In a speech at the National Archives Museum on September 17 (Constitution Day), President Donald Trump proposed the creation of the 1776 Commission to promote a more “pro-American” education program while warning of a radical movement that has grown out of “decades of indoctrination” of leftists in schools and universities “that makes students feel ashamed of their own history.”
Imagine a German chancellor demanding that the young people of their country not be ashamed of the crimes of their history. Of course, here is another linguistic trap that decides the frame of the debate. They are not “the crimes of their own history” but “the crimes of their country’s history.” In fact, people alive today are not responsible for the massacres of Native Americans, Blacks, Mexicans, and the inhabitants of all those tropical countries where the so-called “superior race” landed with their marines to impose bloody dictatorships in the name of freedom. However, they may be complicit in refusing to acknowledge that history.
Those who believe themselves to be the owners of their country will use the linguistic and symbolic strategy of identifying their own ideas with an entire nation. A part of this strategic confusion lies in including the citizens of today in that “we” when talking about an intervention that occurred a hundred years ago in the Philippines or a few years ago in Afghanistan without even having participated in the decision of the executions and bombings. We aren’t responsible for something we never approved of; we are responsible for our reply to the worst truths of the past and present.
But that’s the catch: if citizens feel responsible for something they did not do, the majority will defend it to the death and history will repeat itself. Not coincidentally, the fiery debate in the United States continues to stall in the Civil War of 1861.
The calls to control academic freedom are old. A decade ago, conservative senators from the Southern states—supporters of creationism promoting intelligent design theory as a way to “balance” the growing dominance of the theory of evolution—wanted to force universities to teach “facts not theories.” In just three words they demonstrated the degree of intellectual brutality that men in power tend to reach, even extending to proposals to “balance” the number of liberal teachers (from the Left) with conservative teachers (from the Right).
Naturally, this is commonplace for those who give lip service to democracy and freedom but hate democracy and freedom when claimed by others. The model for Trump is President Andrew Jackson (“the least prepared man I have ever met in my life, with no respect for any law or the constitution,” according to Thomas Jefferson). Jackson, nicknamed Indian killer, was famous for stealing territories from Indigenous nations to spread slavery westward and give the new lands to white farmers, who were, according to him, “the true friends of freedom.”
For the same reasons, those who now complain about the “indoctrination of the Left” in schools and universities never saw anything wrong with the indoctrination of the Right that succeeded in imposing falsehoods and historical myths, such as the Manifest Destiny, which persist after decades and centuries.
They are right about something. The number of progressive professors in universities, almost everywhere in the world, is clearly higher than that of conservative professors. However, the same thing happens in the cultural sphere outside the universities. This is not difficult to explain. Since the Renaissance, intellectuals began to oppose and criticize power. When you see the people of culture on one side of the ideological or political spectrum, look to the other side to find out where the industrial power lies—with those who run the capital, the big media, the armies, and who have the power to hire and fire thousands of workers at will.
The demonization of critics is part of the propaganda strategy of those with power and money, demonstrated, for example, by the Church Commission of the United States Senate in the 1970s. The commission—named for its chairman, Senator Frank Church (D-ID)—revealed that the CIA invested millions of dollars to organize “popular protests” and planted fake articles in the newspapers of the United States and Latin America to influence public opinion. Thanks to this engineering, millions of free people continue to repeat, with fanaticism, ideas designed by the agency decades ago. This multi-million-dollar investment in media and culture for political and ideological purposes continues, although generating fewer secret documents and with much more millions of dollars than before.
A few days ago while teaching the Spanish-American War, I began by asking my students what they knew about this war. (I assume total honesty on their part.) They responded, as the only answer, that everything had begun with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 by the Spanish. Despite the flagrant contradiction with the reports of the survivors themselves, which were discarded by different investigations, and despite the recognition that it was all a fabrication of the New York Journal and the New York World to sell more newspapers, this myth continues to live as the only truth. The patriotic myth is more real than reality and the truth is unpatriotic.
Those who love power and money are usually against the intervention of the government (the state) in public life, and they are the first to bring the government to regulate all those truths that don’t suit them, intervening in education and in any free and independent research. This independence is what the president last week called “child abuse.” In universities, we work with young adults and he and his ilk call that indoctrination. In sects and churches of all kinds they work with innocent children and it doesn’t occur to anyone to intervene in the face of this type of indoctrination, much less call it child abuse.
The very idea that a president has the power to establish what schools should teach and what professors should investigate in universities is primitive and fascist. Is the controlled truth more patriotic than raw truth? Could it be that there is some freedom in the truth, however horrible it may be, and this is what worries power so much?