Last month, President Donald Trump announced the creation of the 1776 Commission to recenter American education on patriotic themes. The idea did not come out of nowhere. Specifically, the president excoriated the 1619 Project, a New York Times enterprise that, in its own words, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, but critics say the project seeks to replace 1776 with 1619, casting America as a nation founded on oppression, not freedom.
Readers have reached out to me on the topic, and with an election a week away, it’s a good question to consider. My first thought: Must we choose between 1619 and 1776?
The American Revolution forged a nation whose founding ideals reshaped the world, showing that individual liberties are not only practical but essential. Meanwhile, the consequences of American slavery continue to show the terrible price paid when the universality of those ideals is only partially embraced.
The preamble of the Constitution speaks of the need to form a more perfect union. The test of America has never been perfection but progress toward a more perfect state. In that way, it is possible to choose both 1619 and 1776, knowing one shows the unfulfilled promise of the other – and the necessity of always pressing onward.