Let’s have a look at the current residents of South Dakota’s most famous mountain.
The first was a rich white guy who owned more than 100 slaves, and wasn’t known as the best master, at that.
The second guy – also wealthy – owned more than 700 slaves during his life.
The third guy didn’t own slaves, but had this to say about those of African descent:
I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
And the fourth guy was a white supremacist who thought blacks inferior and expected that Native Americans would be exterminated in the due course of time.
It’s true that each had his redeeming qualities. George Washington opposed slavery. Privately. For whatever that’s worth. And he did lead us to our independence from England. [Note: No, it isn’t at all clear that we wouldn’t have been better off remaining a British colony, but we’ll leave that for another day.]
Thomas Jefferson gave us the most noble expression of the ideals of freedom the world has ever seen. (I know, I know, hypocrisy. Again, another day.)
Despite not thinking very highly of them, Abe Lincoln did actually free the slaves, and yes, actions are more important than words.
Teddy Roosevelt was in many ways the progenitor of the modern Democratic Party (its better ideals, if not the present-day Vichy reality). He beat the drum for our marvelous national park system and if he were here today his views would mostly resemble those of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
If slavery were still legal, how many would Donald Trump own? The most, of course. They’d be the bigliest and strongest and finest slaves. They be the BEST slaves!
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Humans are complex, contradictory, imperfect. Yes, the icons of Rushmore had serious flaws, but they also had monumental, world-shaping achievements on their résumés. So far we’ve seen no evidence that Trump has any redeeming qualities at all.
Still, the record is clear: the trait all those on Mt. Rushmore had in common was racism. And while Trump is never likely to do anything great – like lead us to military victory or author a historically important political treatise – when all is said and done he may well have a bigger impact on the course of world history than Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt combined.
Let’s get him up there.