What do German philosopher Hannah Arendt and Nellie Gray, the founder of the anti-abortion organization March for Life, have in common? Absolutely nothing, but they could soon become close companions if Trump has his way.
On Monday, Trump signed an executive order naming Arendt and Gray as two of roughly 250 artists, musicians, political thinkers, and historical figures whose statues he would like erected in what he calls the “National Garden of American Heroes.”
Let us consider some other possible pairings. Can you picture Helen Keller’s statue beside Kobe Bryant’s? Alex Trebek beside Edgar Allen Poe? Better yet, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant beside one of Sitting Bull? The slave-owning Thomas Jefferson beside abolitionist Frederick Douglass? Can you imagine celebrating Antonin Scalia at the same time as Ruth Bader Ginsburg? (Imagine Trump celebrating Ruth Bader Ginsburg at all?)
“Each individual has been chosen for embodying the American spirit of daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love,” Trump wrote. (He did not write these words.) “Astounding the world by the sheer power of their example, each one of them has contributed indispensably to America’s noble history, the best chapters of which are still to come.”
I feel fairly confident in asserting that Trump likely knows who less than half of these people are. I offer this as some supporting evidence: Trump once called Douglass “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” And if Trump could identify many of these figures, perhaps he would he might realize that they were, in life, diametrically opposed to what he stands for. Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism sold out on Amazon in the aftermath of Trump’s election, presumably because her theory about the rise of fascism and the “banality of evil” drew obvious comparisons to Trump. Samuel Gompers, another figure on Trump’s list, was a famous labor union leader, and Trump has done nothing but undermine unions since taking office. Helen Keller was a member of the Socialist Party.
But none of these details matter when you’re defining “hero” as someone who has “contributed” to “history.” Such a meaningless interpretation of the word means nearly everyone fits the bill, virulent racists and progressive icons alike.
Should Trump’s garden ever come to exist (it won’t) there will be much to contemplate!