤️🤍💙https://t.co/DQQVZDG9mQ
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) July 4, 2020
I would like to hear how John Hagee uses the Bible to defend free speech, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, etc.:
Our rights do not come from Washington…they come from God Almighty!
— Pastor John Hagee (@PastorJohnHagee) July 4, 2020
Like patriotic ministers have been doing since the time of the American Revolution, Hagee takes New Testament passages about liberty and freedom and applies them to political freedom:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13
— Pastor John Hagee (@PastorJohnHagee) July 3, 2020
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. John 8:36
— Pastor John Hagee (@PastorJohnHagee) July 2, 2020
Tony Perkins is engaging in the same type of scriptural manipulation:
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8:32 Consider the words of Jesus as we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our freedom as a nation. Our future freedom, both individually and as a nation depends upon embracing and upholding the truth.
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) July 4, 2020
Gary Bauer throws thousands and thousands of hard-working American history teachers under the bus by telling them that they don’t love their country:
@realDonaldTrump speech at Mt Rushmore was historic. Filled with truth. He identified the major reason we see the attacks on our symbols and memorials. He said “Our children are taught in school to hate their own country” We must rescue our kids!#MtRushmore #independenceday2020
— Gary L Bauer (@GaryLBauer) July 4, 2020
Trump speaking at Mt Rushmore now, taking on left wing extremists who have declared war on our heroic Founders. This must be a major theme for November! @realDonaldTrump just said our children are being indoctrinated. He’s right! #America #4thofJuly2020 #KAGA2020 #BREAKING
— Gary L Bauer (@GaryLBauer) July 4, 2020
Robert Jeffress is back on Fox News defending his Lord’s Day morning political rally with a non-social-distanced choir. His defense if whataboutism:
The day before, Jeffress made his weekly visit with Lou Dobbs. Pretty much the same stuff:
Focus on the Family is running an interview with Eric Metaxas about his book If You Can Keep It. I point you to my review of this seriously flawed book. If you want to take a deeper dive into this, here is a link to my longer review. I assume that this was taped a while ago (the book appeared in 2016). As I listen to Metaxas’s radio show today, and compare it with this interview, it is striking how far Trump and the aftermath of the George Floyd killing has pushed him even further into a Christian Right brand of Trumpism.
Franklin Graham is quoting the Declaration of Independence. Here is a question: Was Thomas Jefferson right? I think the Christian tradition certainly values life. It certain values spiritual liberty in Christ. But what about political liberty? What about the pursuit of happiness? Perhaps this is something to discuss with your friends and family over the holiday weekend.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -Declaration of Independence, 1776 #IndependenceDay
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) July 4, 2020
Until next time.
Here is a taste:
You argue that in the decades after the Declaration of Independence, Americans began understanding the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation that “all men are created equal” in a different way than the framers intended. How did the founding fathers view equality? And how did these diverging interpretations emerge?
When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” in the preamble to the Declaration, he was not talking about individual equality. What he really meant was that the American colonists, as a people, had the same rights of self-government as other peoples, and hence could declare independence, create new governments and assume their “separate and equal station” among other nations. But after the Revolution succeeded, Americans began reading that famous phrase another way. It now became a statement of individual equality that everyone and every member of a deprived group could claim for himself or herself. With each passing generation, our notion of who that statement covers has expanded. It is that promise of equality that has always defined our constitutional creed.
Thomas Jefferson drafted a passage in the Declaration, later struck out by Congress, that blamed the British monarchy for imposing slavery on unwilling American colonists, describing it as “the cruel war against human nature.” Why was this passage removed?
At different moments, the Virginia colonists had tried to limit the extent of the slave trade, but the British crown had blocked those efforts. But Virginians also knew that their slave system was reproducing itself naturally. They could eliminate the slave trade without eliminating slavery. That was not true in the West Indies or Brazil.
The deeper reason for the deletion of this passage was that the members of the Continental Congress were morally embarrassed about the colonies’ willing involvement in the system of chattel slavery. To make any claim of this nature would open them to charges of rank hypocrisy that were best left unstated.
Read the entire interview here.
