Monday, August 21, 2023

Schoolhouse Rock, 2023 Reboot

If you watched Saturday morning television in the United States between 1973 and 1984, you probably remember the educational film shorts that aired between the cartoons, known as "Schoolhouse Rock." Those animated segments featuring cheeky commentary set to catchy music, focused on specific themes in the areas of mathematics, science, social studies and grammar. I was a little old for them but one segment that immediately comes to mind was called Conjunction Junction which you can watch here. Another was about how laws are made in Congress called I'm Just a Bill.

It's probably safe to say an entire generation of Americans remember the concepts they learned on Schoolhouse Rock better than the ones they learned at school.

Today, while we're falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to our knowledge of math, science and language skills, Americans are getting a full-blown education in social studies, at least in terms of American law and government, thanks the hottest show around, featuring the escapades of one former president and his multiple run-ins with the law. 

Of course, like Saturday morning cartoons, the wall-to-wall media coverage of the travails of the exPOTUS is not to everyone's taste. To others such as myself, it's like a train wreck we can't turn our eyes from.  

Lucky for us because it provides a valuable lesson reminding us of many things we forgot from school about the Constitution, American politics and jurisprudence.

A lot of Americans myself included, may only have spotty knowledge about our Constitution, but we sure think we know a lot about its First Amendment, especially the part guaranteeing our freedom of speech. 

We all understand, or so I hope, that freedom of speech/expression is one of the linchpins of any democracy.

But we're learning, thanks in part to this version of Schoolhouse Rock, that like all freedoms, freedom of speech does not come without responsibilities. One cannot express a controversial opinion for example and expect it to be immune from consequences such as harsh judgement, public humiliation or even (in some cases) the loss of a job, just to name a few.

Nor is it absolute. The First Amendment itself does not enumerate limits to speech. That has been the role of the Supreme Court and over two centuries of precedent. 

Here are just some of the categories of speech that the Court has deemed not protected by the First Amendment. Engaging in them can land you into serious trouble with the law:

  • Speech that violates intellectual property rights: You can't use someone else's speech or ideas and claim them as your own. 
  • True threats: Statements that can reasonably be construed as an intent to inflict harm on the recipient. 
  • Fighting Words: Statements that can reasonably be construed as intending to provoke a violent response.
  • Child pornography: No explanation necessary.
  • Incitement: Speech designed to provoke the commission of a crime.
  • Defamation and Libel: False statements designed to injure a person's reputation.

As you might imagine, there is a great deal of latitude here, making the judgement of whether speech rightly falls under any of these categories challenging, and quite difficult to prove in a court of law. That's why lawyers get paid the big bucks.

Years ago, working in a photography department in an art museum, our chief curator was sought out by lawyers representing a couple who was under suspicion of producing child pornography. They had taken nude photographs of their young children and were turned in to the DCFS by the lab that processed their film. The curator was asked if the photos had any "artistic merit" or if he thought they were exploitive and pornographic. He referenced works in our collection of a similar nature by established artists such as Sally Mann, but in the end, took the route of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who had this to say about pornography: "I know it when I see it." Then as Justice Stewart did when writing for the majority in a 1964 obscenity case, our curator added (in not so many words): "and this ain't it."   

Unfortunately, many of the limits to free speech can best be judged by the standard, "I know it when I see it", meaning there are few objective criteria to determine if certain forms of expression fall into the realm of non-protected speech. 

Not surprising then, there is a rigorous burden of proof required to convict someone of crossing the line into unprotected speech meaning that courts when in doubt, generally err on the side of the literal interpretation of the First Amendment.

Take the most conspicuous example of all the actions that got the exPOTUS into hot water with the latest federal indictment which happened before our very eyes, the attack on our Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. That morning from the Ellipse, just south of the White House, the soon-to-be ex-president gave a speech instructing his supporters numbering in the thousands, to march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to protest the certification of the new president, scheduled for later that afternoon. 

In the speech he said this:

All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing. And stolen by the fake news media. That's what they've done and what they're doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved.
One of the pieces of evidence of a "stolen election" he cited is that in the presidential election held in 2016, he received 66 million votes while in 2020 he received 75 million, more votes than any candidate for president had ever received before. 

