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What Trump is saying about 1619 Project, teaching U.S. history

Speaking at the White House Conference on American History on Thursday, President Trump announced he would be signing an executive order to create the “1776 Commission” to promote a “patriotic education.” Trump also blasted efforts to reexamine American history with a deeper emphasis on slavery and racism. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s perspective on race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking at the White House Conference on American History today, President Trump announced that he would be signing an executive order to create the 1776 Commission, which he said would promote a — quote — "patriotic education."

    He also blasted efforts to reexamine American history with a deeper emphasis on slavery and racism.

  • President Donald Trump:

    By viewing every issue through the lens of race, they want to impose a new segregation, and we must not allow that to happen.

    Critical race theory, the 1619 Project and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison, that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, joins me now to explain.

    So, hello, Yamiche.

    Race, as we know, has been such a charged topic in this country for so much of this year. This isn't the first time the president has addressed race.

    Give us a little more context about what was behind what the president was saying today.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, Judy, as you noted, race has been a topic of conversation in this country for a long time, but especially this year.

    President Trump, as the 2020 election nears, has made race a core part of his strategy. Critics of the president say that he's made racial division a core part of his strategy. Supporters of the president say that he's made it something of bringing together Americans, while also not calling America racist.

    Today, what we heard from the president was more of him attacking Americans that are really looking at this country and saying, we need to really understand the legacy of slavery in a more robust way.

    The president, in particular, was making a case, without evidence, that there is a sort of historical movement afoot to distort American history and to indoctrinate American children and the next generation of Americans with an ideal — liberal ideal that will benefit Democrats.

    He said that a lot of these people that he believes are out there are really using America's schools to push forward this idea that America's flawed and that we shouldn't respect our founders, respect historical figures.

    That, of course, is inaccurate. He put — he took aim specifically at the 1619 Project. This is, of course, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project that was founded and created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. She is someone who wants to look at America and say, look, there are founders in our country that we really need to understand in context, pointing out people like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, people, of course, who are American heroes, but who are — also owned slaves.

    And as part of the 1619 Project, what we saw was really a robust telling of all of the different ways that slavery continues to touch our daily lives. And, of course, the idea that there were hundreds and thousands of Americans, of Black Americans, who were kidnapped from the continent of Africa and brought to the United States and forced to work, raped and killed and pillaged, in order for America to enrich itself and for white Americans in particular to benefit from that.

    And the president today was essentially making the case that this needs to change. He said that he's going to be signing an executive order, and it's going to be a National Commission on Patriotic Education.

    It's not clear exactly what that meant. I have been talking to White House sources who say that the president cares about this. But, essentially, the 1619 Project is going into American schools.

    And this based on facts, Judy, not on any sort of exploitation or falsehoods.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, the president also today, as he has before, criticized the protests for racial justice around the country.

    Give us a sense of what the message was there.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president was saying that this historical movement to distort American ideals — which, again, there is no evidence of this movement — that it has led to the protests that we have seen all over this country.

    What I know, as someone who's covered those protests, is that many of these Americans, they're taking to the streets because they want to see America treat African Americans and people of color more fairly.

    The other thing to note is that Attorney General Bill Barr, in pushing and talking about protesting, he has at one point suggested charging protesters with sedition, which is really a way to really look at them as unlawful.

    And that has really scared a lot of people, frankly, and seen him as politicizing this. The president continues to talk about protesters as if they're domestic terrorists. And Attorney General Bill Barr has also followed suit.

    I should note today that it's just all kind of in tandem with this campaign charging of the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in connection with the attorney general, Yamiche, today, he — or just yesterday, I should say — he was speaking about the stay-at-home orders in connection with the pandemic, with COVID.

    But he tied it to race. Let's listen.

  • Attorney General William Barr:

    Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's the — it's the — it's — other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, how is this being read?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, it's being read as tone-deaf and as ridiculous.

    Attorney General Bill Barr saying that stay-at-home orders, which are about people voluntarily staying home to stay safe amid a pandemic, it is, of course, not the same thing at all as slavery and the idea that people were exploited and kidnapped and raped and killed as part of slavery.

    Jim Clyburn, the second ranking — or third ranking, I should say, House Democrat, House Democrat whip, he said that this was tone-deaf and god-awful.

    One other thing to note is, though, that this connects with what the people say is the unjust politicizing of the Department of Justice. Attorney General Bill Barr was also having a lot of backlash and is getting a lot of backlash for equating prosecutors, rank-and-file prosecutors with preschoolers, saying that they should not be in charge, ultimately, of making a lot of the decisions in particular cases.

    He's really getting pushed back on that. And there are people that are saying this is really alarming that Attorney General Bill Barr is essentially taking the side of President Trump too much and treating the Department of Justice as if they're personal attorneys for the president.

    Of course, Attorney General Bill Barr has been pushing back on that. But there are a lot of critics out there saying that this is just not right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, a lot to follow today on this subject.

    Yamiche Alcindor, thank you so much for bringing us up to speed this evening. We thank you.

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