“Today, with the very identity of the West at stake, it is perhaps particularly important to focus on celebrating those great values.”
iberty and equality, or tyranny and oppression? One of the United States’ most ancient debates recently had a vicious comeback. This time it was thanks to The New York Times Magazine’s initiative “The 1619 Project.” The project’s thesis, which has been amplified considerably in the wake of George Floyd’s death, is that the United States was not founded on noble principles and, instead, should be viewed in the context of its initial practice of slavery. Amid the current unrest, some writers are even beginning to call the current happenings “the New Civil War,” where the two sides roughly correspond to the Party of 1619 and the Party of 1776. The Declaration of Independence famously states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” However, many on the Left have—for decades, now—refused to identify this as the founding spirit of the United States. Instead, they say, “What about slavery?” or “What about universal suffrage from the start?”
But take a modern left-wing initiative at face value at your great peril.
Supposedly, that is where The 1619 Project’s answer comes into play. An introduction on the project’s site reads: “The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” At face value, The New York Times’ project can be seen as an attempt to pay tribute to a people that, surely, never received proper recognition for their contributions. But take a modern left-wing initiative at face value at your great peril. The series of essays is, in fact, filled with glaring inaccuracies and is likely the latest attempt by the intersectionalist left to paint the United States of America as a white supremacist country. In this case, this is done by pushing the “slavery is at the real roots” narrative.
At the same time, while historians were busy refuting most of the project’s claims, disaffected liberals—along with conservatives—knew beforehand that skepticism must be in order when dealing with this once-great newspaper. Even more so now should skepticism abound, as The New York Times’ opinion pages increasingly call for the defunding of the police and the toppling of statues of America’s first President. This is all the more the case when The 1619 Project’s lead author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, openly came out in support of street violence by proudly agreeing with a branding of the unrest as “the 1619 riots.” (She also notoriously told CBS News: “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence.”) With all of this in mind, the conservative or centrist mantra remains the same: the United States is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Now, whether the Founding Fathers intended for the United States to be a bastion of equality or not, everyone knows that—either way—it certainly did not live to up to that ideal, at least for more than two centuries. If it had, Martin Luther King Jr. would never have had to proclaim in 1963 his hope that “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Thus, at the core, the question remains: What is the United States’ real founding creed? Beyond the historical legal record, among the first things a patriot observes is that the very words spoken by King were from the nation’s founding document. And, on that day in 1963, the nation’s patience for such shortcomings was pushed to its limit. In a way, those words were the straw that broke the camel’s back, and, in turn, the fight for civil rights for black Americans was won. But it is also worth noting how extraordinary it is that this same sentence, which so struck a chord with the American public, had been inscribed into the country’s DNA for over two centuries. It was almost as if the change being sought had already happened somewhere on a deeper level.
The idea that a sense of racial equality entered the consciousness of American leaders very early—in addition to during the crafting of the Declaration of Independence—is supported by the record. As Lucas Morel points out in his American Mind piece “America Wasn’t Founded on White Supremacy,” some of the earliest opposition to slavery can be traced back to 1781, when, for example, Massachusetts attempted to prevent the importation of slaves in its Constitution. (At the time, however, this effort was rebuffed by Great Britain.) On a similar note, Morel also observes that we ought not forget how “Though these men were revolutionaries, prudence marked their efforts to establish national independence: they believed they could not free themselves and their slaves at the same time. To insist on the latter as a condition of the former would have doomed both imperatives.” The underlying premise of this view is that the United States is a nation founded on noble principles.
The 1619 Project, on the other hand, which is supported by the “woke left” (and is already being forced down students’ throats) orients itself completely differently. When discussing the practice of slavery, it states: “This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin.” The project’s contention is exactly what it sounds: The United States is rooted in racism and should be remembered throughout the ages as the country that oppressed and persecuted black people. (This is, of course, despite the historical fact that slavery in places like North Africa was practiced by blacks on whites too, having been the norm in the world rather than the exception). All the while, similar ideas to this one are being voiced nearly everywhere. Major newspapers and magazines are not the only ones flirting with anti-Western sentiment; American popular culture is inundated with these ideas. In one scene from Marvel’s 2017 film Spider-man: Homecoming, for example, Peter Parker’s love interest refuses to join the rest of the class in visiting the Washington Monument saying that she does not want to “celebrate something that was built by slaves.” Nearby, in the scene, a black security guard nods in approval. Although the point is made in a much lighter way, the suggestion is the same: The United States ought not celebrate its cultural heritage because of the unethical practices present at the time of its creation.
All of this raises a question, however: What does it really mean to “celebrate” a country’s heritage? Are we endorsing slavery by recognizing a monument’s grandeur, simply because it was built by coercion? Nikole Hannah-Jones’s answer is: yes. She and her acolytes speak often of blame and guilt, while they call for the defunding of police departments and the toppling of statues across the country—from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to Christopher Columbus. All the while, they raise their right hand, bend a knee, and pledge allegiance to the spirit of the Party of 1619. Conservatives, on the other hand, remain more tentative than ever in standing up for the Constitution and the spirit of the United States’ founding in 1776.
But no well-intentioned person would ever want their child to grow up thinking that they are born in a place stained with nothing but sin, let alone that the mere color of their skin makes them complicit in it.
But the questions remain. Are the values described in the Declaration of Independence valid representations of the country’s true founding? What is the United States’ true creed? All of this has made—and can continue to make—for fascinating philosophical discussions. However, the modern left is not interested in debating or discussing. It has not been for years. Its long-standing effort to shut down opposing voices on college campuses (along with its clear record of constraining academic freedom) is a testament to that. Traveling alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement with many goals, is The 1619 Project, and together they join widely popular books such as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. And all of this should remind us that none of this was ever about paying tribute to those who suffered injustices. It is not just about helping the descendants of slaves either. There is something much more involved at play.
Now, it is important to remember that no reasonable person would look at American history—or, by the same token, the history of any other country—and refuse to recognize wrongdoings. But, at the same time, no well-intentioned person would ever want his or her children to grow up thinking that they were born into a place stained with nothing but sin. Worse yet is the increasingly common suggestion that the mere color of one’s skin can make a person complicit in it all.
As all of this unfolds—and the sinister agenda gets pushed forward—the rest of us at least now know what the modern left really stands for. This was put starkly on display when they even targeted statues of Abraham Lincoln for toppling. As such, the war for the new nation’s founding year goes hand-in-hand with the revealed desire for the destruction of everything the United States has ever achieved. After all, the Party of 1619 was happy to brand Lincoln “a bigot” months before the riots broke out. Meanwhile, as ordinary people witness in horror the ongoing cultural revolutions in the West, one of the United States’ most important holidays is upon us. And whether one agrees with The 1619 Project—or the good, old patriotic reading of the Fourth of July, the truth is that today’s holiday is meant to remind every single American that—regardless of skin color, sex, or religion—freedom from tyranny and equality before the law is the country’s true creed. Today, with the very identity of the West at stake, it is perhaps particularly important to focus on celebrating those great values. This is much preferable to constantly fixating on how all of us, from our distant ancestors to those living today, fail, at times, to live up to them. Then—only once the sun rises on July 5th, and only then—America can start asking itself anew: “1619 vs. 1776, Who’s going to win?” .
Mark Granza is a freelance writer in Italy.