Mike Pence’s nephew hosted a court evangelical conversation with Paula White, Johnnie Moore and Samuel Rodriguez. This is an event sponsored by the Trump campaign. Watch:
At the 5:30 mark, Moore starts out with a lie. Joe Biden does not want to prosecute people for going to church. Moore is outraged that St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. was burned during the protests earlier this month. Please spare us the sermon, Johnnie. If this was any other moment, Moore, who likes to fashion himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” would be attacking the rector of the church and its congregation for its liberal Protestant theology and commitment to social justice. (By the way, Bonhoeffer adhered to both liberal Protestantism and social justice. Moore’s Bonhoeffer comes directly out of the pages of Eric Metaxas’s popular, but debunked biography).
If you watch this video, you will see nothing but fear-mongering.
At one point in the conversation, Paula White says that Trump is fighting for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Since when was the right to bear arms a Christian concern? White claims that the Democratic Party platform says that it is a “party of the Godless.” Just to be clear, there is no such language in the platform. She also goes into what I call the “they are coming for our Bibles” mode. Here’s White: “We can basically kiss our churches goodbye, our houses of worship…we very well could be home churches at that.” As I wrote in Believe Me, this kind of fear-mongering reminds me of the Federalists during the election season of 1800 who thought Thomas Jefferson, if elected, would send his henchman into New York and New England to close churches and confiscate Bibles. (It didn’t happen. In fact, Jefferson was a champion of religious liberty). White believes that we are in a spiritual war for the soul of America. She mentions a conversation with Ben Carson in which the HUD Secretary told her that the forces of Satan are working to undermine Trump.
Moore defends Trump’s record on global religious freedom. Indeed, Trump seems to have made religious persecution abroad a priority. Only time will tell how successful this campaign has been or will be. But notice that Moore says nothing about the president’s approval of Muslim concentration camps in China. Why? Because Moore is not here to tell the whole truth about Trump as it relates to religious freedom. He is here to help Trump get re-elected. Or maybe talking about the religious persecution of Muslims in China won’t help Trump with white evangelical voters, many of whom still believe Obama was a Muslim. Most of Trump’s evangelical followers only talk about religious liberty when it relates to their own causes. Moore knows this.
Moore then attacks Democratic governors for trying to close churches during COVID-19. He has a lot of nerve. It was Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo (and GOP Ohio governor Mike DeWine, among others) who showed leadership during the coronavirus while Trump was tweeting “liberate Michigan.”
Samuel Rodriguez basically says that if you vote for Trump, you are voting against the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
OK, that was hard to stomach. Let’s move on.
Moore is also tweeting. He is upset about today’s Supreme Court decision on abortion, especially Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to join the liberal justices in blocking a Louisiana abortion law restricting abortion rights:
This pro-choice SCOTUS decision (where Chief Justice Roberts sided w/the liberal judges) is the “Scalia-moment” of the 2020 election
Conservatives know they are on the one-yard-line
Enthusiasm is already unprecedented, evangelical turnout will be too. #EvangelicalsForTrump
— Rev. Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) June 29, 2020
What does Moore mean when he says that this is the “Scalia-moment” of the 2020 campaign? Here is a passage from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:
Already hitting his stride with his base, [GOP presidential candidate Ted] Cruz gained a new talking point in mid-February, with Super Tuesday only a couple of weeks away. When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.
Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said. “And if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republican voters that the United States was “one justice away” from the “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”
I wonder if the modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer has learned the right lesson from 2016? Some might say that the recent Bostock decision, and today’s Louisiana abortion decision, should teach evangelicals to stop relying on the Supreme Court to “reclaim” America, especially when such an approach to “Christian” politics requires them to get into bed with a president like Trump. But, alas, Moore would never even consider such a lesson because it does not conform to the Christian Right’s political playbook.
Meanwhile, Paula White is supernaturally praying for her Twitter followers:
I pray supernatural provision for you, your family and all that pertains to your purpose! God has you and will always take care of you!
— Paula White-Cain (@Paula_White) June 29, 2020
I’m just curious. Is there a way to “pray” for a non-“supernatural provision?” Sorry, I had to ask.
Jentezen is also upset about the SCOTUS decision:
SCOTUS has ruled against a practical requirement for doctors, and has repeatedly failed to protect EVERY life as equally valuable. This is why common-sense protections for unborn children remain a top priority for evangelicals in every election!
