1776 Report Should be 86’d

A parting shot from the Trump administration.

On their way out the door, the Trump administration released a bizarre “report” from a “blue-ribbon” commission arguing for better treatment of America’s Founders.

The headline of the official release, “1776 Commission Takes Historic and Scholarly Step to Restore Understanding of the Greatness of the American Founding,” should be enough to alert even the modestly-savvy reader that the report is not even the slightest bit “scholarly” and instead a hack job. The release, in its entirety below, confirms that suspicion in spectacular fashion.

1776 Commission—comprised of some of America’s most distinguished scholars and historians—has released a report presenting a definitive chronicle of the American founding, a powerful description of the effect the principles of the Declaration of Independence have had on this Nation’s history, and a dispositive rebuttal of reckless “re-education” attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.

A copy of the report can be found here.

From the last page of the report itself, we see the “distinguished” “scholars” who comprised the commission:

Larry P. Arnn, Chair
Carol Swain, Vice Chair
Matthew Spalding, Executive Director
Phil Bryant
Jerry Davis
Michael Farris
Gay Hart Gaines
John Gibbs
Mike Gonzalez
Victor Davis Hanson
Charles Kesler
Peter Kirsanow
Thomas Lindsay
Bob McEwen
Ned Ryun
Julie Strauss

Ex-officio Members
Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State
Christopher C. Miller, Acting Secretary of Defense
David L. Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior
Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Mitchell M. Zais, Acting Secretary of Education
Brooke Rollins, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
Doug Hoelscher, Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs

Leaving aside that the ex-officio members are hacks, traitors, yahoos, or some combination of the three, the only academics on the list whose names I recognize are Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Kesler. It doesn’t take much Googling to find that pretty much everyone on the list is a right-wing hack. Even those, like Hanson, who are serious scholars have long since sold out for fame on the conservative pundit circuit.

The report’s Introduction begins thusly,

In the course of human events there have always been those who deny or reject human freedom, but Americans will never falter in defending the fundamental truths of human liberty proclaimed on July 4, 1776. We will—we must—always hold these truths.

From the outset, then, we see that the conclusion came before the scholarship. This will be a polemic, not a serious study.

The declared purpose of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission is to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more
perfect Union.”

Again, this sounds like some tripe from a Trump speech. The two purposes could potentially go together but “and” doesn’t do the trick of explaining how.

This requires a restoration of American education, which can only be grounded on a history of those principles that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.” And a rediscovery of our shared identity rooted in our founding principles is the path to a renewed American unity and a confident American future.

Again, this isn’t scholarship. This isn’t history. It’s not even “civics.”

It assumes facts not in evidence. Do we really have a “shared identity”? If so, when did we undiscover it? Were out “founding principles” really one that promoted “unity”? On what basis is teaching the founding—about which genuine scholars and historians are still debating to this very day—“inspiring” and “ennobling”? And is that really the purpose of education?

The Commission’s first responsibility is to produce a report summarizing the principles of the American founding and how those principles have shaped our country.

For starters, the country was founded twice: With the Declaration in 1776 (although, arguably, with the Articles of Confederation the year before) and with the Constitution of 1787 ratified in 1789. The two are in conflict. And the Framers of the latter had very bitter disputes as to its goals.

That can only be done by truthfully recounting the aspirations and actions of the men and women who sought to build America as a shining “city on a hill”—an exemplary nation, one that protects the safety and promotes the happiness of its people, as an example to be admired and emulated by nations of the world that wish to steer their government toward greater liberty and justice.

There are just too many unproven and disputed assumption in that absurdly convoluted sentence to dissect.

The record of our founders’ striving and the nation they built is our shared inheritance and remains a beacon, as Abraham Lincoln said, “not for one people or one time, but for all people for all time.”

Again, this is highly disputed. It can’t be a starting point for serious scholarship.

I’ll stop there, even though that’s maybe a third of the Introduction. The rest is more of the same: an incredibly narrow view of America’s history that assumes a shared, unified vision that toward which we have strived ever sense.

