Trump’s Garden of Heroes

Silent teachers in stone and metal: U.S. Capitol

W.J. Astore

While castigating the “radical left” in his latest vitriolic speech before Mount Rushmore, Trump proposed a new garden of heroes to celebrate meaningful Americans.  Naturally, that list has generated controversy.  As others have noted, Native Americans are absent from the list; so too are Hispanics; and so too are Democratic presidents.

Here’s a look at Trump’s “heroes”:

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, Orville and Wilbur Wright.

It’s easy to pick apart any list.  Why this person and not that one?  Or why not this person and that one?  For example, why not MLK Jr. and Malcolm X?  Why not Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali?  Is it because MLK Jr. and Jackie are considered safer, or less controversial, or more American because they were “less angry”?

Among other absences, there’s another I’d like to highlight: Any person dedicated to the cause of peace.*

Again, looking at Trump’s list, what struck me was the predictable worship of military men, not just Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from the Civil War or Audie Murphy from World War II but the usual generals Trump professes to love, Patton and MacArthur.  Two vainglorious wannabe Caesars, the very opposite of America’s citizen-soldier ideal, are Trump’s idea of America’s noblest generals.  Not George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, also of World War II fame, and both more deserving of acclaim, and more suited to America’s military traditions.  Or how about General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Medal of Honor, who became an outspoken critic of war after his retirement?

What also struck me was the presence of “the usual suspects” in the list.  Do we really need yet another statue to George Washington?  Abraham Lincoln?  Benjamin Franklin?  Can’t we come up with some lesser known heroes worthy of acclaim, perhaps someone like Prudence Crandall, a schoolteacher who established the first school for African-American girls in New England, and who faced mob violence as she fought to keep her school open.  Or how about Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith, who fought so hard in antebellum America against war.  America has a wealth of unsung heroes; why not take this chance to celebrate “ordinary” Americans doing extraordinary things?

Notice, naturally, the deep bow to conservative icons such as Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, and Antonin Scalia.  An evangelist, a president, and a Supreme Court Justice, respectively.  So how about Dorothy Day, Jimmy Carter, and Harry Blackmun to balance the partisan ledger?

Some science might be injected with Carl Sagan or James Watson.  Some environmentalism with Rachel Carson.  During a pandemic, why not Jonas Salk?  And why is America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, not on this list?  Of course, you could go on almost endlessly here.

Perhaps what amused me most was the stipulation the statues have to be lifelike or realistic, not abstract or modernist representations.  They are to be “silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal,” per Trump’s executive order.  This rejection of abstract or modernist representation put me to mind of Nazi Germany’s rejection of so-called degenerate art.  The Nazis preferred art that celebrated uncontroversially the heroism of Germans and the human form: art that was open only to the most obvious interpretation.  As a good friend put it, “Combine Trump’s classical garden of heroes with his edict that public buildings be made ‘beautiful again’ in a neoclassical style and all he’s missing is a catchy antisemitic drinking song.”

In other words, Trump wants a garden of heroes in which we’re expected to bow our heads in awe, rather than hold our heads in thought.  Awe is befitting to a dictatorship, but thought is becoming to a democracy.

* I’ve applauded MLK Jr.’s efforts to end the Vietnam War; he deserves to be recognized as a peace activist, but of course he’s on Trump’s list for his civil rights record, not his critique of America as the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.  One name I’d love to see added to the list is Daniel Ellsberg, who risked everything to expose American lies with the release of the Pentagon Papers.

42 thoughts on “Trump’s Garden of Heroes

  1. Great analysis. Agree Gen Smedley Butler ought to be at the top of the list. Thankfully he didn’t put any Confederate Generals or mobsters on the list.


  2. Good article! I have to admit as to some curiosity as to WHO actually drew up this list? It was undoubtedly a campaign strategy committee, and I suspect that this was probably just the 2nd or 3rd time Trump saw some of these names, only reviewing them so he could correctly pronounce them.


  3. Why Billy Graham? Wouldn’t this fly in the face of separation of church and state? I’d want a suffragette or two in there. You can bet on it he wouldn’t include Margaret Sanger or some more of our Native American leaders . . . Barack Obama, first black president ought to be included?