Unfortunately for him, his opponent in 2020 received 80+ million votes in the general election, and where it really counted, his opponent won the Electoral College by the same amount of votes the out-going president won against Hillary Clinton in 2016. If you remember, the exPOTUS declared that victory "a landslide", even though he lost the popular vote by three million votes. 

But the exPOTUS begged to differ, He added:

And by the way, does anybody believe that Joe had 80 million votes? Does anybody believe that? He had 80 million computer votes. It's a disgrace... Take third-world countries. Their elections are more honest than what we've been going through in this country. It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace...

We will not let them silence your voices. We're not going to let it happen, I'm not going to let it happen.

He then went on to thank Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, otherwise known as co-Conspirator One and co-Conspirator Two in his second federal indictment, for their stalwart efforts attempting to keep his presidency alive past its expiration date. It was Eastman who came up with the idea that Vice President Pence could reject the tally of electoral votes up on Capitol Hill that day (he really couldn't) and send the results back to the states where they would hopefully return a more favorable result for the president. He went on:

And he (Eastman) looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so.

Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.... He has the absolute right to do it. We're supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution, and protect our constitution...

And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a, a sad day for our country because you're sworn to uphold our Constitution.
After rambling on for about an hour about how unfair losing the election was, he closed by saying this:

And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

As we all know, Mike Pence didn't do "the right thing" by the exPOTUS that day, and the mob at the Capitol quickly got wind of it. Soon, shouts of "hang Mike Pence" were heard by throngs of Trump supporters, some of whom had the foresight to bring makeshift gallows, should the need for one arise. The mob would eventually breach security and break into and attack the most potent symbol of our democracy. To make matters worse, the soon-to-be ex-president did nothing to stop the attack. Instead, he threw gasoline on the fire by tweeting the following, AFTER he learned that the mob was calling for Mike Pence's head:

Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done.
Fortunately, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the members of Congress who were in the crosshairs of the mob, all escaped the ordeal unharmed, largely thanks to the quick thinking and heroism of the Capitol Police. 

Unfortunately, five lives were lost that day including members of the Capitol Police. About 150 officers including metropolitan police and those from other agencies were injured. At least four officers took their lives in the months following the attack. 

Whether you call it an insurrection, an act of domestic terrorism, a riot, or merely a spirited protest that got out of hand, it's impossible to make the case that serious crimes were not committed that day by supporters of the president. And one would have to be delusional not to place at least some of the responsibility for the violence and loss of life on the words and actions of one Donald J. Trump on January 6, 2021, and the weeks leading up to it.

So, it would seem reasonable by the definition of the term mentioned above, that the exPOTUS should be charged with incitement, as without his election lies, his calls to interfere with the process of confirming his successor, and especially his very public pressure on and ultimate denouncement of the Vice President, none of this would have happened. That fact was confirmed by many of the rioters who were convicted of and are now doing time for their crimes that day, who insisted they were there to do the ex-president's bidding.

And if you believe as I do that the attack on the Capitol was indeed an insurrection (defined as violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow) AND believe that Trump incited it, then he could be charged with an even more serious crime, sedition, which is defined as "the crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow." 

In other words, inciting an insurrection.

To my eyes, I know an insurrection when I see one, and that's exactly what this was.

And I know incitement when I see it and sure enough, this has all the hallmarks of it.

The problem is, you may not see it that way. You might reasonably point out that in his speech, the president did not tell the crowd to break into the Capitol. You might also reasonably point out that at one point in his speech he told his supporters to demonstrate peacefully, or that he was not present at the Capitol at the time of the attack, (even though it appears that he intended to be). More importantly, any one of the twelve jurors picked to decide his fate may legitimately see it that way too, which would result in a hung jury if they cannot be persuaded otherwise by the other 11jurors. 

In the weeks since Special Prosecutor Jack Smith released his latest indictment, the exPOTUS and his supporters have gone all out to use the First Amendment as their primary defense, saying he is being accused of very serious crimes when all he was doing was exercising his freedom of speech.

Do they have a point?

No they don't, because the exPOTUS is not being charged either with sedition or inciting the attack on the Capitol.

Federal prosecutors don't enjoy having a high conviction rate because they choose to prosecute cases that stand a good chance of losing.

