Trump, part infomercial, part self-indulgent whining, part 1980s nostalgia, and 100 percent anti-intellectual.
The same president who made up a Civil War battle in order to put a faux historical marker on his golf course, whose administration meddles with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alter or suppress information, and who still denies the truth of climate change, trotted out a panel of quasi-experts, along with two actual historians—and, inexplicably, Ben Carson—to advance two ideas simultaneously. The panel argued the case that American historians (besides them, of course) have abandoned the Enlightenment ideals of the Founding Fathers to engage in free inquiry. At the same time, they proposed that historians should stop examining the complexities of figures from the American past, and instead offer our nation’s children simple heroes they could unreservedly admire. These two ideas are fundamentally incompatible—a fact that didn’t seem to bother the panelists.
All of the panelists, as it turns out, were there to promote the adoption of American intellectual historian Wilfred McClay’s recently published American history textbook, Land of Hope—including McClay himself, whose presence on the panel, along with that of Civil War historian Allen Guelzo of Princeton, served as a scholarly fig leaf to cover the naked polemicism of the event.* Theodor Rebarber, a champion of charter schools and a critic of current K–12 approaches to history education, was there to argue that an entire curriculum based on McClay’s book, and funded from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, should be adopted—if not mandated—in all American schools.
Wilfred M. McClay currently the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.
Wilfred M. McClay has written Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. It’s meant to be used as a textbook in homes, private schools, and charter schools