President Trump signed an executive order creating  the “1776 Commission.” What does this mean, and what are people saying?

On Monday, one day shy of the 2020 election, President Trump signed an executive order creating the “1776 Commission,” which will “better enable America’s rising generations to understand the history and principles of our Nation’s founding,” according to a statement released by the White House. 

The order is a direct counter to the 1619 Project by the New York Times, which claimed that the founding date of the United States was not in 1776, but rather, “when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States — August of 1619.” 

The founder of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, told PBS NewsHour that the project was, “A great opportunity to… reframe the way we’ve thought about an institution that has impacted almost everything in modern American society.” She goes on to state that Black American lives were taught to be “marginal to the American story,” and hopes that by broadening the education of Americans on the topic of Black history in America, a change can be made in that narrative.

The 1776 commission will create a report “regarding the core principles of America’s founding and how these principles may be understood to further the blessings of liberty and promote our continuing efforts to form a more perfect Union.”

President Trump’s push of the commission and its ideals is a rebuttal against what he believes is a lack of patriotism in America’s schools, and the idea that our country’s founding narrative is being compromised. 

“Just signed an order to establish the 1776 Commission,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “We will stop the radical indoctrination of our students, and restore PATRIOTIC EDUCATION to our schools!

President Trump is speaking to the ideals supported by the 1619 project, which promotes the presence of Black Americans in U.S. History and the idea that those lives, “should occupy a central role in American history.”

Trump has spoken out before on this topic, stating in an address to his supporters in mid-September that, “we are going to teach our children the truth about America, that we’re the most exceptional nation ever to exist, and we’re getting better every single day.” 

Historian of Education, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Ph.D., said that conservatives view the push for a switch in the narrative as a “bastardisation of American history,” and that they believe even opening a conversation on the topic of institutional and systemic racism will “paralyze people” and “undermine American institutions.”

Although Trump views this order as a move to “protect America’s founding ideals,” Petrzela believes “these are incredibly productive conversations in terms of moving our country forward.”

The question then must be posed: Does acknowledging the origins of our nation undermine American ideals and institutions, or rather does it open the door to more conversations on the topic of race, and how far our nation has come since its origins?