What would a MAGA Presidency do to education?

February 12th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

With the forceful rejection of the Lankford, Sinema and Murphy immigration proposal, a proposal Republicans had been demanding for years, it is now clear the Grand Old Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, is, like Dickens’s Jacob Marley, “Dead as a doornail.”

How else to describe it? What we have now is the nearly total takeover of the GOP by Donald Trump and his MAGA followers. And, with the Supreme Court’s probable repudiation of Colorado’s attempt to keep the former President off its presidential ballot, the way will be clear for him to move forward as the Party’s nominee in November. According to a CBSNews/YouGov survey, taken a month ago, a staggering 69% of Republican primary voters are solidly backing Trump, regardless of the heavy load of legal baggage, like Marley’s chains, trailing behind him.

This completely befuddles old school Republicans. Consider Senator Mitt Romney’s incomprehension. The Utah conservative only 12 years ago was the leader of the Party as the Republican presidential nominee against Barack Obama. He recently told CNN, “I think a lot of people in this country are out of touch with reality and will accept anything Donald Trump tells them. You had a jury that said that Donald Trump raped a woman.¹ And that doesn’t seem to be moving the needle. There’s a lot of things about today’s electorate that I have a hard time understanding.”

Then there is the bewilderment of New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, who, in conversation with the Times’s Gail Collins, said, “So-called sane House Republicans are basically passengers in a car being driven at high speed by a drunk. There’s no getting out of the car. And they don’t dare tell the driver to slow down because who knows what he’ll do then?”

Even Mitch McConnell, the longest serving Senate party leader in US history (he’s the same age as Joe Biden), seems to be shrinking by the day in the face of relentless MAGA artillery. The Senate’s power-hungry, opportunistic piranhas want his blood; he supported the immigration proposal and, in the past, has dared to criticize Il Duce, Donald Trump.

The irony of all this is that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election by more than seven-million votes, and he’ll probably lose the 2024 election by at least that many. But that doesn’t matter, because the popular vote does not elect a President. The Electoral College does. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but George W. Bush moved into the White House. In 2020, even with Biden’s plurality of seven million votes, had about 51,000 of them, spread over four different states, gone to Trump, he’d be living where Joe Biden lives now.

And he and his sycophants would be ramming their policies and beliefs down the throats of Americans every day. He tried to do that in his first term, but his efforts were chaotic and scatterbrained. That would not be so in the Trump second term his methodical acolytes have been planning with biblical fervor.

Consider education, for example. What Trump and the MAGA movement want is a country where children are falsely taught that the United States has always been a Christian beacon of righteousness. Despite our nation’s many virtues, and they are legion, the truth of its past is harrowing and complicated. Slavery, Jim Crow, Indigenous displacement and slaughter, anti-immigrant laws, the suppression of women’s rights, and the history of violence against the LGBTQ+ community — these things sully the MAGA version of the American story. Therefore, they must not stand.

We got a taste of that when, at the very end of his first term, Trump became, for him, somewhat organized about the education he thought America’s children desperately needed. In September 2020, he held a “White House Conference on American History,” at which he announced he was establishing “The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission,” also known as the “1776 Project,” to create standards for “patriotic education.” The commission’s name was a direct reference to, and rebuke of, the “1619 Project,” a New York Times series that outlined the centrality of slavery in America’s origins. “We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” Trump said in a speech that day. “We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.” Trump embraced, uncritically, the idea of American exceptionalism. But the “truth about our country” has not always been magnificent for all Americans — particularly those who, for generations, were denied access to social, economic, and political advancement.

Trump’s Commission released The 1776 Report on  18 January 2021, two days before the end of his term. Historians overwhelmingly criticized the report, saying it was “filled with errors and partisan politics.” The American Historical Association (AHA) issued a statement condemning the Report, saying, “Written hastily in one month after two desultory and tendentious ‘hearings,’ without any consultation with professional historians of the United States, the report fails to engage a rich and vibrant body of scholarship that has evolved over the last seven decades.”