There are ways in which I’m sympathetic to this viewpoint. I tend to think that, at the elementary school level, we really should teach something of a rose-colored view of “civics” and the American experiment, adding nuance and complexity as they progress through the higher grades. And I resist the movement exemplified by the 1619 project to frame racism and injustice as the core of our history rather than a blight on it.

But this report is ostensibly aimed at adults. And it goes too far in excusing slavery and Jim Crow and, frankly, veers too far into white nationalism.

While this is too rosy—and gives too little credit to Black Americans for securing their own freedoms— it’s not terrible:

It would take a national movement composed of people from different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions to bring about an America fully committed to ending legal discrimination.

But it quickly devolves into this nonsense:

The Civil Rights Movement was almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the founders. The ideas that drove this change had been growing in America for decades, and they distorted many areas of policy in the half century that followed. Among the distortions was the abandonment of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in favor of “group rights” not unlike those advanced by Calhoun and his followers. The justification for reversing the promise of color-blind civil rights was that past discrimination requires present effort, or affirmative action in the form of preferential treatment, to overcome long-accrued inequalities. Those forms of preferential treatment built up in our system over time, first in administrative rulings, then executive orders, later in congressionally passed law, and finally were sanctified by the Supreme Court.

The degree to whether “affirmative action” and the like are helpful and where to draw the line are perfectly debate-worthy issues. But this reads like something from a Dinesh Dsouza column, not a blue-ribbon government commission. Indeed, this would have received a D, at best, in a lower-level American Government class.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mattbernius says:

    Given the choice to release this “report” on MLK Day, it’s all but impossible to read this as anything but a parting reminder from the Trump administration that the feelings of aggrieved White folks matter above everyone else.

  2. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Indeed, this would have received a D, at best, in a lower-level American Government class.

    Admittedly, my high school era was during Vietnam, but I doubt this tripe would have earned that high a grade. Gads, Dr J, what an awful reading assignment before my morning coffee. The ‘report,’ not your response.

    Wheeeeee… Edit button AND coffee!

  3. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Good point. I didn’t even think of the MLK Day context in that I figured it was a late-night dump, since I didn’t start seeing it referenced until this morning.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite: There has been considerable grade inflation over the years. Absent flagrant cheating or completely ignoring the assignment parameters, it’s really, really hard to fail.

  5. Jim Brown 32 says:

    In the words of the famous American Bard Snoop Diggy Dogg of Long Beach California (aka ‘Da LBC’):

    The 1776 Commission can report on deeze nutz

  6. Teve says:

    You can love your alcoholic daddy while still acknowledging he had problems along with his positive qualities. Or you can stamp your feet and shout “My Daddy Was Perfect! My Daddy Was Perfect!” which is what this childishness is.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    A Trump regime blue ribbon commission. They put the joke right up front, no need to read further.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    I used to live in Long Beach where I collected rents for my slumlord grandfather. (Redeeming feature: he was also a used car dealer.) I would never have thought anyone could make the LBC a thing. I like Snoop but I’m a Sativa guy and the only thing you drink with gin is tonic or a very small amount of vermouth.

  9. de stijl says:

    They should be ashamed.

    I smell Stephen Miller involvement.

    Released on MLK Day has all of Miller’s fingerprints. They could not have waited til Tuesday. Like the Juneteenth Trump rally.

    Til Tuesaday was okay – Voices Carry is a pretty good song. Aimee Mann got her start with them.

    Aimee Mann became awesome. The Magnolia soundtrack is one of favorites. Wise Up.

  10. Kathy says:

    It’s hard to read parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and not agree with them. It’s harder not to see what the reality was for African slaves, and to a lesser extent to poor whites, and for immigrants, and for women, and not point to the Declaration and Constitution and demand the noble principles codified in them apply to everyone.