Even though he could have charged the exPOTUS with incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol, Jack Smith, one of the best in the business, steps ahead of the ex-president and his defenders, took a pass on that one.

Instead, in the introduction to his indictment, Smith points out that the president like every American is guaranteed by the First Amendment, freedom of speech, including speaking in public about the election, and even to make false claims about it. The document goes on to point out the numerous recourses available to candidates to contest a disputed election including recounts, audits and legal challenges, all of which the exPOTUS took full advantage of. Once all legal means proved unsuccessful, the indictment alleges the exPOTUS and his co-conspirators, attempted other measures to challenge the election, outside of the law.

In the 45-page August 1st indictment which you can find here, the ex-president was charged with four counts of conspiracy to overturn the legitimate results of an American election, and the obstruction official government proceedings, all in violation of statutes listed in the main criminal code of the federal government of United States, Title 18.

The four counts and the statutes they violate are as follows:

  1. Conspiracy to Defraud the United States (18 U.S.Code §371)
  2. Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding. (18 U.S.Code §1512(k))
  3. Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceeding. (18 U.S.Code §§1512(c)(2),2)
  4. Conspiracy Against Rights (18 U.S.Code §241)

In the legal sense, conspiracy is defined as two or more people planning a crime, then taking steps to implement that plan. The crime itself does not have to be committed.

Count one is referring to the electoral process as established by the Constitution. The defendant and his co-conspirators are accused of conspiring to overturn that function through "dishonesty, fraud and deceit" by falsely insisting the election was "stolen".

Remember, merely talking about committing a crime does not make a conspiracy.

The means by which they carried out their fraudulent enterprise to subvert the electoral process include:

  • Pressuring government officials in states where the defendant lost by a relatively small amount, to replace the electors who would cast their votes for the legitimate winner of that state, Joe Biden, to electors who would cast their votes for the defendant. 
  • Pressuring state government officials through the supposed authority of the Justice Department (who was not in on the plan), to conduct sham investigations into their elections. 
  • Attempting to enlist the aid of the Vice President to "fraudulently alter the election results."

Counts Two and Three refer to the obstruction of the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress to confirm the election of the next president, both the conspiracy and the actual act.  

The indictment concludes with Count Four. Here are the allegations in their entirety:

From on or about November 14, 2020 through on or about January 7, 2021, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere the Defendant,


did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with co-conspirators known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States -that is, the right to vote, and to have one's vote counted.

(In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 241).

Despite being a well put-together indictment, it is still far from an iron-clad, slam-dunk case against the exPOTUS. 

As we've all read and heard ad nauseam over the last few months, the exPOTUS is the only president ever to have been indicted. Clearly, we are in uncharted waters here. Add to that the former president is currently a candidate for president who if nominated by his party, will be running against the current president whose Justice Department will be prosecuting him.

I pointed out in this post why I believe the accusations of the current president "weaponizing" his Justice Department against a political opponent are meritless. But the prosecution will have to convince that to all twelve jurors at the trial.

Fraud may be a difficult issue to prove. If deep-down in the recesses of his mind the defendant truly believed that the outcome of the election was "rigged" against him, could he really have been committing fraud which is defined as "wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain"?

In other words, if he truly believed the election was stolen from him, he wasn't practicing criminal deception, as state of mind is a key factor in determining guilt or innocence. 

Nevertheless, rigged or not, he still participated in illegal means to overturn an election, that much is certain. In the indictment there is a plethora of evidence to support the idea that the exPOTUS knew he lost the election fair and square, but on this too the prosecution will have to convince all twelve jurors. 

Then there is the idea of "Conspiracy Against Rights." 

Here is the opening of Section 241 of title 18 of the United States Code which according to the prosecution, justifies the charge of Conspiracy Against Rights:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same... they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

This statute was written after the Civil War and its chief purpose was to prevent the intimidation of black people attempting to vote. It was used extensively during the modern Civil Rights movement of the twentieth century for the same purpose. 

Once again it will be up to the prosecution to prove to all twelve members of the jury, that the statute applies to this particular case.

Regardless of one's feelings about the exPOTUS, our system of justice demands that he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Like everyone, he is entitled to his day in court and to a competent defense. 

Also like everyone, if found guilty, he should be held accountable for his actions, regardless of his past job and his aspirations for future employment. 