    1. Not sure exactly how to say this so as not to be misunderstood, but saying that Obama should be included because he is Black is kind of like saying, “A lot of my friends are Black.” It’s like celebrating women CEOs—a sort of back-handed discrimination, as if it’s noteworthy that a woman can be a CEO. If Obama had been an outstanding President, I’d agree with you, but his tenure was undistinguished at best. The fact that he happens to be Black doesn’t make him a hero, any more than the fact that, say, Gerald Ford was white makes him a hero.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, Obama getting elected certainly made for a historic event in US history. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace (??) Prize, however, my head spun around a few times!


        1. Certainly, his election was a notable event. And I admired his persona greatly. By the time election night rolled around, I’d actually begun to believe in him, despite my distrust of how facile his candidacy had been.

          Then he promptly proved that he was NOT worthy of trust, and it went downhill from there.

          As for the Nobel, yes, it was a travesty, awarded, like the election, according to what he promised instead of what he actually did.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. How about “Hidden Figures” The Ladies of the Space Race, or Tenzing Norgay “The Sherpa in the Shadows” 2 quick examples. For that matter why does it need to be exclusively Americans anyway? How’s this simply: “Gardens of the Heroes”- Period. Like “Gardens of the Gods” in Colorado…!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, where to begin? Trying to keep up with Trump’s inane insanities would be a full-time job, and this is first I’ve heard of this proposal. Let’s hope it would require Congressional approval and will fail that test. The absence of figures like Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee suggests that whatever advisers to POTUS concocted this list were feeling a little under the gun in today’s atmosphere. In the spirit of the insanity being proposed, I’d say SCOTUS’s Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas should get a statue while he’s still alive! He has established a sterling record of always voting in favor of THE most extreme rightwing legal stances possible! Oh, and a final suggestion (to avoid rattling on endlessly over the nominees): we need a statue of Trump himself standing poised to enter the Draft Board that handled his region back in the day. In Trump’s hand will be the letter from a bribed physician attesting to his disabling BONE SPURS.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “It’s easy to pick apart any list. Why this person and not that one? Or why not this person and that one?” It’s a trap to get too wrapped up tabulating inclusions and exclusions. Although knowing and understanding history is important, why do we need such lists in the first place? They’re exceedingly crude implements and promotional stunts. Most people are complex enough be simultaneously lionized and denounced. Indeed, reproaching yesteryear’s heroes is precisely what’s happening in these days of moral panic as self-appointed tribunals apply distinctly contemporary values to historical figures and find them all wanting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it not rather peculiar that a nation should erect monuments to, and continue to honor TRAITORS to that very nation? For what else were the leaders of The Confederate States of America, I ask you? It’s important to remember that Donald Trump did not wave a magic wand upon taking office and presto! suddenly the nation was “divided.” This man has been vigorously fanning the flames of racism and other hate for years now, but he certainly did not invent the nation’s problems. Just like George Wallace in 1968, he found there was much fertile ground on which to drop the diseased seeds of additional hate. The ground had been fertilized for many, many years before the arrival of these demagogues.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Peculiar, you say? No, not really. Three reasons: (1) military commanders (winners and losers) then and now are frequently held in awe by their troops and the general public, (2) the Confederacy and the culture it sprang from continue to animate the thoughts of many Southerners (and Texans) as a grudge against the North, i.e., calling the American Civil War instead the War of Northern Aggression, and (3) the motivations for erecting all those statues may be varied, but a strong component is intimidation of the very people who won their freedom. None of that is admirable, but it’s at least understandable.

        Also, like most cultural shifts, I surmise that racism is slowly losing adherents through attrition. People over the age of 50 differ significantly in their attitudes on race from people under the age of 25. Having the issue shoved in their faces continuously is problematical for those of any age who tire of human relations always being filtered improperly through the lens of race.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t agree fully. (Shocking for an exchange here on Bracing Views, I know!) It’s considered historically true to observe that the CSA had better-trained generals, more having graduated from West Point than on the other side. Praising the tactics of Colonel Y or General Z in a particular Civil War engagement as having been brilliant, or at least the winning ones, from a military standpoint, is a far cry from honoring what the Confederacy stood for. Are there any monuments in the US to BENEDICT ARNOLD?? Gee, should someone start a campaign to advocate for that? “The fault, my dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”


  7. Good topic, good thoughts. I do agree with you in terms of mixing it up. I like the requirement for realism though…that is key in these days of doublespeak and double standards. I suggest we don’t limit it to specific individuals. How about a statue of a Mother and a Father (to represent all mothers and fathers)? True American Heroes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Superb suggestion! And they should be modeled after Donald and Melania Trump, right? Or maybe Donald and Ivana Trump. Hell, I don’t even remember the name of his first wife!


