Once upon a time in America, journalists wrote “holiday pieces” out of desperation. In a world where amusement parks and beaches beckoned, where businesses carpet-bombed consumers with holiday sales ads, recreation and crass commercialism overmatched the remembrance of important historical persons and events.
The “holiday pieces” were rearguard actions, waged to recall Americans to “the reason for the season.” Now, these holiday defenders are even more badly outnumbered. The Left’s culture warriors have supplanted commercials as the chief enemy of public memory. They don’t aim to hijack commemoration days to serve their commercial ends; they aim to erase the meaning of these holidays altogether.
Consider the efforts of the Randolph School Board in New Jersey. They wanted to remove Columbus Day from the school calendar, renaming the holiday to “Indigenous People Day.” When parents pushed back, the board—acting out of spite—voted to get rid of all holiday names, just calling them “days off.” That triggered national attention and even greater pushback. After a lengthy meeting with angry parents, the board abandoned the whole renaming exercise. The Left lost that skirmish. But they’ll be back.
Even a few years ago, such antics would have been unthinkable—but not anymore. This fight has become America’s new endless war.
School boards are, in fact, just the point of the spear in the culture wars, targeted by the left and right as a choice objective for reshaping America’s civil space. Civics have been a prime target in these campaigns, reshaping the American political identity as a precursor to reshaping American politics.
One of the most prominent controversies in the culture wars swirls around curriculum that would implement concepts introduced by Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project and anti-racist doctrine. These beliefs insist that our nation’s civic structures are inherently oppressive, biased, and racist. Historical persons and events become fodder for this fight because historical memories are the billboards of these racist structures. They must be torn down. That’s why the Randolph School Board went after Columbus.
That is also why July 4th and other patriotic holidays are on the purge list. The radical agenda to reimagine civic memory would reconceptualize Independence Day as an event not worth celebrating or, even “better,” a day to protest against what is wrong with America.
If this agenda wins out, the rising generation of Americans will grow up unable to describe what happened on Independence Day, much less its critical importance to the worldwide advance of human rights and liberty. They will know it only as an important occasion for criticizing and denigrating the idea of America.
Independence Day should be marked to affirm the importance of political freedoms and recognize importance of fighting to secure and protect them. This is a day to honor the virtue of battling to secure the right of the Randolph School Board to debate whatever it damn well pleases. Generations of Americans fought and died so generations of Americans could argue over how to teach civics.
But make no mistake; there is no honor in what the would-be re-interpreters of America’s holidays have in store for America. Their agenda is not about education. It is about indoctrination—indoctrination that would overturn how America is governed.
Critical Race Theory as civics education offers, perhaps, the starkest example of a radical political agenda hiding under the guise of objective inquiry in search of a just society. This method of query is rooted in Marxist ideology, whose primary purpose was never truth-seeking, but creating critical instruments to undermine political legitimacy and justify new political orders that are both harshly repressive and demonstrably unjust.
Indeed, if Critical Race Theory were implemented in practice, this doctrine would violate Civil Rights Laws that secure equal protection under the law and outlaw discrimination.
Americans have labored for centuries to fulfill the promise of the American Revolution, striving to create a just society where the people are sovereign and there is equal opportunity for all. We have made tremendous progress. The ultimate heresy would be to substitute a new meaning of July 4th based on a power-hungry radical political agenda.
A Heritage Foundation vice president and now a new Contributing Editor for 1945, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign relations.