In this particular case, there is very little in doubt about his actions and those of his co-conspirators. What is in doubt and what the outcome of a potential trial will determine, is the legality of those actions. 

I'm obviously not a lawyer so my opinions on legal matters are of little worth. But as the facts of this case are not much in question, I can say with a great deal of certainly that those actions, illegal or not, were wrong. Very wrong. They run counter to the very idea and spirit of a Democratic-Republic, the system of government we have kept alive in this nation for nearly a quarter of a millennium, the system of government every president is responsible for upholding.

I used to think the term "existential threat to democracy" when applied to this exPOTUS was hyperbolic, but I no longer do.

It's interesting to hear people who clearly support his bid for another term as president tear apart the indictment, which I suspect many of them have not read, saying that what the exPOTUS did may have been wrong, but the prosecution cannot prove that the actions were illegal. 

That perplexes me because if they admit what he did was wrong, why would they still support him?

For instance:

OK it was wrong for him to watch on TV as his supporters broke into the Capitol, cheering them on as they used flag poles as weapons against the Capitol Police and others, causing grievous injury to many, threatening the lives of his Vice President and other elected officials, and doing absolutely NOTHING to stop it. 

But it may not have been illegal so...

It was wrong to place the burden on his Vice President to do something completely out of his authority, then set him up as the fall guy, placing him in great peril simply for doing the job the Constitution required of him.

But it may not have been illegal so...

It was wrong to single out by name, dedicated, private citizen poll workers doing their job in Georgia, seriously compromising their safety and wellbeing by falsely claiming they were changing votes for him into votes for his opponent. 

But it may not have been illegal so...

It was wrong that co-Conspirator Four in the August 1 indictment, a mid-level Justice Department official and the president's pick to become acting AG in the waning days of his presidency, suggested invoking the Insurgency Act to have the military put down protestors when informed by others in the president's inner circle that there would be an uprising if the president overturned the election.

But it may not have been illegal so...

It was wrong to threaten state government officials with legal action if they didn't overturn the results of a legitimate election or "find" just enough votes in their state to put him over the top. 

But it may not have been illegal so...

It was wrong for him to not accept the results of an election proscribed by the Constitution after exhausting all his legal recourses to make sure it was fair, then throw this country into turmoil, threatening a constitutional crisis simply to remain in office, mocking our century's old tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.

But it may not have been illegal so...

And on and on and on.

Then there's this:

The indictment shows the ex-president received the advice of dozens of legal experts on his team including his own Attorney General, all telling him there was no evidence of election fraud significant enough to have changed the results of the 2020 election. It also mentions over sixty failed lawsuits, several audits and recounts, all refuting his claims of a stolen election. If after all that the exPOTUS continued to believe as his supporters claim he did, that he should have won the election, then he is a delusional fool with a pathologically flawed sense of judgement, as opposed to a mere fraud. 

Take your pick. Could the bar possibly be set any lower than that?

Maybe it's just me but I wouldn't want either a fool or a fraud as president. 

What Jack Smith's reboot of Schoolhouse Rock teaches us is that comprehensive as our laws may be, the framers of our Constitution and the legislators who have written our subsequent laws, didn't think of everything. For example, much to nearly everyone's surprise, there is no statute preventing a convicted felon from running for and serving as president, even from behind bars, something we may be confronting in a short time. 

In order to ensure that wrongdoers face justice, sometimes lawyers representing the State and the Federal Government need to be creative, as the Special Prosecutor, as well as the District Attorney of the State of Georgia Fani Willis* have been with their indictments.

That may or may not work in their favor as far as getting convictions but one thing is for certain. The most valuable lesson in this whole mess is this:

Just because something is not illegal does not mean it is not wrong.

Our country is at a crossroads and we need to think quite seriously about what kind of nation we want to be. Do we want a nation led by public servants who are democratically elected, controlled by the rule of law and a system of checks and balances, the most salient of which are term limits and a quadrennial re-election process? 

Or do we want to be led by an authoritarian ruler-for-life who does as he pleases and answers to no one or nothing other than his own whims? 

That seems like a simple choice. Unfortunately, I'm afraid the "Founding Fathers" overestimated us. It apparently never occurred to them in their wildest dreams that a significant number of Americans would go for choice number two.