      1. Its Ivana Greg– Ivanka without the “K” Maybe you’re thinking of Marla Maples my fave. of his many wives…:/ :o)


        1. Yes, that’s what I wrote, “Ivana,” a.k.a. Mrs. Trump #2. Thanks for the reminder of who #1 was, the only trophy he didn’t shop for in Eastern Europe!


  8. I have admired many fine and deserving people in my life, but I’ve had only one true hero:

    “Of Cabbages and Kings”
    To my beloved mother: June Arline Reveal – Murry – Frick
    April 22, 1929 to February 4, 2002

    From days before I knew or cared
    How life could bite; which fangs it bared;
    You showed me how each day you dared
    To face the awful things.
    You read me verses from a book
    Whose name I didn’t know but took
    To have a strange enchanting hook
    That catches pigs with wings.

    And boiling seas you told me of
    While reading with a touch of love
    A tale absurd and far above
    What I could understand.
    No matter, as the days sped by
    I learned by ear and not the eye
    What made some laugh and others cry:
    Some rhythmic words well planned.

    So soon I first began to speak
    Then later learned to talk a streak
    As you dealt with things hard and bleak
    Through summers, falls, and springs.
    And winters, too, they came and went;
    The seasons passed, my youth I spent,
    But learning never made a dent
    In songs the lobster sings.

    About the panther and the owl:
    The last ate dish, the first ate fowl,
    Or so you read, without a scowl,
    And I absorbed the story.
    Though incomplete, my memory
    Retains some clues, a history
    Of Humpty Dumpty’s mastery,
    And what he meant by “glory.”

    The verses spoke of what we shared,
    The ties that lasted, unimpaired,
    Through arguments and anger aired:
    Those sorrows that life brings.
    And later on through still more school
    We spoke of both the sage and fool
    Who bear outrageous fortune’s rule,
    Its arrows and its slings.

    Now sixteen years beyond my ken
    You’ve passed, but I recall that when
    You’d pick a topic, Arks to Zen,
    We’d share some thoughts about it.
    We sat up drinking coffee late
    Discussing gods, or fickle fate,
    And how the bent could change to straight,
    With not a cause to doubt it.

    So when the government announced
    Its latest war, then on me pounced,
    And I my country’s faith renounced
    You said, to my advantage:
    “I hold my grudges, yes, it’s true,
    As women will, but unlike you,
    I limit mine to decades few
    Or less, if I can manage.”

    Too soon, one day, your health declined
    Your mind, once focused and aligned,
    Unravelled quickly, checks you’d signed
    Lay unmailed on the table.
    The doctors knew no thing for sure
    Except that no one had a cure
    For that which all life must endure:
    Its own end in the fable.

    The Hospice lady, she’d inspect
    Your wrinkled body, worn and wrecked
    By cares and woes and loves unchecked
    By age so unforgiving.
    And then she came that awful day
    To verify you’d gone away
    When no breath passed your lips turned grey,
    And no pulse signaled living.

    Oh, please come back, I think at times,
    While counting meters, forming rhymes.
    Forgive me for those thoughtless crimes
    That living lonely brings.
    No news have I that one should flout,
    And few achievements I can tout;
    But how I miss our talks about
    The cabbages and kings.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018


  9. If the truth were to be known this is probably product of the thought process of Steven Miller and if you ask he could probably come up with that drinking song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may be onto something there. Miller, Chief Strategist for Ongoing Promotion of Racism, seems to have kept a rather subdued profile of late. But with Trump spouting such drivel as “Black Lives Matter is a symbol of hate”–a line perhaps fed to him by Miller, or Hannity, or Tucker Carlson–he doesn’t need to speak publicly himself. I hope the paint with which “Black Lives Matter” was emblazoned on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower yesterday is at least semi-water-resistant. Gonna rain cats and dogs in The Big Apple today.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. As if we need more statues/monuments no one outside the Beltway and media will see …
    That said, I suggest a single installation, fully powered and illuminated 24/7, 365 days a year, of a waterfall of neon currency (all denominations) cascading into a gold-plated commode, accompanied every 30 seconds by a hi-def, digitized flush.
    If you’re going to p*ss away tax payer dollars, be honest about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. The author includes a link to James Watson’s Wikipedia page, but seems to disregard his problematic views on genetics and race. I can’t say I agree with his inclusion here.


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