WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump intensified efforts to appeal to his core base of white voters on Thursday by downplaying the historical legacy of slavery in the United States and blasting efforts to address systemic racism as divisive.
The president’s comments marking the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution amounted to a defense of white culture and a denunciation of Democrats, the media and others who he accused of trying to indoctrinate school children and shame their parents’ “whiteness.”
He also argued that America's founding “set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism and built the most fair, equal and prosperous nation in human history.” But he did not mention the 246 years of slavery in America, including the 89 years it was allowed to continue after the colonies declared independence from England. Nor did the president acknowledge the ongoing fight against racial injustice and police brutality, which has prompted months of protests this year.
Trump has long fanned the nation's culture wars, including defending the display of the Confederate battle flag and monuments of Civil War rebels from protesters seeking their removal. His speech Thursday suggested his rhetoric could become even more pointed in the final weeks before the election, given that his path to a second term relies largely on energizing culturally conservative white voters.
“For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. But they are wrong,” Trump said. “There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children — and patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.”
Trump has already cracked down on anti-racism training sessions in federal agencies. He said Thursday he will soon sign an order to establish a commission to promote patriotic education dubbed the 1776 Commission. The panel, he said, would be tasked with encouraging educators to teach students “about the miracle of American history” and plan for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The move is a response to The New York Times' “1619 Project,” which highlights the long-term consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.
The project began after The New York Times Magazine published a series on the 400th anniversary of slavery in the United States. Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for her piece in the magazine. Her essay was titled “The 1619 Project,” because in late August of that year, a ship arrived in American with some 20 to 30 enslaved Africans, marking the first arrival of slaves.
The project evolved from the essay and, with help from the Pulitzer Center, educational materials were developed to enhance the knowledge about slavery, not rewrite history, according to the Times.
“American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square,” Trump said. “Not anymore.”
In response to Trump’s remarks, Hannah-Jones said the First Amendment to the Constitution abhors government attempts to censor speech and guarantees a free press.
“The efforts by the president of the United States to use his powers to censor a work of American journalism by dictating what schools can and cannot teach and what American children should and should not learn should be deeply alarming to all Americans who value free speech,” she said.