*CODA This article was begun before the State of Georgia released their own indictment of the exPOTUS on August 14, which is why I focused on the August 1 Federal indictment rather than on both. Interesting that the two prosecutors, Jack Smith for the Federal government and Fani Willis for the State of Georgia, took much different approaches to their indictments. One could say the former used a scalpel and the latter a chain saw. It will be interesting to see how it all these 91 criminal counts pan out.  

Saturday, August 5, 2023

A Little Context Please

A radio interview the other day confirmed my suspicion that the outrage over the State of Florida's recently published history standards for K-12 public schools, needs a little more examination.

The interviewee, William Allen, was one of the contributors to the state's recently published list of standard guidelines regarding the teaching of history, in his case, the section on black American history.

Most of the outrage generated by this outline of study that otherwise reads like standard issue thought on black history from slavery through the Civil Rights movement, comes from one line.

The line in question is classified as a "benchmark clarification" and it is part of this item of study, (for reference, number SS.68.AA.2):

Analyze events that involved or affected Africans from the founding of the nation through Reconstruction.

 One of the sub-categories of the item is the following:

Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural
work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing,

Which is followed by this benchmark clarification, the subject of all the controversy:

Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be
applied for their personal benefit.
(emphasis mine)

Now that you hear it in its proper context, doesn't it sound a little better?

I didn't think so either.

Dr. Allen insists that what he and his fellow contributors to the new curriculum were trying to convey is NOT that black Americans have the institution of chattel slavery to thank for the skills their ancestors learned, but rather pointing out that after emancipation, former enslaved people, despite the tremendous odds against them, took their destiny into their own hands. Some of the skills they learned while under bondage, helped them survive their ordeal of life in the Post-Reconstruction South. In his words:

It is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient, and adaptive, and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslaved... It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans.

Dr. Allen said he and his co-authors chose to emphasize the story of black people in the United States as being an example of the triumph of the human spirit, rather than merely a story of oppressors and victims. He then went on to use Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells as prime examples of his argument.

I'll take Dr. Allen's word on his and his colleagues' intentions. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that as written, the clarification itself is tone deaf. 

The line which has come to define the entirety of Florida's new set of standards for the majority of Americans, has been condemned by both the left and the right. Upon release of the document, Vice President Harris before flying down to Florida to lambast the new standards in person, said:

Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery... 
They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.
Also focusing on that one line, Republican senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott from South Carolina who like Dr. Allen is a black conservative, said this:
There is no silver lining ... What slavery was really about [was] separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives,.. So, I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly [those] running for president — would appreciate that.

It seems the one politician who stands by the wording of the sentence, is the guy who deemed that re-evaluating history standards was necessary in the first place, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. True to form, when first confronted by the questionable statement. DeSantis became defensive. Like a child caught red-handed with a note making fun of the teacher, the first words out of his mouth were " I didn't write that."

Then he attacked the VP, the "woke mob", and even fellow Republicans who objected to the line, for spreading lies about the standards.

It's all very silly because there was a simple fix DeSantis could have employed that would have avoided the mess in the first place. He could have responded that in no way is anyone hinting at a silver lining to slavery, that the confusion stems from a poor choice of words, that these standards are still a work in progress, and that the misleading line will be struck and re-written.

DeSantis could also have brought up truthfully that his state is one of only twelve states in the nation that has mandated the teaching of black history in its public schools. He could also have correctly pointed out that he is personally responsible for signing a bill that required the teaching of The Ocoee Election Day Massacre in Florida schools (see below).

But he didn't bring any of that up.

The idea that former enslaved people used some of the skills they learned while under bondage in order to survive life as free people under an extraordinarily difficult situation, is not controversial nor debatable. It is in fact so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning. Despite that, it is a part of existing standard curricula around the country, including the one preceding this one in Florida. The objectionable part boils down to the use of two words, "personal benefit." The choice of those words in this context implies (although does not necessarily mean) that lives of people were improved from having been enslaved. It also implies the laughable idea that before they were enslaved, the African people who were brought to this country in chains had no discernible skills of their own.

