Washington D.C. August 5, 2020 – Today, Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Vice-Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), sent a letter to President Trump and U.S. Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt challenging the legality, use of taxpayer money, and political goals of Trump’s Executive Order on Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes that was issued at his Mt. Rushmore campaign style rally on July 3, 2020.
As Trump signed this order, Native Americans protested Trump’s presence at the sacred Black Hills, Americans marched for Black Lives Matter and called for the removal of confederate statues, and our nation began a larger conversation about racism and systems of oppression. Trump’s tone-deaf response to public calls for a more just society was to build more statues – to Americans he deems worthy of praise and celebration – and have taxpayers’ foot the bill for his vanity project.
In the letter, that can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2XxUUQ5, Grijalva and Haaland call out the Executive Order as Trump’s latest attempt to “appeal to white grievance politics” that has “fatal shortcomings” including its legality and how taxpayer money is being allocated for the project. The lawmakers write:
“Judging by your statements, you seek to build a monument to people you consider unblemished heroes, nearly all of whom are white and male. In recent weeks you have gone so far as to emphasize your unwavering support for statues and monuments representing Confederate traitors to our Union, which were erected in an effort to intimidate Americans of color all the way from the Reconstruction Era to the present day. We must emphasize that while slave-owning traitors may fit your conception of American heroism more comfortably than any Native Americans or Latino Americans, both groups entirely left off your list of proposed “heroes,” there is little public support for your position. While it was a welcome surprise to see no Confederate generals on your proposed list of American heroes, Congress will not pay for any monument to your personal, very limited conception of who counts as an important American…
“A garden of heroes should not include perpetrators of genocide or aggressors against Native People, nor should it skew so heavily toward the recent past of the conservative movement. Above all, the figures portrayed there should not be selected by a single president based on idiosyncratic notions of historical value.”
The lawmakers demand that the Department of Interior submit a report to the Natural Resources Committee before moving forward, in recognition of Congress’s constitutional authorities over federal land and to ensure the monument strive “to more accurately reflect legal reality and historical accuracy.”
During his tenure in the White House, and before his election, Trump used racial slurs, defended confederate monuments, disrespected civil rights leaders, and repeatedly refused to denounce violent white nationalists. Just last month, days before signing this Executive Order Trump referred to Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate,” and “angry mobs” on the same day he signed the order.
Among Trump’s most egregious failures is his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors. To date virus has claimed 156,000 American lives, infected over 4.7 million Americans, and left our economy in a downward tailspin.
Rather than focus on matters of urgent national importance, this week the Department of Interior tweeted that they are beginning the process of fulfilling Trump’s wishes and held the first “Task Force” meeting on Trump’s proposal. The lawmakers point out that if Trump is serious about his newfound sense of history, there are numerous existing federal programs that the administration could lift up and prioritize rather than placing their funding on the chopping block. These include the operating budget of the National Park Service, the Historic Preservation Fund, Tribal and State Preservation Programs and grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Smithsonian Museums.
The lawmakers close the letter with one final plea – “Honor our past do not commit further violence to the cause of historic understanding.”