SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
President Trump waded into the classroom today. He says he thinks American students need to be taught what he calls patriotic education, and he accused his political opponents of trying to brainwash children about racism.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country. We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.
PFEIFFER: It's the latest development in the cultural divisions Trump is trying to promote as part of his reelection campaign. White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins me now to talk about this. Hi, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
PFEIFFER: Tam, the president says he's going to create a new commission about this. Can you - what can you tell us about that commission?
KEITH: Yeah. So he went to the National Archives to announce that he is creating a commission to promote history education that focuses on, quote, "the legacy of 1776." Of course, that is the year when American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. And this is a reaction in part against The 1619 Project. President Trump made it explicit. He said that. That was the project led by the New York Times that focuses on a view of American history stemming from the year when the first enslaved Africans were brought to these shores. But it's also a reaction to the protests that we've seen this year against racial injustice.
One thing about the commission to be clear about, though - the federal government does not have jurisdiction over school curriculum. So it is up to schools and local and state governments to decide what to teach. And they do, and they teach very different things depending on where you are.
PFEIFFER: This isn't the first time the president has talked about these themes. Would you put in context - put this in context for us politically?
KEITH: Yeah. So he's wrapping a few things together here. People on the right have long complained about the liberal bent on college campuses. That is not new. But there has been a growing effort by educators at all levels, even in elementary schools, to teach children about systemic racism, slavery as a founding sin of the nation, the genocide of Native Americans as part of westward expansion. And President Trump objects to that strongly, saying schools are teaching children to hate America.
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TRUMP: Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts like those of Howard Zinn to try to make students ashamed of their own history. The left has warped, distorted and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods and lies.
KEITH: This also comes in the midst of the racial justice protests, where some protesters tore down or vandalized statues of Confederate generals and Founding Fathers who owned slaves. And Trump has come to the defense of these statues, making them a cause of sorts as part of his reelection.
PFEIFFER: There is often a reason or an impetus for why Trump will say things that he knows will be provocative. Is there - do we know why he's talking about this now?
KEITH: Well, he's been talking about it for a little while. It's clear this is part of his reelection. This is a variation on themes that he talked about during speeches at Mount Rushmore on July 3, the White House on July 4. It's a theme he has been coming back to to fire up his base, sort of a variation on Make America Great Again - harkening back to a different time, a different America.
He is presenting himself as a great defender of American values and even Western civilization, as if to say that people who don't agree with his view of history or of what makes America great - that they aren't just wrong but fundamentally trying to destroy the country. It is a very different reelection message than those used by past presidents. It's not about uplift or unifying. It's a long way from Morning in America.
And as if it wasn't clear already that this is part of his reelection campaign, as part of his remarks, President Trump took a very unsubtle shot at Joe Biden, holding up a statue of a notable Delaware Founding Father and saying that when his statue was taken down by the city of Wilmington, Biden didn't speak out.
PFEIFFER: That's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.