A couple of years ago, Katrina did a class project on Mount Rushmore. She was quite fascinated by it, and wanted to visit it in the worst way.
This past spring, we finally got around to going there, an eight-hour trip south of Estevan. I had seen it in high school, on an air cadet trip, but this would be a first for the rest of the family. We spent a week in the Rapid City, S.D., area, exploring a museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base, the nearby badlands, Spearfish Canyon, and, of course, Mount Rushmore.
All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable trip. I pointed out to the kids that the Mount Rushmore experience is quite over-hyped, and after ten minutes or so, you’ll want to go do something else. I was right. We were there during the off season, so there were no lines. We walked right up to the best viewing spot, took some pictures, bought some trinkets at the gift shop, and were on our way. But it was still really cool to see.
Step forward three months, and making a pilgrimage to giant statues of America’s greatest presidents has become a political statement, and not necessarily a good one, either.
As statues to Confederate generals are being torn down throughout America in a manner akin to Lenin statues at the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Donald Trump raised a valid point.
Now, I’m not going to get into the thick of denunciation debates, left-right, Nazi or whatever. We fought the Nazis, and they lost. There is no redemption for Nazis. End of story. But I do want to drill home on one point.
“George Washington was a slave owner,” Trump said. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So now will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down – excuse me! Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? Okay, good, are we going to take down the statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?”
Here was the emperor, wearing no clothes, pointing out the previous emperors who also had no clothes.
It was surreal, but Trump had a very valid point. Jefferson took his slaves with him when he moved into the White House. The White House was built by slaves. Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia slave plantation, was also built by slaves. It’s on every American nickel, with Jefferson on the other side.
The Washington monument was likely also partially built by slaves. Slaves were important in building the U.S. Capitol building.
One of the highlights of our trip to Rapid City was a walk downtown, where they had statues to every American president on the street corners. We saw almost every one. Should Rapid City tear down those who held slaves? Twelve U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, owned slaves. Let me put that another way: most of U.S. presidents from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War were slave owners at one point in their life, if not all of it.
It’s a horrible history for the “Land of the Free.” There is no way around it.
That also makes it incredibly disingenuous when people are now, just now (and noticeably, not during Barrack Obama’s term in office) going nuts about statues to Confederate generals, but seemingly willing to give Washington and Jefferson a pass.
To follow the slippery slope argument Trump is suggesting, Americans would have to expunge themselves of much of their coinage and cash. Much of the heart of Washington should be torn up. Those bombers based near Mount Rushmore should load up a few dozen 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs and wipe Washington and Jefferson off the mountain. (leave Lincoln and Roosevelt, though. Aim carefully.)
Are they willing to do that? Jefferson wrote the declaration of independence, and owned over 600 slaves. He had four children with one. Runaways were severely flogged. Nice guy. Keep his statue, though. Just close your eyes to that part of history.
It seems America is tearing itself apart over this, and there is no easy answer.
Where does it end? Will Mount Rushmore have Washington and Jefferson removed? That would seem to be the ultimate conclusion of this.
When we were there, I made jokes about the fact there was room to the left of Washington for one more face – Trump. Maybe they’ll be room for a few more, once Washington and Jefferson are gone.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.