‘The 1776 Report’ feeds the Republican Party’s politics of delusion

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Slavery in America was not America’s fault.

The rich white colonial gents who made their money from enslaving Africans, importing them, selling them, and forcing them to work on the plantations didn’t really mean to do it. But all the rich white gents in the French and English colonies were doing it, too.

And what were they supposed to do, pick their own cotton?

This is only a small smear of the crap served up in “The 1776 Report,” the Trump administration’s lame “response” to The New York Times’ magisterial (though not flawless) “1619 Project” — a valedictory attempt at gaslighting the nation, an execrable document  purporting to reframe America’s history as an unparalleled parade of virtue and decency, released on MLK Day.

President Joe Biden discarded this “report” on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

I’d say throwing out all that “We’re Number One” nonsense was a great start in dragging the United States back to reality, except I live in Florida, where politics and truth got a messy divorce long ago and haven’t been on speaking terms for decades.

The nonsense contained in “1776 Report,” a sloppy, citation-free recitation of what consumers of Fox, Newsmax, and OANN already post on their Twitter feeds (except with better punctuation) produced by people whose acquaintance with scholarship is obviously scant, will be fodder for the right in the next election cycle. They’re already upset that Biden has busts of Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks in the Oval Office.

Obviously, Biden hates white men.

Gov. Ron DeSantis seems similarly determined to resist facts, such as that wearing a mask actually helps stop the spread of COVID-19. Or that his pet quack, Dr. Scott Atlas, now vanished into the post-Trump ether, proved he was not qualified to advise on a pandemic when he pushed hydroxychloroquine — which does not prevent or cure coronavirus.

Or, indeed, that Joe Biden won the presidential election fair and square — and by a lot. Instead of congratulating the new president — as I’m sure his mother would have told him was only polite — DeSantis urged legislatures in states Trump lost to resist certification of the election.

Whether DeSantis’ cluelessness is willful or natural, he’s not exactly addressing the central problems of his state. Example? Apparently getting Donald Trump and other purveyors of extreme right-wing insanity back on Twitter is “the most important legislative issue that we’re going to have to get right this year” in Florida.

Not the pandemic that’s killed more than 25,000 Floridians to date; not the huge hole in the state budget; not the sea water seeping into our aquifer or all the sunny-day flooding in South Florida or the state’s horrendous foster care record or the rising number of racist hate groups in the state.

Nope: What’s really, really important is seeing that the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, and the other whack-jobs that DeSantis, like most Republican politicians, feels he must please, get to spew their paranoid, racist nonsense on social media.

Naturally, DeSantis is focused on the hard work of self-aggrandizement with an eye on 2022, when he will run for re-election — unless he decides to challenge Marco Rubio for a U.S. Senate seat.

If he tries that, he might have to take on Ivanka Trump, too. She’s said to be eyeing a run.

The bad news for both of them is that Sen. Rick Scott, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and clearly interested mostly in his own power, has said he’ll support incumbents over challengers.

DeSantis can always wait for 2024 and run for president — him and Marcocito and Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz and Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo and Tucker Carlson and Nikki Haley and Rick Scott himself (who started running ads in Iowa a year ago).

Plus Donald Trump, if he hasn’t been officially barred from future office.

DeSantis’ success within the GOP depends on his ability to manipulate the lies and obfuscations Republicans depend on — that, and the persistence of white supremacy as a driving force in American society.

Republican voters are so spooked by people of color in high (or even low) office, they need to hear that their ancestors are blameless, they themselves are blameless, and if the blacks and the Latinos and the gays and the women and whatever are upset, they just need to shut up. Get a job. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe take up golf.

It’s not just about appeasing Trump, though any Florida Republican who wants to succeed will have to prostrate him- or herself on the marble floor of Mar-a-Lago, it’s about making the racists happy. DeSantis should study the “1776 Report” for pointers.

When Democrats trot out their so-called “progressive” ideas about the environment or social justice or multiculturalism, he can cite “1776,” asserting that progressivism is the same thing as communism and — who knew! — the same as fascism, too. The United States is “the most just and glorious country in all of human history,” but the Bad People in the media and in universities don’t want you to know this.

According to this supposed “patriotic history,” black people got “privileges” and “preferential treatment,” which, as historian Ibram X. Kendi, says, is “news to black people.”

George Washington freed his slaves (not true) and, says the report, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence actually included black folks and women, although the Founders had to keep it secret because, well, I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.

If DeSantis would just keep reminding everyone that “We’re number one!” — even though we’re no longer the richest country (that’s Qatar) or the freest country (Canada, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia all beat us) or the country with most social mobility (Denmark), he will go far.

The Republican Party is now all about self-delusion. It seems to work for them. It certainly has worked for DeSantis, as he rails against Joe Biden’s perfectly sensible plan to speed up vaccine distribution.

The governor should remember, though, as Timothy Snyder (another pesky historian) says: “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.