The Other Columbus: Trump's 1776 Commission Report is the worst Beyonce drop ever

Scott Woods

One of the final acts of the Trump administration happened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the occasion couldn’t be more inappropriate.

The sickening splat you heard on Monday was the White House’s Beyonce-drop of its 1776 Commission Report, a 40-page hot take meant to bolster the efforts of Trump voters who can’t take a hint. Apparently this purposefully obtuse Mad Lib of American history was more important than whatever health care plan Trump has been promising for the last four years.

It all reads like a primer written by Steve Bannon to deliver to Donald Trump on his first day in office, composed with the understanding that the reader would be someone who doesn’t actually know any American history, but wants to run the country into the ground anyway. It’s why the document hits at a third grade reading level (“Other nations may have birthdays“) and comes across more like a conversation transcript than a historical record.

Not that this Captain America fan fiction doesn’t have textbook aspirations, of course. But the ridiculous moral chest-thumping throughout kind of cuts the knees out from under any actual history it presents. It spends pages suggesting that America is a country built almost entirely on ideals and not naked capitalism and Manifest Destiny purges. “Deliberately destructive scholarship shatters the civic bonds that unite all Americans,” the report reads. And yet this is exactly what it does over a couple dozen pages.

Get the Other Columbus delivered to your inbox every Wednesday: Sign up for our daily newsletter

Of course, the entire exercise is also supremely racist. Here is the report’s stab at showcasing American diversity from day one:

“Yet, as [John] Jay (and all the founders) well knew, the newly formed American people were not quite as homogenous — in ancestry, language, or religion — as this statement would seem to assert. They were neither wholly English nor wholly Protestant nor wholly Christian.”

Ah, but they were all white.

Keeping with the theme of release day, the document sprinkles Martin Luther King Jr. quotes throughout in an attempt to appear non-racist, which works about as well as Trump ordering a bunch of Big Macs and inviting all of his favorite Black sycophants over to make “the cookout” a real thing. Slavery gets two pages, which is one and a half pages more than I would have assumed existed before reading. But it’s a horrible two pages, filled with convenient misinterpretations of historical events, dismissive language and that old chestnut that “slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.” You know, the “everybody was doing it” defense.

Here’s another haymaker:

“Eventually this regime of formal inequality would come to be known as ‘identity politics.’ The stepchild of earlier rejections of the founding, identity politics (discussed in Appendix III) values people by characteristics like race, sex, and sexual orientation and holds that new times demand new rights to replace the old. This is the opposite of King’s hope that his children would ‘live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,’ and denies that all are endowed with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This paragraph weaponizes King himself against the very politics for which he died. Don’t even get me started on how the suggestion here is that the real problem is that people see color and not that institutions, media and laws treat people different based on their color. That is some serious gaslighting. There isn’t a single sentence in the eight paragraphs on “Racism and Identity Politics” that stands up to scrutiny, and there isn’t a single sentence in the entire product about Indigenous Americans. So it’s not only a reductive polemic; it commits egregious erasure to boot.

Here’s the thing about all of this: I don’t have to tell most of you any of this. You knew upon hearing about the existence of such a document that no good would come of it or live within it. I pined to be deported while reading it. But sometimes you have to level a criticism as bald as the attempt. Sometimes you have to leave a roach motel in the corners where no one is looking and the light don’t shine.

The 1776 Report