Ten reasons why Trump’s ‘National Garden of American Heroes’ is such a brilliant move
Once again, President Trump has outwitted his opponents and forced them to fight on a playing field tilted toward his goal. His executive order establishing a “National Garden of American Heroes” and his speech (transcript here; video here) during the July 4th Salute to America that revealed his first set of names for honoring as heroes has left the radical revolutionaries and their media and institutional allies sputtering in futile rage, making arguments that only reinforce Trump’s point.
1. The new monument contrasts a builder versus destroyers. Polling shows that vast majorities of the public disapprove of the tearing down of statues. By standing as someone who is adding to our collective memories through new monuments, Trump stands on the side of creating things of value while his opponents are stuck defending those who subtract from our collective heritage. It also reminds everyone that Trump was and remains a builder. The Executive Order explains:
To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn. My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory.
2. It focuses attention on the concept of role models. Every parent knows that role models are hugely important in teaching children how to behave, while even non-parents readily grasp that they also shape our culture and behavior. Cast in the light of value as a role model, slave holders like Washington and Jefferson stand out for their many virtues worthy of emulation because there is no possibility at all of mistakenly emulating their slave-holding, since slavery has been abolished.
3. It makes physically defending the monuments much easier by concentrating them within a defensible perimeter. The more attention that is focused on the garden as symbol against which to protest, the more difficult becomes the task of the destroyers.
4. It creates a national competition for hosting the monument. There will be major economic and cultural benefits to the lucky area that is named to host it. Not just the money spent constructing it, but the increase in tourism that will result. Local officials will be focused on the monument as a positive benefit for their constituents and will speak out in support of their arguments in favor of hosting it. Fools like Mayor Frey of Minneapolis may well disdain the competition, but they and their constituents will see benefits flowing elsewhere. The competition will focus more of the national conversation on the concept of role models, and the desirability of honoring them.
5. It creates a national competition and discussion over who should be honored. As President Trump was discussing the first round of choices and the way in which future honorees will be chosen, I was reminded of a reality television competition like Celebrity Apprentice. I have long argued that as the creator of the most popular reality television program in the history of the medium, Trump is at a huge advantage over his opponents in scripting the national conversation as the election approaches, and we soon enter Act Three in the psychological drama that unfolds before our eyes on our video screens.
Trump's July 4, 2020 speech (YouTube screen grb)
So those are just a few of the people we’ll be naming, and things are subject to change, but once we make that decision, those great names are going to be up there and they’re never coming down. They have just been an incredible group, and we are going to do this in a very democratic way, frankly. We’re going to take names and suggestions, we’re going to have committees, and we’re going to pick the greatest people that this country has ever known, the most respected people, the people that helped us the most and the people that we can look up to and that our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren can look up to into the future and they can say “Isn’t America just a tremendous place?” So, thank you. That’ll be very exciting.
6. People naturally love competition, whether in sports or any other field. Let the critics carp all they want about various names already proposed or that will be proposed in the future. Let the critics attack the list of those already identified:
John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
7. Criticism only amplifies Trump’s basic point. The usual suspects in the media already are carping, as for example in The New York Times today:
“Presidents certainly have a role in shaping national conversations about the meaning of our history. But this comes off as a desperate act of political grandstanding to his base," said Kevin K. Gaines, a professor of social justice and civil rights at the University of Virginia. “Washington D.C. is already full of national monuments to some of the revered figures on Trump’s roll call of heroes.” (snip)
Mr. Gaines said the order “proposes a redundant trial balloon with just enough examples of notable African-Americans and women to promote a mythic, racist authoritarian view of the past that glorifies white settler violence.
“What most people of conscience would acknowledge as tragic aspects of the past — the stolen lands of Indian nations and the stolen lives and labor of enslaved Africans — Trump evidently wants us to celebrate,” he added.
Trump already has anticipated such angry denunciations by noting what everyone knows: nobody is perfect; we all have flaws. This forces the conversation to weigh context and the net comparison of virtues and flaws
These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.
8. The discussion will take place at a deliberate pace, without any tearing down, only about who should be honored with a new statue. Let those who want to argue that it is tragic that lands previously conquered by one or another of the Native American tribes were subsequently conquered by Americans do so. They must then argue that Neolithic levels of civilization, with life expectancies in the thirties and with widespread slavery and inhumane torture, are worth preserving. And that conquest by an Indian tribe was more legitimate than conquest by settlers from an industrial age civilization.
9. It is very important that the competition over who should be honored will not be a zero-sum game. There is no arbitrary limit on the number of people to be honored, so there is not pitting of heroes against each other.
10. The open ended nature of the process encourages Americans to participate by nominating people or responding with arguments in favor of their choices. Many, perhaps most Americans will be engaged by the discussion, perhaps in favor of people with whom they identify regionally, ethnically, religiously, or by nature of their personal interests. For example, I would nominate Kelly Johnson, perhaps the greatest aircraft designer in history and the founder of the famous Skunkworks at Lockheed Aircraft that produced the U-2, SR-71, and other game-changing military aircraft. But that’s just me. Everyone else has their heroes, and the more people that are engaged in thinking about who is heroic, the better. Art fans, music fans, chemistry geeks, computer experts, and fans of every single field of endeavor will be encouraged to nominate their favorites. All of them, whether consciously or not, are arguing that there are heroes worthy of honoring. Even people who would want to nominate Bill Ayers.
All of these discussions keep people arguing about issues that work in Trump’s and America’s favor.