In a move straight out of the authoritarian playbook, President Donald Trump is now calling for "patriotic education" to be instituted in schools. Among his demands is that they stop teaching the "lie" that America is "plagued by racism." He says, without irony, that the point is to counter left-wing "indoctrination" in the classroom.
America is, of course, plagued by racism, which is something that needs to continue being confronted and denounced, not ignored. And the nation doesn't need lectures on patriotism from a president who shows more loyalty to the Kremlin than to the country he's supposed to lead.
Speaking to reporters, Trump couched his comments as part of the movement to stress "American exceptionalism" — the theory that America is fundamentally different from other nations because of its history and values. It's a theory that, while not altogether historically baseless, is often twisted and abused by the political right into nothing more than jingoism.
The U.S. clearly is different by virtue of the fact that all but a sliver of today's Americans are descended from people who came here (or were forcibly brought) from other places. And that the country has a proud if unevenly realized national philosophy of welcoming new immigrants to the melting pot. And that the nation's unusually violent racial history has spawned a level of societal attention and self-reflection on race today that's far beyond what's happening in many other countries.
On those fronts, America is indeed exceptional. But it's safe to assume that's not the kind of exceptionalism Trump wants to honor.
That's the problem with allowing any national leader — especially one with Trump's track record of race-baiting — to impose his definition of patriotism on the nation, and particularly on its schoolchildren.
Does Trump's definition mean deliberately undermining the sanctity of America's elections by inviting foreign interference and lying about voter fraud? Maybe it means vilifying the majority of Americans who live in urban settings. Perhaps patriotism in Trump's world means debasing America's tradition of compassion by separating migrant children from their parents as a deterrent to future migrants. Or maybe it means turning a blind eye to Russian bounties put on the heads of American soldiers.
Trump has committed these and so many other outrages, yet now America is supposed to give him a voice in school curricula? That's flat-out indoctrination.
Thankfully, classroom content is decided at the state and local levels (a notion that Republicans used to cherish), so there's little chance that Trump's attempt at China-style "re-education" will take root. Unless, of course, he is reelected. Trump's behavior in his first term has been that of an aspiring autocrat restrained only by the approaching election. Voters — especially those with kids — should think hard about what that looks like in a second term.
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