On Monday night, the official Twitter account for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) condemned President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore as “a rally glorifying white supremacy.” The tweet, which has since been deleted, targeted the monument to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt as vandals deface and topple monuments to these great men and as cities remove such statues from public view.
“Trump has disrespected Native communities time and again. He’s attempted to limit their voting rights and blocked critical pandemic relief. Now he’s holding a rally glorifying white supremacy at Mount Rushmore — a region once sacred to tribal communities,” the DNC tweeted.
Matt Wolking, deputy director of communications for the Trump campaign, marked the occasion as “The moment the Democrat Party attacked Mount Rushmore, which features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, as a symbol of white supremacy.” The tweet also attacked an early celebration of the Fourth of July in the same vein.
This message came after protests over the horrific police killing of George Floyd devolved into the looting, vandalism, and arson across America that destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. Cancel culture iconoclasts have vandalized and toppled statues of Confederate generals and Union generals, and Christopher Columbus. They even vandalized statues of Mahatma Gandhi and the first black Union volunteers.
Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) powerfully shot down any idea of removing Mount Rushmore last week.
As for the presidents on Mount Rushmore, rioters and their allies have vandalized memorials to each of these presidents, scrawling “Y’all not tired yet” on the plinth at the Lincoln Memorial, removing a statue of Theodore Roosevelt from a New York City museum, and toppling statues of Washington and Jefferson in Portland, Oregon. On Monday, vandals splashed red paint over two statues of George Washington in Manhattan.
When the rioters toppled the Washington statue in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on it, echoing The New York Times‘s “1619 Project,” which aims to redefine American history by making the arrival of the first slaves in 1619 the focal point, rather than the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The 1619 Project justifies scrapping the entire American project — which has bolstered freedom and prosperity across the globe — in the name of racial justice.
The DNC’s tweet also echoed the “1619 Project.” While condemning the Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore, the DNC linked to an article in The Guardian condemning Mount Rushmore as a “symbol of white supremacy.”
“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s still alive and well in society today,” Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of a local activist organization called NDN Collective, told The Guardian. “It’s an injustice to actively steal indigenous people’s land then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide.”
If presidents who speak before Mount Rushmore are guilty of celebrating “white supremacy,” then the DNC can’t stop with President Trump. Six presidents have spoken at Mount Rushmore, including the Democratic darling Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spoke at the beginning of Mount Rushmore’s construction, calling the budding monument “decidedly American in conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning and altogether worthy of our Country.” Coolidge declared that “the fundamental principles” that these four presidents represent “have been wrought into the very being of our country. They are steadfast as these ancient hills.”
In 1936, FDR gave “the second dedication” of Mount Rushmore, praising its “permanent beauty” and predicting that the monument “will last through not just generations but for thousands and thousands of years.”
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to Republicans at Mount Rushmore. President Ronald Reagan gave a speech there in October 1986. President George H.W. Bush spoke at the 50th anniversary of Mount Rushmore in 1991, saying, “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt all surmounted old barriers and opened up new frontiers. They broadened our Nation and they strengthened its foundations. They chiseled into our national soul a yearning for freedom, democracy, equality, and justice, a conviction that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Most recently, President George W. Bush spoke at Mount Rushmore in 2002. He ended that speech by celebrating the bravery of the men and women on Flight 93, who sacrificed their lives to prevent the September 11, 2001, attacks from becoming even more heinous than they already were. “They heard their plane was going to be used as a weapon. They got on the phone, and they told their loved ones they loved them. They said a prayer. One guy said, ‘Let’s roll.’ They served something greater than themselves by saving life.”
“It’s an example for all of us to remember that America is a country based upon our willingness to serve something greater than ourselves, our willingness to be something other than a materialistic society, a willingness for all of us to help define the American spirit and love our neighbor so that our country can have its full potential available for everybody who is fortunate enough to be an American,” Bush declared.
Iconoclastic rioters, critics like Nick Tilsen, and the opportunistic politicians at the DNC may see only “white supremacy” in Mount Rushmore, but they should not be so quick to dismiss the words of Coolidge, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
Native Americans did suffer injustices as Americans spread West and into the Black Hills, but Mount Rushmore celebrates American heroes and their imperfect strides toward “liberty and justice for all.” Mount Rushmore is not a symbol of oppression but a symbol of America, and President Trump is right to celebrate the Fourth of July at this “shrine of democracy.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.