On July 4, with Mount Rushmore behind him, President Trump rightfully connected radicals toppling statues and even threatening Mount Rushmore to the fact that “against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it weren’t heroes but villains.”
“The radical view of American history,” the president went on to say, “is a web of lies—all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all belief.”
When I heard those words, I almost expected the president to mention Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which is a text widely used in the nation’s schools.
Zinn does remove perspective, obscure virtues, twist motives, and distort facts. As I discovered in writing Debunking Howard Zinn, he goes even further—plagiarizing disreputable sources, quoting deceptively in order to give the opposite meaning to the original, using innuendo and leading questions, and employing bombastic self-glorifying rhetoric in an attempt to demolish legitimate and accomplished historians.
Zinn, however, sold his book as a corrective to the presumably “triumphalist” narrative of American history that was said to glorify military, political, and business leaders. As Zinn explained, he preferred “to tell the story . . . from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees,”—in other words, from the perspective of victims.
But that was a lie. Zinn was writing American history from the viewpoint of a Communist. Zinn was almost certainly a member of the CPUSA in the 1940s and 1950s. Like other Communists, he gave up official membership in order to infiltrate higher education, first as a professor at Spelman College and then at Boston University. And Zinn’s history follows the same Marxist outline as the one written by CPUSA chairman William Z. Foster.
In fact, Zinn denigrated patriotic working class and middle class Americans. To Zinn, abolitionists, white and black, did not help our country realize the ideals inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. Rather, they were helpless victims of “The System,” a form of government set up to ensure that wealthy elites maintain power, forever oppressing people of color, workers, and immigrants.
Zinn’s presentation of the four presidents carved into Mount Rushmore certainly would inspire radicals to want to destroy it. To Zinn, George Washington was merely a member of the Federalist Party—the “new elite,” “the richest man in America,” and a land speculator after the Revolution. And for Zinn, the United States of America has no right to exist; he called this nation a “pretense.” So why even acknowledge George Washington as a general and president?
President Trump, on the contrary and in keeping with the true history of events, pointed out that “George Washington represented the strength, grace, and dignity of the American people.” He built the Continental Army “from a small force of citizen farmers” and “through eight long years”—at Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware River—led the patriots to “ultimate triumph.” Admirably, “After forcing the surrender of the most powerful empire on the planet at Yorktown, General Washington did not claim power, but simply returned to Mount Vernon as a private citizen. When called, he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and was unanimously elected our first President.” King George called him “the greatest man of the age.”
None of that is in Zinn’s book.
What about our third president? According to Zinn, Thomas Jefferson was nothing but a slave owner infected by a “long culture of race prejudice.” Jefferson did write all “All men are created equal,” but Zinn insists he left out women, whose education, he said, should be limited to “ornaments.” Jefferson thought the Louisiana Purchase and Indian removal necessary for “development of the modern capitalist economy.” In other words, Jefferson was a racist, sexist slave-owning capitalist who defended Indian removal.
President Trump, in contrast, lauded “the great Thomas Jefferson” who “authored one of the greatest treasures of human history, the Declaration of Independence,” as well as Virginia’s constitution, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and served as first secretary of state, then vice president, and president, when he “ordered American warriors to crush the Barbary pirates,” “doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase,” and sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition west. Zinn says nothing about the accomplishments of this “ardent defender of liberty,” an architect, inventor, diplomat, scholar, and “founder of one of the world’s great universities.”
Students once learned that Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. Not with Zinn’s book, where it is claimed that Lincoln freed the slaves only for “personal political advantage,” and that he “initiated hostilities” in the Civil War and “could not see blacks as equals.” Zinn’s jaundiced presentation of Lincoln describes him as someone who “combined perfectly the needs of business, the political ambitions of the new Republican party, and the rhetoric of humanitarianism.”
President Trump rightfully pointed to the first Republican president’s humble origins as “a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin,” who went on to lead “the country through the darkest hours of American history, giving every ounce of strength that he had to ensure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people did not perish from this Earth.” “He issued the Emancipation Proclamation” and “led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all time.” These efforts “cost him his life”—a fact that is true but unacknowledged by Zinn.
Zinn’s portrait of Theodore Roosevelt is one of a war-mongering, racist capitalist. Yet TR invited Booker T. Washington (a man wrongly slandered by Zinn to have urged “passivity”) to visit with him in the White House. TR is maligned as a “war monger” for having once written to a “friend” about welcoming war. Roosevelt, Zinn insists, was “contemptuous” of certain nations and races, and desired expansion, for “manliness and heroism” and for lucrative trade with China. He persecuted the Socialist Party and the IWW, snubbed Mother Jones and child protestors, made only gestures of trust-busting and reform, and as president “watched Negroes being lynched” and “observed murderous riots against blacks.”
President Trump said Theodore Roosevelt “exemplified the unbridled confidence of our national culture and identity.” He recounted Roosevelt’s days as a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War, as the corruption-fighting police commissioner of New York City, then governor of New York. He was then vice president, and at 42 years old, the youngest-ever president of the United States, when he “sent our great new naval fleet around the globe to announce America’s arrival as a world power.” He also “gave us many of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon,” oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal, and was “the only person ever awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor.” But for Zinn, there is nothing admirable in Roosevelt, certainly not “the bold, beautiful, and untamed spirit” that our president invoked.
In contrast to Trump’s invocation of the principle enunciated in our Declaration of Independence, “that governments exist to protect the safety and happiness of their own people,” ensuring God-given rights as “equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment,” Zinn presents the Marxist principle of equality. Zinn does this with questions: “if some people had greater wealth and influence; if they had the land, the money, the newspapers, the church, the educational system—how could voting, however broad, cut into such power?” This comes after he condemns the founders for failing to include “small farmers, workers, women, Negroes, [and] Indians” in setting up the government and granting the right to vote! So the Civil Rights movement changed nothing because the vote means nothing. For Zinn, America remains the most racist place in the world.
In fact, America in Zinn’s view is fascist. World War II was “waged by a government whose chief beneficiary . . . was a wealthy elite,” an “alliance between big business and the government” going back “to the very first proposals of Alexander Hamilton after the Revolutionary War.” We were no better than the Nazis; in fact, “the essential elements of fascism” were “absorbed into [our] already poisoned bones.”
President Trump honored General George Patton and the Tuskegee Airmen for fighting fascism.
He also said, “We must demand that our children are taught once again to see America as did Reverend Martin Luther King when he said that the Founders had signed ‘a promissory note’ to every future generation. Dr. King saw that the mission of justice required us to fully embrace our founding ideals.”
But like Abraham Lincoln, King was assassinated for his convictions. King, who never served in the military or held public office, has been honored with multiple monuments, including one next to the National Mall in Washington, and a holiday.
Was King perfect? Of course not. Neither were the men depicted on Mount Rushmore. But we honor them for their leadership, and for their ideals, which unify us.
President Trump put his finger on the motivations of those seeking “to erase our heritage.” They “want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny. . . . they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty that we feel for our country, and that we feel for each other. Their goal is not a better America, their goal is the end of America.” This is exactly what Communist Howard Zinn wanted.
To “protect our nation’s children,” as Trump said, we must remove Zinn’s book of lies from classrooms.