We are a bit late in getting to that dog’s breakfast called “The 1619 Project,” The New York Times’s effort to “reframe”—read, “wildly distort”—the history and governing impetus of the American Founding. Readers of the satirical classic 1066 and All That know what fun can be had if you go about your job as a storyteller serving up “all the History you can remember” and pretending that it is the truth. “Histories,” we read in 1066 and All That, “have previously been written with the object of exalting their authors. The object of this History is to console the reader.”
It was to console its core readership that The New York Times undertook The 1619 Project in a special flood-the-zone issue of its Sunday magazine in August and then in a snazzy, graphics-heavy series of features on its website. For two years, the Times had invested heavily in the vaudeville entertainment called “Trump–Russia.” The spectacular failure of its leading man, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to deliver a happy ending to that fiasco underscored the essential futility of the entire enterprise.
The American colonists might talk about liberty. What they really cared about, according to this malignant fairy tale, was preserving and extending the institution of slavery.
This was something that Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the Times, grasped instantly. Last summer, he huddled with his staff in a town-hall-style meeting—the proceedings of which were promptly leaked—and acknowledged a sad truth: “We built our newsroom to cover one story” (the now-debunked story that Donald Trump had “colluded” with Russia to steal the 2016 election). The story didn’t pan out. “Now we have to regroup,” Baquet told the assembled troops, “and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story.” What story? Henceforth, or at least “for the next two years”—the remainder of Trump’s first term—the Times was going all in on “race, and other divisions.” Robert Mueller couldn’t get Trump. Maybe the Times could by writing about race in a “thoughtful,” i.e., obsessive and one-sided, way—“something,” Baquet added “we haven’t done in a large way in a long time.”
So there you have it. “That, to me,” Baquet concluded, “is the vision for coverage. You all are going to have to help us shape that vision. But I think that’s what we’re going to have to do for the rest of the next two years.” Et voilà, The 1619 Project, which the paper described in a preface as
a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
What followed was a stupefying race-based fantasy about the origins of the United States. The lead essay, by the black journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the “architect” of The 1619 Project, set the tone. “[O]ne of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain,” she wrote, “was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” So, everything you learned about the American Revolution is wrong, or at least wrongheaded. Forget about the Stamp Act, the, Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts, “No taxation without representation,” etc. All that, utterly unmentioned by Ms. Hannah-Jones, was mere window dressing. The American colonists might talk about liberty. What they really cared about, according to this malignant fairy tale, was preserving and extending the institution of slavery. “[S]ome might argue,” as Hannah-Jones coyly puts it, “that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.” Gosh. Of course, “some might argue” any number of incredible things: that the earth is flat, that the moon is made of green cheese, that The New York Times is still a responsible source of news and even-handed commentary. The fact that “some might argue” X does not mean that X is credible.
So it is with the preposterous idea that America was founded as a “slavocracy.” Hannah-Jones asserts that “anti-black racism runs in the very dna of this country.” The claim is obviously metaphorical; countries do not possess dna. But if one were to take the metaphor seriously, as tantamount to asserting that anti-black racism is an essential and therefore unalterable characteristic of America, then the whole 1619 Project would be pointless from the get-go. It would be like complaining about the roundness of a circle or the wetness of water.
Presumably, however, neither Hannah-Jones nor the Times intends for us to take the metaphor quite so seriously. For Hannah-Jones, what is wanted is an expression that simultaneously justifies the endless whining of black radicals about how victimized they are because of things that happened a few centuries ago while also stressing the perpetually renewable guilt (like the liver of Prometheus) of whites, all whites, those living today even more than those actually involved in the African slave trade in the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries. For the Times, it fits in with what Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff called its “irresistible urge to delegitimize America.” That is the ultimate aim of The 1619 Project: to deliver another blow in the campaign to besmirch and diminish the political and moral achievement that is the United States of America. It is as despicable as it is mendacious.
You might say, Who cares about insane rantings in The New York Times? It is increasingly a niche publication for the credentialed, politically correct nomenklatura, totally out of touch with the main current of America and held afloat only by its unremitting attacks on anything to do with Donald Trump.
Someone tells you that the Apollo 11 moon landing was a carefully staged hoax perpetrated by nasa or the Trilateral Commission or whatever. Your first response is a spluttering incredulity.
