I have long been of the opinion that all statues of humans (with only two possible exceptions) are bad—either they’re a hagiographic paean to extremely bad men (or more rarely, bad women!) or hideous, or often both. A majority of Americans now believe it’s time to take down Confederate statues, a shift that is due largely to the organizing work of Black activists, who have been calling for the removal of monuments to the Lost Cause for years. Now the movement has spread beyond Confederate statues, to include Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and others whose legacy is inseparable from racist violence. Even some of the white descendants of Thomas Jefferson don’t want a monument to their ancestor up on the National Mall anymore, preferring instead to replace Jefferson with a statue of Harriet Tubman.
But to Donald Trump, who is very good at reading the room and then doing the exact opposite of what most people outside of his rabid base want, now is the perfect time to put up even more statues of bad men! As he announced during his fascist speech last Friday in front of Mount Rushmore—a speech that was protested by a group of indigenous activists who were pepper-sprayed and arrested by law enforcement—Trump plans on building what he called a “National Garden of American Heroes” somewhere in the United States. Let’s take a look at who exactly he considers an “American hero”—Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman are included in the list, but also... Billy Graham? Antonin Scalia? Help!
At the end of June, Trump signed an executive order telling the Department of Justice to prosecute and imprison people who deface or damage federal monuments. Over the weekend, perhaps in an effort to show that he doesn’t only care about statues of Andrew Jackson, Trump shared his outrage that a statue of Frederick Douglass, a man he seemed to believe was still alive in 2017, was toppled in Rochester, New York, and blamed it on... anarchists? “This shows that these anarchists have no bounds!” he wrote on Twitter. According to the Democrat & Chronicle, however, “there is no indication yet of possible political motivation,” and the Democrat & Chronicle helpfully notes that in an earlier incident in which a statue of Frederick Douglass was vandalized and removed, the perpetrators were two white men who, according to one witness, were “yelling and screaming the N word” while doing so.
During his Mount Rushmore speech, which was beamed straight from the brain of Stephen Miller and into Trump’s lips, Trump made clear what exactly he thinks of people who are calling for the removal of monuments that by their very existence in public spaces celebrate the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of Black people. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” he said. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”
Trump continued: “To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”
It’s certainly telling that Trump cares more about protecting these monuments than, say, doing even the bare minimum to contain the covid-19 pandemic. But it’s easy to see why—aside from throwing his base even more bloody red meat, whenever he sees a monument of an avowed racist torn down, he must realize that he’s next.