Think the AHA was hyperbolizing in its condemnation? Here are a few snippets to prove the point:

On slavery

” The Declaration’s unqualified proclamation of human equality flatly contradicted the existence of human bondage and, along with the Constitution’s compromises understood in light of that proposition, set the stage for abolition. Indeed, the movement to abolish slavery that first began in the United States led the way in bringing about the end of legal slavery.”

On 1 August 1834, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act, outlawing the owning, buying, and selling of humans as property throughout its colonies around the world. In 1807, the U.S. Congress passed a statute prohibiting the importation of slaves from other countries, but not prohibiting the owning, buying, and selling of them. Slavery continued its inexorable growth in the country. And in 1857, the Dred Scott decision affirmed that slaves were neither citizens nor people. Rather, they were “property.”

On the 2nd Amendment

“The right to keep and bear arms is required by the fundamental natural right to life: no man may justly be denied the means of his own defense….  An armed people is a people capable of defending their liberty no less than their lives and is the last, desperate check against the worst tyranny.”

The authors conveniently leave out the part about “a well-regulated militia,” as well as any discussion about the deep controversy regarding the 2nd Amendment.

On schools

“The primary duty of schools is to teach students the basic skills needed to function in society, such as reading, writing, and mathematics. States and school districts should reject any curriculum that promotes one-sided partisan opinions, activist propaganda, or factional ideologies that demean America’s heritage, dishonor our heroes, or deny our principles. Any time teachers or administrators promote political agendas in the classroom, they abuse their platform and dishonor every family who trusts them with their children’s education and moral development.”

This is now  a new way of life in Florida, the Florida of Trump disciple Ron DeSantis. Teachers are unsure, even afraid, of what they can say in class. No one would disagree with the idea that teachers should not indoctrinate children to their personal political views, but teachers must be free to guide students on the quest for knowledge. It was conservative icon Malcolm Forbes who is credited with saying, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with and open one.”

On religion

“The shared morality of faithful citizens would…encourage important virtues like…piety towards the Creator whose favor determines the well-being of society. But it is almost impossible to hold to this creed…without reference to the Creator as the ultimate source of human equality and natural rights. This is the deepest reason why the founders saw faith as the key to good character as well as good citizenship, and why we must remain “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The proposition of political equality is powerfully supported by biblical faith, which confirms that all human beings are equal in dignity and created in God’s image.”

This deserves further comment. America’s founders were not, on the whole, anywhere near as deeply religious as this excerpt suggests. At best, most believed in a higher power, but were students of the Enlightenment. They  believed that reason was the basis of knowledge and could lead to freedom and equality. They also believed that the world was knowable and testable through science and reason.

Finally, the phrase, “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” comes from the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by the American socialist and Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). It was originally published in The Youth’s Companion on 8 September 1892.

In its original form it read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Bellamy had hoped the pledge would be used by citizens in any country. In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. And in 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy’s daughter objected to this alteration.

The 1776 Advisory Commission, which was chaired by Larry Arnn, the president of the conservative and deeply Christian Hillsdale College,² was terminated by President Biden on January 20, 2021, his first day in office.

Think about what would happen if, early in a second Trump Presidency — not at the end of it — the “1776 Report,” with its watered-down, revised, and sanitized history, was dusted off and became the bible of the U.S. Department of Education. Your children and grandchildren would be studying it as if it were reality. Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”³ would become doctrinal.

That could happen. A MAGA approach to education would be corrosively revisionist, and, if you weren’t paying attention, you might not notice until it was too late.

And that’s just one sliver of America’s government that could slide to a place you might not recognize anymore.


¹ Although the jury in Trump’s trial convicted him of “sexual assault,” rather than rape, as it is narrowly defined in the New York Penal Code, the trial judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, said, “The finding that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’ ”

² The school’s motto is, ” Learning, character, faith, and freedom: these are the inseparable purposes of Hillsdale College.”

³ During a Meet the Press interview on 22 January 2017, U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the attendance numbers at Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States by asserting the validity of his “alternative facts.”