  11. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    Academic twitter was all over it yesterday afternoon and evening. Beyond the “anti-anti-slavery” aspect of it, attention was called to the fact it totally misrepresents MLK’s documented position on Affirmative Action, and things like it’s completely batshit, one-sentence, history of fascism.

    Someone ran it through “turn-it-in” and saw about ~25% of it was coming from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative education think tank founded by William F Buckley – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercollegiate_Studies_Institute

    Also, James, to your point, someone did an analysis of all the authors. As you mentioned, not a single historian among them (at best, if memory serves was VDH as a classicist). Thread begins here:


  12. drj says:

    A bit off-topic, but I was struck by this:

    And I resist the movement exemplified by the 1619 project to frame racism and injustice as the core of our history rather than a blight on it.

    To whom does “our” refer? Who is the “we?”

    Because for African-Americans, their history is rather different than “ours” (as used here).

    (Very) roughly:

    1776-1863: enslaved
    1863-1964: second-class citizens

    So, for 188 of the 245 years that the US has existed, African-Americans (generally – I’m obviously simplifying here) took up a positions that are legally well below the position of white Americans.

    I’m not saying that the standard story of American liberty/shining city on a hill/beacon of hope is simply wrong, but it is also not the entire story (far from it).

    Should all those other perspectives and histories (e.g. black slavery, Native American genocide) be swept under the rug? Is there only one “history” people should be allowed to learn as being theirs?

    It’s simply a fact that there would be no America without unfree labor. There would also be no America (as we know it) without the sincere ideals of the Founders. Both things happened together (both in time and as forces that shaped the current state of the country).

    Why would it be wrong to consider both sets of experiences and memories?

  13. DrDaveT says:


    a conservative education don’t-think tank


  14. de stijl says:

    One of the most interesting things about Save Me is that it ends on the the lyric “Just give up”

    That is bold. Pop songs almost always have the narrator assert dominance and right wrongs by force of will. Foolish fantasy wish fulfilment.

    Just give up was a fucking bold songwriting choice. Broke my heart hard.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    Next you’ll be telling us that George Washington DIDN’T throw a dollar across the Potomac!

    Seriously, I’m a pretty old fellow and have a strangely clear memory of a book gifted by an aunt or grandparent that told me that story as if true. Also the cherry tree.

    This report is for those of my generation (and adjacent generations) who resent being taught that when Washington was growing up there were no dollars. How do I know? Victor Davis Hanson.

  16. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I just mixed up Save Me with Wise Up. As fuck ups go not bad, lad. I could have fucked up way worse. Save Me is also great.

    The entire Magnolia sound track is gold through and through.

  17. de stijl says:

    To be clear Wise Up ends with “just give up”

    Save Me is an entirely different and also awesome song.

    Same soundtrack (Magnolia)

  18. James Joyner says:

    @drj: I’ve written about the 1619 Project before and am sympathetic to its larger argument. But they went too far in the initial framing, which even the NYT has quietly admitted and mostly whitewashed.

  19. de stijl says:

    One thing about re-watching Magnolia is that we will never see Phillip Seymour Hoffman again.

    That stings hard.

  20. Kurtz says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Careful, Jim. Please don’t remind these people of their linguistic inferiority to a Black man.

    I’m pretty sure the median rap verse contains more cleverness and exhibits more of a sound thought process than every thought Trump has ever had across his whole life…combined.

    The last two Republican presidents (and three of the last four) don’t exactly support the idea that white people are intellectually superior to those with more melanin.

  21. Kurtz says:

    @de stijl:

    That movie gets better with age. It’s so good, yet it’s PTA’s third best film…if that.

  22. de stijl says:

    PTA directed like the last four good HAIM vids. (I love HAIM)

    The Steps is so cool.

    Is dude like dating one of the Haim gals?

  23. de stijl says:

    Boogie Nights is an epic piece of moviemaking.

  24. de stijl says:

    Haim’s Forever is a perfect song.

