History, Napoleon wrote, is a lie agreed upon.
White nationalists in the Missouri General Assembly won’t read Napoleon in the original French, since that would open them to a charge of being bi-ignorant. But they do speak fluent Dog Whistle.
GOP extremists in Jefferson City, in a fit of “Eek! Negroes!” want to re-write history by criminalizing teaching facts about slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and outlawing any use of the New York Times 1619 Project in schools. They’re using the same language to push voter suppression laws, legislation to allow motorists to run over protesters, and laws mandating lies as history.
It sounds like English, but requires simultaneous translation.
Take, for example, state Rep. Nick Schrorer of white-flight St. Charles. You might remember him from his putsch-adjacent Fash haircut (high and tight on the sides, longer on top); or, more likely, from his authorship of the Missouri law that outlawed abortions after eight weeks, a law that was found “blatantly unconstitutional” and tossed out by a Kansas City federal judge.
Now, Schrorer is sponsoring a bill that could send teachers to jail for teaching that “…identifies people or institutions as systematically racist, sexist, privileged, or oppressed,” or using “the 1619 Project initiative of the New York Times, the Learning for Justice Curriculum of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Teaching Tolerance,” or “teach, affirm, or promote as accurate account of the founding and history of the United States any of the claims, views, or opinions expressed in the 1619 Project.”
Translated from Dog Whistle, the bill more accurately reads: “Racism’s over, systemic racism doesn’t exist, ignore those pesky facts about slavery and Jim Crow, never bring up that slave-picked cotton was as important to 18th– and 19th-century America’s growth and economy as oil is now, and for Aryan Jesus’ sake, don’t mention that ten of the first 12 Presidents owned slaves while they were in office.”
The New York Times 1619 Project picks up on a line of scholarship in the past few decades that examines the central role that the enslaved played in the founding, and economic power, of the 18th– and 19th-century United States. It proposes that 1619, the year slaves were first brought to America at Jamestown, is at least as important to America’s formation as 1776.
The Electoral College, the U.S. Senate, and the Census (remember that pesky 3/5 of a person thing?) are all American institutions created to placate slaveholding states. By 1860, the South produced two-thirds of all the cotton in the world. It was produced by the labor of two million enslaved people. Cotton exports just from the port of New Orleans in 1860 were worth more than $7 billion in today’s dollars.
Think oil or software or computer chips today. Slave labor produced cotton. Cotton powered the growth of America. The money that fueled the American government, American expansion to the Pacific, American emergence as a world power, American industry, and tens of thousands of American mega-fortunes, came from cotton. And the cotton came from the enslaved.
American political institutions and financial muscle were created by Black human beings owned, from birth until death, by a white monied class.
Anyway, these are facts. But to the Trumpista GOP super-majority in Jefferson City, facts are pesky things, like Missouri River mosquitos or St. Louis Democrats. These are the politicos whose ideology —or idiocy —was formed in the Tea Party spasm of 2008-2010. That’s when House Speaker Tim Jones doubted the Black President’s birth certificate, and state Sen. Brian Nieves ran for re-election with a TV ad in which he stared at the camera and sputtered, “Barack Hussein Obama! Keep your values out of Missouri!” Nieves won.
Missouri lawmakers in power now started out their political careers doubting that Obama is an American, but graduated to claiming Trump actually won the election, the January 6 Capitol Hill rioters are “patriots,” COVID is a hoax, masks are tyranny and climate change is a fraud.
Having these people judge facts and history is like having Hannibal Lecter judge Top Chef.
But facts aren’t the point, to them. Propaganda is. They take their cue from Missouri U.S. Sen. George Graham Vest, who despite having served in the Confederate Congress, was still elected a U.S. Senator and still held the belief that states had the right to secede as late as 1892, when he gave a speech declaring, “History is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”
Having become victorious by a ratio of 137 to 58 in the Missouri General Assembly and by holding every statewide office, the GOP has decided to attempt to rewrite history in our schools by declaring that teaching about racism is itself racist.
None of this gibberish, of course, is anything but Trumpian white nationalism. Just like the three voter suppression bills and the proposal to legalize running over protesters if they block a street percolating through the Leg, the outlaw-1619-project is a concept based on lies, designed to silence Black voices, living and dead, and remind people that Missouri is 82 percent white and went for Trump by 18 points in 2016 and 15 points in 2020.
The lies here are not in the 1619 Project. They reside at 201 West Capitol Avenue in Jefferson City.