As we live in an age of sound bites, the message that black people in this country personally benefited from being enslaved is now the takeaway from these new Florida standards in the minds of most Americans. The obvious conclusion is that the whole point of this exercise is to lessen the immorality and injustice of slavery, to make white enslavers look not so bad, and their descendants several generations removed, to feel not so guilty. With the words "personal benefit" in place, any explanation attempting to prove otherwise falls upon deaf ears.

Unfortunately, his insistence on being a culture warrior makes DeSantis go to great lengths to avoid being perceived as having said or done anything "woke". One of those lengths is being on the wrong side of history. This is not the first time. In this case, by not insisting the new standards be re-worded to avoid sounding as if they had been written by the Klan, he handed an easy bone of contention, gift wrapped to his opponents. 

Democrats and Independents alike, as well the Republicans who are running against him in his party's nomination for the 2024 presidential race, all will personally benefit from DeSantis's boneheaded intransigence.

Oh well, that's his problem not mine. 

But I do have a bone to pick with the Left of MAGA crowd, my own tribe, who keep dwelling on the personal benefit theme.

It isn't because the idea is not horrible and disgusting on its own, but because there are other issues with this new set of standards.

Let's begin with the Ocoee Massacre mentioned above, and the other atrocities mentioned below, found  in Section SS.912.AA.3.6 of the standards:

Describe the emergence, growth, destruction and rebuilding of black communities during Reconstruction and beyond. 

Benchmark Clarifications:
Clarification 2: Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921, Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.

Again the emphasis is mine. Once more, the questionable nature of this clarification comes down to two words, in this case, "and by". The examples given in Clarification 2, all involve the massacre of dozens of black people. In each case there was indeed violence perpetrated by black people but by any reasonable standard, that violence was either in self-defense, or defending the justice of others (i.e.: preventing people from being lynched). As written, the authors are conflating the racist vigilante mob violence of one group with the other group reacting to it in self-defense, implying that both sides are equally responsible for the atrocities. I invite you to look up these tragic events to arrive at your own conclusions.

My main objection to the new standards however is the motivation to create them in the first place.

This is what DeSantis had to say in a press release announcing his signing of what has become known as the 2022 "Anti-Woke Act."

No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race. In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.

I might be a little dense here but doesn't singling out "the far-left woke agenda" imply some indoctrination on the part of the Governor? 

Enter The 1619 Project.

The brainchild of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist for the New York Times, The 1619 Project is a substantive look at American history, bringing the institution of slavery to the forefront of issues that shaped this country. The initial publication of the work was in the August 19, 2019 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, marking the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the White Lion, a ship carrying what many regard to be the first group of African people to these shores to be sold as slaves. So intertwined is slavery to American history according to Hannah-Jones, she uses that date to mark what she considers to be the true origin date of this nation.  

Since its original publication, The 1619 Project has been distributed as a podcast, a book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, a film, and a curriculum distributed to schools around the country.

The work has received numerous accolades and awards including the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

1619 has also been roundly criticized for its historical inaccuracies. Shortly after its first publication in the magazine, The Times received a letter written by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz and co-signed by four other eminent historians, James McPherson, the author of the influential Civil War history The Battle Cry of Freedom, Gordon Wood, Pullizer Prize winner for his book: The Radicalization of the Revolution, Victoria Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and its Legacies, and James Oakes, author of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. 

The letter accuses the author of among other things: a "displacement of historical understanding by ideology." The signees contend that 1619 gives the impression that slavery was a uniquely American phenomenon, that it is intrinsically tied to Capitalism, and that the project is unfairly dismissive of Abraham Lincoln and his role in emancipation. But chiefly the authors object to this line from Hannah-Jones's introductory text: 

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology, is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.

It should be noted that several other notable historians were approached to sign the letter but refused on the grounds that they felt the importance of reframing "our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative" in words taken from a promo for the book, outweighs the inaccuracies. 

One of those historians is Leslie M. Harris, professor of history at Northwestern University, and author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. In an article for Politico, Professor Harris writes about her work with the New York Times, verifying some of the details of 1619 before it went to press. Professor Harris in her words, "vigorously disputed the claim" that the preservation of slavery was central to American Independence, but to no avail, they went with it anyway.

Dr. Harris's Politico piece titled I Helped Fact-Check The 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me, is well worth reading. You can find it here.