— Jentezen Franklin (@Jentezen) June 29, 2020
Tony Perkins too:
With this decision, the Supreme Court has prevented Louisiana from enforcing the law to stop abortionists who regularly deride and violate health standards for women seeking abortion. https://t.co/11o2sJdTKk
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) June 29, 2020
I agree with the idea that every life is valuable, including unborn babies. But putting faith in SCOTUS and POTUS is not the answer.
Robert Jeffress is still basking in the idolatrous glow of yesterday’s Lord’s Day political rally at his church. Here is his retweet of Mike Pence:
President @realDonaldTrump and our Administration celebrate freedom every day by upholding the ideals on which this Nation was founded and we will continue protecting, defending, and celebrating the freedom of every American of every race and creed and color. pic.twitter.com/pDeJZF3TQx
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) June 28, 2020
A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center retweets Princeton University scholar Robert George. As you read this retweet, please remember that The Falkirk Center supports Donald Trump and Trump is a pathological liar:
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) June 29, 2020
She is also upset with John Roberts:
RT if you’re sick of Chief Justice Roberts being an activist and undermining our Constitution.
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) June 29, 2020
Some idiot activist is actually asking if President Trump is glad the confederacy lost? Seriously?? 🙄
These “questions” are geared to imbed a narrative into circulation that is ridiculous and as @PressSec said, absurd.
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) June 29, 2020
Sadly, in light of what we have seen thus far from the Trump presidency as it relates to race and Confederate monuments, this “idiot activist” seems to be asking a reasonable question.
Charlie Kirk is also mad at John Roberts:
John Roberts, a Bush appointee, is a disgrace. He sides with leftist socialists who hate America over the unborn. People like John Roberts are why we are losing our country.
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) June 29, 2020
It looks like the court evangelicals are very upset about an abortion case in the Supreme Court, but they have said nothing about Trump’s racist tweet over the weekend. I guess this falls under the “I don’t like some of his tweets, but…” category.
John Zmirak, who is an editor at court evangelical James Robison’s website The Stream, is back on the Eric Metaxas Show. He is comparing Black Lives Matter to Jim Jones and Jonestown. The entire conversation, ironically, is about people blindly putting their trust in a strongman. Metaxas wastes no time in connecting Jonestown to today’s Democratic Party. A Christian Right bromance may be forming between these two guys. Metaxas tells Zmirak: “we are so glad you are on the program today, thank the Lord.”
They also condemn Black Lives Matter. Zmirak calls BLM a “slogan, a “trademark,” and a “brilliant piece of marketing” that is “raising money off of white guilt.” Sounds a lot like another slogan, trademark and brilliant piece of marketing. This one is raising money off of white supremacy.
In another part of their conversation, Metaxas and Zmirak say that Black Lives Matter is wrong from a Christian point of view because all men and women are created in the image of God. In other words, anyone who wants to say that only Black lives matter is actually racist (reverse racism, as they say) because in God’s eyes “all lives matter.” I’ve heard this argument before. Here is a quick response:
Indeed, Christians believe that we are all created in the image of God. As the civil rights movement taught us, Christian faith offers plenty of theological resources to combat racism. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement is very diverse. Author Jemar Tisby makes some important points in this regard in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podast.
I am sure Metaxas and Zmirak are correct about some of the abuses of the Black Lives Matter movement. But notice what is going on here. Metaxas and Zmirak are really only interested in attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the killing of George Floyd, Metaxas has not offered any sustained empathy or acknowledgement of the pain and suffering faced by African-Americans, either now or in our nation’s history. Yes, he had some black guests on the program, but they were invited on the show for the purpose of undermining Black Lives Matter and rejecting systemic racism. At this moment, when white evangelicals have a wonderful opportunity to think more deeply about the problems of race in America, Metaxas has chosen to divert attention away from these issues by going after the extreme fringes of a generally anti-racist movement.
In his second hour, Metaxas hosts a writer named Nick Adams, the author of a book titled Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization. He runs an organization called The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness. Adams makes it sound like Trump has some kind of agenda to save Western Civilization. This strikes me as very far-fetched since I don’t think Trump even knows what Western Civilization is. Metaxas, of course, loves his guest’s ideas, going as far to say, in reference to World War II (Churchill) and COVID-19 (Trump) that both men carried their respective nations through their “darkest hours.”
Until next time.