  25. Kathy says:

    Among amateur historians and their fans (present), there’s almost a compulsion to compare the US to the Roman Empire. So:

    Rome had the Cult of the Caesars, America has the Veneration of the Founding Fathers.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    Were the Founders ahead of their time, often wise and far-seeing? Yes. Were they just some dudes in the 18th century doing the best they could? Yes. Saints? No. Demons? No. Worthy of respect? Yes. Worthy of veneration? No.

    Americans really don’t do nuance.

  27. Paine says:

    @de stijl: But if they release it today it might overshadow Trump’s health care plan announcement, which needs to be released soon or his claims of coming up with a better and cheaper plan were complete BS.

    Magnolia and Boogie Nights are two of my favorite films.

  28. de stijl says:


    Something tells me there is not going to be a Trump health plan.

  29. Sleeping Dog says:

    @de stijl:

    Nor a Trump infrastructure plan.

  30. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Worthy of veneration? No.

    I tend to agree with this…but then I look around and try to imagine what happened in the 18th Century happening today…and I think veneration may very well be warranted.
    The POTUS staged a murderous coup and yet tomorrow he will leave for Palm Beach, having paid zero cost for his insurrection.
    I have no idea how Americans, today, would ever free ourselves of the shackles of someone like King George.

  31. de stijl says:

    Compare and contrast Haim dancing from Forever adorably dorky – adorkily to later vids when they got professional dancer feedback.

    Night and day.

    Want You Back.

  32. de stijl says:

    Wise Up just slays me.

    The interesting version is from the movie where they did an interlude with characters just singing along. That was really compelling. I had not seen that before in a serious movie played out that fully.

    And then the rain of frogs.

  33. Kingdaddy says:

    To whom does “our” refer? Who is the “we?”

    Because for African-Americans, their history is rather different than “ours” (as used here).

    Since we’re throwing out movie references…

    “What do you mean, ‘you people’?”

    “What do YOU mean, ‘you people’?

  34. de stijl says:

    Aimee Mann reminds me of the brilliance of Regina Spektor.

  35. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I like Snoop but I’m a Sativa guy and the only thing you drink with gin is tonic or a very small amount of vermouth.

    I worked with Snoop. It’s Gin and grape juice for him, and if no grape juice is available, Cranberry juice will suffice. And he had it in his contract that he couldn’t work past 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays because he coached is son’s Pop Warner Football Team those days. He showed up on time every day, knew his lines, and created zero drama for any department. He was, in two words, “a professional”.

  36. de stijl says:


    I am heartened that Snoop is a mensch. I suspected as much, but it is fine to hear real world feedback.

    That man has the world’s slinkiest voice.

  37. wr says:

    @mattbernius: ” the feelings of aggrieved White folks matter above everyone else.”

    All aggrieved white folks are equal, but one aggrieved white folk is more equal than the rest.

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: It’s hard enough just getting them to vote.

  39. CSK says:

    Melania must have supervised this endeavor. It turns out that about 26% of the report was plagiarized, though some of the authors appear to have stolen from themselves.

    Another source was Wikipedia, that bane of teachers and professors everywhere.

  40. de stijl says:

    I do not want to be pushy, but Superchunk’s No Pocky For Kitty may be one of the all-time best albums in that it has killer songs every fucking track up and down the dial.

  41. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA: I’ve been curious about something and just rewalized you are the perfect person to ask. When it comes to those actors on IMDB that have a hundred entries or more, ranging from meaty character parts to the occasional leading role, is there a single one that wouldn’t be described as “a professional”?

  42. flat earth luddite says:

    Never met the man, but I’ve heard a lot of positives about his work/life ethics. Saw him briefly a couple of times in Portland area. Word was that when he was in town he ALWAYS swung by his aunt & uncle’s rib joint. Outstanding food, good prices, and when he walked in the door there he was ALWAYS respectful to tia/tio, and polite to staff and customers. We were sad when they relocated out of our neighborhood.

