Our fetid mango-hued president plans to celebrate Independence Day with a pretentious presentation at Mount Rushmore, a sculpture carved into the granite face of a small mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculpture features the 60-foot heads of Presidents George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), presidents chosen to represent the USA’s birth, growth, development.
Native Americans see Mount Rushmore as a desecration of land violently stolen from them and used to pay homage to presidents that were hostile to Indigenous people.
Native American activists are planning protests for POTUS’s July 3 visit, part of the rapey president’s ”comeback” campaign after more than three months of sickness, unemployment and social unrest. This event is to include fighter jets thundering over the 79-year-old monument in South Dakota and the first fireworks display in a decade.
It comes at a time of national reckoning over racism and a reconsideration of the symbolism of statues all around our pretty planet. Native American activists say that Mount Rushmore is as reprehensible as the Confederate monuments being toppled around the country this month. For them, Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy and structural racism in our society today.
Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of the activist organization NDN Collective, writes:
”It’s an injustice to actively steal Indigenous people’s land, then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide.”
Tilsen would like to have the monument removed and the Black Hills returned to the Lakota Nation, but other Native Americans have called for a share in the economic benefits from the tourist dollars spent.
The president is fascinated by Mount Rushmore. Gun-totin’, Trumponian South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said in 2018 that the president once told her straight-faced that it was his dream to have his face carved into the monument. At his hate rallies he rants about being enshrined alongside Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Noem pushed for a return of fireworks on the eve of Independence Day, so that the tiny-fingered one would commit to visiting South Dakota for the celebration.
She is a fun one, that Noem. In 2019, she released a drug awareness campaign titled “Meth, We’re On It!”. In April, Noem was one of seven governors who had not issued statewide stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; instead, she has emphasized her state’s role in evaluating hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug that is unproven as a treatment for COVID-19 and has been heavily promoted by the president. South Dakota is now one of largest Covid-19 hotspots.
Two million people visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial every year. Dedicated 75 years ago, Mount Rushmore was intended by its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, to be a celebration of these four presidents and to America’s unprecedented greatness. He wrote: ”This colossus is our mark!”. Borglum’s own sordid story shows that is also a memorial is to unmitigated ego and ugly ambition.
In 1914, Borglum was a sculptor of modest success who received an inquiry from C. Helen Plane, the elderly president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, about building a ‘shrine to the South” outside Atlanta. When he first saw Georgia’s Stone Mountain, Borglum sketched a huge sculpture of generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and he was hired for the job.
The son of polygamist Mormons from Idaho, Borglum had no direct heritage to the Confederacy, but he was a white supremacist. In letters he worried about the ”mongrel horde” taking over the ”Nordic” purity of the Western United Sates, and wrote:
”I would not trust an Indian, off-hand, 9 out of 10, where I would not trust a white man 1 out of 10.”
He was an opportunist who aligned himself with the Ku Klux Klan, an organization reenergized after the Civil War in a torch-light ceremony atop Stone Mountain in 1915. The KKK helped fund the project. Borglum’s decision to work with the Klan wasn’t even a prudent business proposition. By the mid-1920s, infighting left the Klan unmoored and without leadership and fundraising for the Stone Mountain memorial stalled.
A South Dakota historian behind the Mount Rushmore idea approached Borglum. Borglum’s Atlanta patrons fired him. He took an ax and destroyed his models for the shrine and fled to North Carolina.
The Stone Mountain sponsors sandblasted Borglum’s incomplete work and hired Henry Augustus Lukeman, to do the memorial, adding to Borglum’s bitterness. Borglum said of Lukeman:
”Every able man in America refused it, and thank God, every Christian. So, They got a Jew. ”
A third sculptor, Walker Kirtland Hancock, completed Stone Mountain in 1972. Stone Mountain is the most-visited tourist attraction in Georgia. The largest bas-relief in the world, the carving depicts three Confederate figures, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
It was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1958 “as a memorial to the Confederacy.” Stone Mountain officially opened on April 14, 1965, 100 years to the day after Lincoln’s assassination. The site is closed because of Covid-19 and it’s traditional July 4th fireworks are a washout this year.
The years in Georgia working on Stone Mountain gave Borglum the training to tackle Mount Rushmore, and he began carving in 1927 at 60 years old. He devoted the last 15 years of his life to the project. His son, Lincoln Borglum, abandoned his father’s ambitious plans to include the torsos of the presidents; he left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction, but provided the finishing touches.
I suppose a person who creates a hugely popular gigantic sculpture by dynamiting 450,000 tons of the Black Hills deserves some sort of honor. But if the USA is a country of self-made success stories, it is that very sort of selfishness that carves out place for unbridled nationalism that would suggest a grifter from Queens should be represented on Mount Rushmore.
Tid-Bits: Mount Rushmore is named for wealthy investor Charles E. Rushmore who visted the area regularly on hunting trips. He repeatedly joked about naming the mountain after himself. The United States Board of Geographic Names officially recognized the name “Mount Rushmore” in June 1930.
The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) granted the Black Hills to the Lakota people in perpetuity, but the government took back the area in 1876. The American Indian Movement led an occupation of the monument in 1971, naming it “Mount Crazy Horse”, and Lakota holy man John Fire Lame Deer planted a prayer staff on top of the mountain. Lame Deer said that the staff formed a symbolic shroud over the presidents’ faces:
“…which shall remain dirty until the treaties concerning the Black Hills are fulfilled.”
In Team America: World Police, it is the secret base of operations for the good guys. In the film, it is severely damaged in a suicide bombing by Michael Moore.
Mount Rushmore is famously used as the location of the climactic chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959). As Hitchcock and scriptwriter Ernest Lehman were developing the script, Hitchcock mentioned to Lehman that he always wanted to do a chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore. While writing the screenplay, Lehman took a trip to Mount Rushmore and scaled halfway to the top. He bought a camera to give to the park ranger to photograph the famous monument with him in the shot. Because permission to shoot an attempted killing on the face of a national monument was refused by the National Park Service, the film was shot on a sound stage.