Trump Protects Confederate Statues But Puts Natural Monuments At Risk


On Aug. 17, President Tump tweeted, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You … can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also … the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

Some outdoor statues are truly beautiful, and some of the finest are in Italy, at least of those that survived. Patrick Byrne, in The Hill, wrote, “The ancient Romans loved to destroy statues almost as much as they loved to admire them. Americans may be following in their footsteps as we decide whether to celebrate, destroy or relocate Confederate statues.”

New York City lays claim to having the best statuary in the country: “The sculpture collection in New York City’s Parks constitutes the greatest outdoor public art museum in the United States. A veritable ‘Who’s who’ of American art, it includes the work of 19th-century masters such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French and John Quincy Adams Ward, as well as contemporary subjects and conceptions by the likes of Louise Nevelson, George Segal, Alice Aycock and Robert Graham.”

Unlike the ancient Romans, or even the more modern ones who wanted to express their displeasure with Benito Mussolini, we treat statues as if they are supposed to be forever. Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote, the city “managed to get rid of only one statue in modern history — Civic Virtue, a fountain depicting a large naked man standing (virtue) astride vanquished female figures representing vice and corruption.”

As for the Southern statues, the Washington Post carried a report about the ready made statues available after the Civil War, designed to symbolize whichever side paid the bills. “To the Monumental Bronze Co. in Bridgeport, Conn., it was all just business. Union or Confederate, a customer was a customer, another $450 for a zinc statue that could mean whatever you needed it to mean. It was a business model that could appeal to President Trump — a highly profitable product that could dress up a drab little town and make many Americans feel great again.”

You can’t change history, but you can touch up the details to fit your needs. In the end, many of these statues are no more beautiful than a garden gnome, and to some people the hero on horseback symbolizes cruelty and evil.

But if President Trump sees beauty in these mass-produced, interchangeable statues, he misses beauty where others see it. An executive order that PresidentTrump signed on April 26 instructs Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review about 30 national monuments to determine if they should be rescinded, resized, or changed. According to Reuters, the order is the first step in a plan to open the national parks and monuments to mining and drilling. “Trump’s order is part of an effort to reverse many of the environmental protections implemented by his predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama that Trump said were hobbling economic growth. Trump’s agenda is being cheered by industry but enraging conservationists.”

One national monument that has been attacked is Bears Ears, a 1.35-acre area set aside by the Obama administration. The Sierra Club has explained, “Bears Ears National Monument in Utah has been prominent in this fight. It’s attracted considerably more attention and conflict than the rest of the monuments, as a contingent of local interests is opposed to the monument.

In fact, the entire Utah congressional delegation, governor, and state legislature oppose the monument ... Navajo Nation spokesman Davis Filfred said of the anti-monument interests, “They want to go after coal. They want to go after petroleum, uranium, potash. They want to clear all the timber.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of Native American tribes — Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe — has organized to preserve the status of the Bears Ears National Monument. They are joined by the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, which reports, “The Bears Ears cultural landscape contains more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites, making it one of the most significant archaeological areas in the US. BENM also protects key natural areas including desert riparian systems, pinon-juniper woodlands and relic sites, as well as critical habitat for sensitive species and wildlife unique to Utah’s canyon country.”

President Trump, however, has called the practice of designating national monuments, a practice that began under Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago, “another egregious abuse of federal power.” He called the protection of Bears Ears and other national monuments a “massive federal land grab.” And so our president sees beauty in a figurine, but beauty in nature? Not so much.

On Aug. 24, Secretary Zinke submitted his report, which apparently called for major cuts in many national monuments, but the final report has not been released.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living in New York. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652