Brandi Collins-Dexter and Joan Donovan of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center research media manipulation and disinformation. Columbia Journalism Review just published their fascinating piece about how “1776” became the battle cry of the MAGA movement.
Our research reveals that the popularity of “1776” owes in part to keyword squatting—a tactic by which right-wing media have dominated the keywords “1619” and “critical race theory” and enabled a racialized disinformation campaign, waged by Trump and his acolytes, against Black civil rights gains.
According to Google trends data for the past five years, “1776” showed an annual spike around July 4. But after the publication of The 1619 Project, the New York Times’ journalistic series that tells the history of Black Americans’ role in creating the nation, “1776” became a popular conservative rejoinder. In September 2020, Trump formed the 1776 Commission to support what he termed “patriotic education.” (The commission was part of a series of racist retaliations against Black civil rights organizing and educators pledging to teach a more comprehensive, diverse, and inclusive US history; Trump later signed an executive order banning “critical race theory” from federally funded organizations.) When he announced the commission, Trump explicitly targeted critical race theory and the 1619 Project, calling both “toxic propaganda—ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together.”
On January 18, 2021—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—Trump released “The 1776 Report,” a long screed meant to wipe away academic and journalistic efforts to reconcile American’s history of violence, displacement, and racial and ethnic trauma. The report recast the racist roots of American education; for instance, in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan promoted a public-school curriculum that emphasized “Americanizing” all “foreigners”—an effort, in part, to prevent Catholics and immigrant groups from establishing their own schools and curricula in non-English languages. Klan members ran successfully for school board positions across the country, popularizing the slogan of “America First”—a phrase which, coincidentally, featured prominently at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and appears in the name of a far-right political action conference. The report fizzled in the wake of the Capitol riot; still, it’s an exemplary piece of racialized disinformation that claims to identify problems with contemporary American education, but often espouses color-blind racism by minimizing how racial inequalities shape educational outcomes in the US.
Read the entire piece here.