Also worth reading is New York Times Sunday Magazine editor Jake Silverstein's response to Professor Wilentz's letter here. Silverstein makes an eloquent, if not all together convincing argument for refusing the letter's request to correct the factual errors in 1619 save for one. They grudgingly agreed to change the part in the introductory text that reads: "one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was..." to "one of the reasons some of the colonists..."

As for the rest of the inaccuracies well, they're still there.

That's a shame because in my opinion, the lack of attention to getting things right in any historical work, runs the risk of invalidating the entire work. 

In his piece, Silverstein quotes our friend Ron DeSantis:

...the folks who created [The 1619 Project] said that the American Revolution was fought primarily to preserve slavery. Now, that is factually false. That is something that you can look at the historical record. You want to know why they revolted against Britain? They told us. They wrote pamphlets, they did committees of correspondence, they did a Declaration of Independence. ... I think it’s really important that when we’re doing history, when we’re doing things like civics, that it is grounded in actual fact, and I think we’ve got to have an education system that is preferring fact over narratives.

Silverstein then goes on to refute the Governor:

A curious feature (editor's emphasis) of this argument on behalf of the historical record is how ahistorical it is. In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them.
I couldn't agree more that history is not a fixed thing, or that once history is written, it should forever be a closed book. 

The following may be a little hard to decipher but I think the exPOTUS and I differ on this issue:

I just look at—I look at school. I watch, I read, look at the stuff. Now they want to change—1492, Columbus discovered America. You know, we grew up, you grew up, we all did, that's what we learned. Now they want to make it the 1619 project. Where did that come from? What does it represent? I don't even know.
But facts are facts and Nikole Hannah-Jones is no more entitled to her own facts than Donald Trump. As much as I hate to say this, DeSantis is right here, at least to some extent. The "Founding Fathers" themselves (not the historians), left us all sorts of evidence of reasons why they demanded independence, including the Declaration of Independence itself. 

Well you say: "of course they're not going to openly demand the right to enslave people as even in the late eighteenth century that was a contentious issue." And it is a fact that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, including its author, were enslavers who certainly had a personal stake in the matter. But it's also true that many of the signers were opposed to slavery and would not have put their personal stamp on such a document if maintaining slavery was indeed one of the main arguments for independence. 

But the proof in the pudding that Hannah-Jones's position on the matter is a non-starter is that there is scant evidence that Britain in the 1770s had any inclination of eliminating slavery in the American colonies. The fact is the British themselves personally benefitted quite nicely from slavery in the American colonies even after their independence, as is pointed out in one of the episodes of The 1619 Project. Therefore, while the idea of protecting slavery might have been on the minds of some of these men, the premise that preservation of that dreadful institution was one of the main causes for independence is a wild stretch at best.

But is it a deal killer as far as The 1619 Project goes?

Well, it is for the folks who let it define the entire work, just as the part about people benefiting from the skills they learned as slaves is a deal killer to the people who let it define the new Florida outline.

It certainly is a deal killer to DeSantis who has banned the 1619 curriculum from being taught in Florida public schools. The new Florida curriculum outline in fact owes its very existence to The1619 Project and the strong backlash to it. Florida is not alone as several other states have done the same.

It may be likely that even without the historical inaccuracies those states would have still banned the 1619 curriculum for its central theme of race and racism. The inaccuracies just give them legitimate justification. That is unfortunate. It is also unnecessary. Even though Hannah-Jones's idea of slavery being central to the American Revolution fits perfectly into her thesis, her thesis doesn't suffer one bit from dropping the idea which more than likely is not true.

It doesn't change the fact pointed out by Jake Silverstein that "Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable." 

It doesn't change the idea that rings so true, the title of Nikole Hannah-Jones introductory essay: "Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true." 

If you don't believe that, read my previous post.

And it doesn't change what I consider the most valuable aspect of The1619 Project, giving a voice to the people who were up until now voiceless, enslaved people themselves. 

Despite its faults, The1619 Project is a valuable addition to the canon of works dealing with American history. Just like any historical text, it should never be considered the final word on its subject. Perhaps the silver lining to its drawbacks is that as a study tool, students can learn to judge for themselves, discerning fact from narrative and ideology, thereby developing their own critical thinking skills.

Now that's something from which we can all personally benefit.