This is true. Nevertheless, the paper is not entirely without influence, even today. Indeed, various public school districts, including some in Chicago, have announced that they will supplement their curricula by distributing copies of The 1619 Project to students, thereby promulgating the racialist worldview expounded by that “major” “reframing” of our history. And though the copies will be paid for by the Times and donors, taxpayers will still be indirectly funding a version of history that is politically tendentious and wildly at odds with the facts. The Pulitzer Center (not affiliated with the famed prizes) has announced that it “is proud to be the education partner for The 1619 Project.” As we write, the Center’s website is full of little valentines to Hannah-Jones and her racialist, ahistorical fantasy about the founding of the United States.
We said that The 1619 Project was stupefying. What we meant was that the claims it makes are so outlandish, at once so ostentatiously at odds with historical reality while also being carefully framed in a corset of politically correct verbiage, that any critical response is at first stunned. Someone tells you that the Apollo 11 moon landing was a carefully staged hoax perpetrated by nasa or the Trilateral Commission or whatever. Your first response is a spluttering incredulity.
It is the same with the contention that 1619, the year that the first African slaves were brought to America, marked “the beginning of the system of slavery on which the country was built.” But there were already slaves and various other forms of indentured labor in the Americas as there were all over the world. To say that there were slaves in America is not to say that “the country was built” on slavery. Moreover, the African slaves were not “kidnapped” by American or British slavers, as Hannah-Jones asserts, but were sold by other black Africans who were happy to profit by selling people they had enslaved to the colonists.
Fortunately, a rational, historically informed response to The 1619 Project has been building. The National Association of Scholars has inaugurated the “1620 Project,” not just to commemorate the signing of the Mayflower Compact—a much more significant event in the history of the United States—but also to provide an occasion for thoughtful responses to some of the more outlandish claims made by Hannah-Jones and the other writers involved in the Times’s latest campaign of disinformation. (Among our favorites, the contention that double-entry bookkeeping was an innovation “whose roots twist back to slave-labor camps.”)
The distinguished historian Allen C. Guelzo, writing in City Journal, notes that “The 1619 Project is not history: it is polemic, born in the imaginations of those whose primary target is capitalism itself and who hope to tarnish capitalism by associating it with slavery.” The great irony, Guelzo writes, is that “The 1619 Project dispenses this malediction from the chair of ultimate cultural privilege in America,” The New York Times, “because in no human society has an enslaved people suddenly found itself vaulted into positions of such privilege, and with the consent—even the approbation—of those who were once the enslavers.”
The 1619 Project represents a new nadir in the politically correct, anti-American machinations of The New York Times.
We suppose it is a mark of how extreme is The New York Times’s latest attack on America that some of the most vigorous rejoinders appear in the World Socialist Web Site, which has run long interviews with two deans of the history of the American Founding, James McPherson and Gordon Wood, neither of whom were consulted by the Times for The 1619 Project. McPherson, though eminently circumspect, concludes that The 1619 Project is
a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history. And slavery in the United States was only a small part of a larger world process that unfolded over many centuries.
Wood concurs and notes further that the idea, propounded by The 1619 Project, that the American Revolution was fomented in order to protect slavery is simply ridiculous. On the contrary, “it is the northern states in 1776 that are the world’s leaders in the antislavery cause. . . . The Revolution unleashed antislavery sentiments that led to the first abolition movements in the history of the world.” The 1619 Project pretends that the British were great crusaders in the campaign against slavery. But Wood points out, first, that the “British don’t get around to freeing the slaves in the West Indies until 1833,” and, second, that “if the Revolution hadn’t occurred,” they “might never have done so then, because all of the southern colonies would have been opposed. So supposing the Americans hadn’t broken away, there would have been a larger number of slaveholders in the greater British world who might have been able to prolong slavery longer than 1833.”
The truth is that in 1776, the American Founders, Southerners as much as Northerners, believed that slavery was on its way out. They were wrong about the timing of that, but the fact remains, as Wood notes, that the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) set an end date on the importation of slaves and that “most Americans were confident that the despicable transatlantic slave trade was definitely going to end in 1808.”
The 1619 Project represents a new nadir in the politically correct, anti-American machinations of The New York Times. Many sober observers would have dismissed it as beneath comment were it not that the residual prestige of the Times lends currency if not credibility to its illiterate and partisan contentions. Perhaps an unintended collateral benefit of this malign folly will be—finally, at last—to dissolve the vestiges of that prestige and expose the paper to the condign contempt of the public whose trust they have so extravagantly betrayed.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 5, on page 1
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