Trump Calls For “Patriotic Education”

That was a doozy that slipped by during the President’s nomination acceptance speech as the last act to the Republican National Convention.

With his wife (in green dress) and throngs of supporters enjoying fireworks that were far bigger than Joe Biden’s, as they explode around the Washington Monument

The Republican National Convention wraps with redoubled efforts on the part of the President and his cohorts to label Joe Biden as “weak” and someone who “takes a knee”, yet at the same time, the biggest threat to this country ever. Trump: “if given the chance he will be the destroyer of American greatness.”. And Trump to scream that he’s the outsider, while standing in the South Lawn of the White House, proclaiming it not a “house”, but his “home”.

So maybe the quick mention of “Patriotic Education” in our schools seems like small potatoes against that backdrop. Trump has danced around that concept before. In fact, way back at the beginning of the week, when the Republican Party neglected to put out a platform, saying they were good with whatever Trump supports, and he put out a bullet pointed list of second term priorities, which included things like “Return to Normal“, “Teach American exceptionalism” was how the concept was phrased then.

So in the short span of 4 days it’s traveled from that to “Patriotic Education”. A term and a system most widely embraced in the modern world by China and North Korea. And more recently Hungary, where its authoritarian leader (and Trump buddy) Viktor Orban now supports rehabilitating cohorts of a mid-20th century leader who also happened to be a brutal Nazi conspirator. “They want us to re-touch the past, to make it better than it was”, says a critic of the new “Patriotic” curriculum there. And not that long ago, when the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia removed millions of educated people from cities and moved them to the countryside under the guise of providing them with patriotic “re-education”, and then killed them and buried them in mass graves, now better known as “The Killing Fields“.

If you think maybe we’re overreacting, we’d point out that “teaching American exceptionalism” and “Patriotic Education”, though they sound similar (and maybe similarly ominous to some), seem to us to be very different concepts. (And we admit we’re guessing a little bit, because Trump doesn’t at all spell it out.)

Because “Patriotic Education” does not imply teaching exceptionalism. Instead, teaching victimization. Teaching whining. The kind of stuff we hear from Trump every day. Everyone is so “unfair” to him, and by relation, America. The media is “the enemy of the people”.  All the other countries in the world are “taking advantage of us”; have been for years. And liberal thinking has been allowed to infiltrate the nation’s universities at the highest levels, and to borrow another word from the Khmer Rouge,must be “smashed.”  (Which would also mean somehow, the liberal thinkers who spread those “unpatriotic” ideas.) 

Teaching exceptionalism on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily cancel out faults and injustices. You can believe America is great among nations (although it’s harder to do with its COVID-19 response and record number of deaths), and also has problems that it needs to overcome. And even be optimistic that we might just, precisely because of our exceptionalism.

But if you set out to teach from the perspective that America is always great and good (a viewpoint Trump himself has disputed when he’s defended Vladimir Putin and Russia), then Americans are always the “good guys”. And to believe otherwise is just plain unpatriotic. Therefore, any criticism coming this way about things like slavery, for instance, are just unfair or even “fake” attempts by outsiders (or people within who “hate America”) to tear U.S. society down.

So maybe continue to teach that George Washington was a great hero, but erase the fact that he owned slaves? And anyone who brings it up? Well, to hell with them, because they wouldn’t be bringing it up if they didn’t “hate America”.

Trump is also championing “school choice”, which would give parents vouchers so they could send their kids to whatever schools they want, not just the public schools in their district.

So of course he’s going to tie the two together. Because why wouldn’t he?

So kids should be able to go to whatever school they want. That is, as long as they’re all learning only what he wants.

Which is kind of the opposite of the concept of “school choice”, whatever else you may think of it.

The federal government’s role in education is an interesting one. The federal Department of Education has only been around since the 1980s. The constitution does not mandate free education, and most of the money for education is generated by state and local governments. But the federal government does seem to have some broad but not broadly defined powers to intervene nationally, which is just how Trump seems to like things.

And once again Trump is all about deregulation bringing about even more deregulation (on toxic waste disposal for instance). That is, until that deregulation abuts social issues, at which point he suddenly becomes all about regulation bringing about more regulation.

Giving a hand at the end of the speech