  43. de stijl says:


    Tom Sizemore has a shit load of credits.

    He was a profoundly talented man and pissed it away.

    That is not the same as being unprofessional on set, though. Perhaps he is a gent.

    The last time I saw Michael Madsen on camera he was so gonked he had to lean on the scenery to stand up. It was embarassing. Another great talent wasted.

    I liked both of them a lot.

  44. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    While Snoop surely has an interesting voice, it is his flow that is ungodly slinky.

    It just creeps along.

  45. de stijl says:


    He did a lifestyle / cooking series with Martha Stewart. Dude is chill with hard-core ex-cons like Stewart. He rolls deep.

  46. DrDaveT says:

    1776 Report Should be 86’d

    eighty-six (v.)
    slang for “eliminate,” 1936, originated at lunch counters, a cook’s word for “none” when asked for something not available, probably rhyming slang for nix.

    Those of us old enough to remember Get Smart will recall that Maxwell Smart was Agent 86, a joke entirely lost on the current generation.

  47. EddieInCA says:


    Those guys, the guys with hundreds of credits, make a damn good living yet no one knows their names. Alot of times they don’t even have to audition. The casting directors and show runners know them and hire them immediately. Why?

    1. They show up on time.
    2. They know their lines.
    3. They’re pleasant people, and bring good, positive energy to a set.
    4. They know to not upstage the leading actors.
    5. They say “Please” and “Thank you”. A lot!

    Those who are assholes, or not professional, don’t work much unless they are ungodly talented. And some aren’t ungodly talented, but they’ve created an environment that makes them untouchable. David Boreanez on “Bones”, Jeffrey Donovan on “Burn Notice”, David Caruso on “CSI Miami”, are examples of the latter. Assholes, all.

    Alot of those guys, though, once they lose their series, don’t get another one for a while.

  48. EddieInCA says:

    @de stijl:

    Tom Sizemore has a shit load of credits.

    He was a profoundly talented man and pissed it away.

    That is not the same as being unprofessional on set, though. Perhaps he is a gent.

    The last time I saw Michael Madsen on camera he was so gonked he had to lean on the scenery to stand up. It was embarassing. Another great talent wasted.

    Worked with both of them.

    With Sizemore, we had to have a hotel door broken down with the police and fire department on hand, when he was four hours late for his call and didn’t respond to any type of communication. Found him passed out, naked, with three women, also passed out. Liquor bottles everywhere, and pill bottles.

    Despite that, the showrunner didn’t fire him. A few days later, he was supposed to drive a car in a scene. I threatened to quit if they put him behind the wheel for any scene with any other actors in the scene. It was not an idle threat. I would have quit on the spot. Fortunately, they decided I was right. Two years later, Tom Sizemore, in a driving scene, decided to”improvise,” and ran over a Stuntman.


    Sizemore: Ridiculously talented. But not worth the bullshit you have to deal with. Never again.

    Madsen: Piece of shit all around. Nothing nice to say about the guy. The worst.

  49. de stijl says:

    I remember when Sizemore guest starred on Burn Notice for one episode. A quasi- come- back of sorts. That must’ve been a few interesting few days on set.

    Caruso I can certainly imagine. Those fucking sunglasses scenes. Hyperdramatic man can stfu.

    Donovan. What?! It was a USA show of middling repute and viewership. Anwar was was over-cast but great. Bruce Campbell was monster. Please do not tell me he was a dick too.

    Boreanaz hurts a bit as a BTVS fan. And an Angel fan. I worked with a woman who went to college with him and she said he was a total dick before he got famous. You gotta take your lumps sometimes.

    I kinda liked the USA shows of that era. Sarah Shahi had a sort-lived show were she was sparkly and awesome – that woman needs more work like Person Of Interest (great show and with Amy Archer too).

    The concierge doctor show Royal Pains had two stand outs – Paulo Costanzo and Brooke D’Orsay. Both need more work.