We are now celebrating the anniversary of Ronald Reagan, who, if the corporate press is anything to go by, came down from heaven exactly 100 years ago to save us all. They are making such a fuss about Ronnie that there is even a proposal to add his handsome features to the rogues’ gallery on Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
I have vivid memories of President Reagan, who to me was an older, earlier version of George W. Bush but without the brains. I well remember his famous trickle down theory of economics, whereby the wealth deriving from massive tax concessions to the super rich was supposed to trickle down to the rest of us below.
I did feel something trickling down on my head pretty soon after Reagan came to power, but when I checked, it turned out not to be wealth: It didn’t pass the smell test. The same is true of all the rest of Reagan’s policies, foreign and domestic: They stank. The tax cuts for the corporations and the rich were a strong factor in stimulating corporate globalization, while they undercut the social safety net for working people and the poor in the United States. The busting of the union representing air traffic controllers brought a thrill to the hearts of anti-worker reactionaries everywhere. The paeans to Reagan we are hearing right now include giving him credit for ending the Cold War and defeating communism. What he did was to help unleash a new tsunami of ravenous, imperialistic capitalism on the entire world. We have not recovered yet.
And such nice friends he had, too! There was not a right-wing dictator or fascist that he did not consider to be “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers”, a term which he first applied to the Contras, a group of U.S.-financed cutthroats who were rampaging around in Nicaragua, murdering health workers and teachers, in an effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. His “defeat” of the USSR foisted people like Al Qaeda on the world. He stood up for “freedom”, but only the freedom to exploit and oppress.
Right now, there are four faces carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore. As one faces it (I have never been there, but I am looking at a picture) George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are at the left, while Abraham Lincoln is on the right. Between Jefferson and Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt’s ugly mug is sort of thrusting forward, trying to get into the limelight, which fits his personality.
What would these four former presidents have thought of the monument? The thrusting, self promoting imperialist Teddy Roosevelt might have liked it. The two transplanted 18th century English gentleman, Washington and Jefferson, would not have cared for it artistically. And Lincoln, that enemy of all overweening pride and ridiculous pomp, would have probably found it terribly embarrassing. He would have had it covered with a giant tarpaulin.
These figures are neither great art nor appropriate for the setting. From an artistic viewpoint, they are world-historical kitsch, bad taste on a literally monumental scale. Apart from ruining a perfectly good mountain, they desecrate one of the sites most sacred to Native American people. The Black Hills were and are considered holy by the Lakota Sioux, and the crags which were eventually chiseled into the likenesses of the four presidents were particularly sacred spots, known as the “Six Grandfathers”, who appeared to the noted Lakota religious leader Black Elk in a memorable vision . The war with the Lakotas and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies which led to the death of George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was triggered, in part, by the penetration of the Black Hills by white gold prospectors, who were protected by Custer’s forces in blatant violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. That treaty had recognized the Lakotas’ possession of the Black Hills and much other real estate “in perpetuity”. “Perpetuity” turned out to mean about 6 or 7 years. Looking up at the 60 foot heads of these four white men, anybody can see that the Fort Laramie Treaty is no longer in force. Symbolism! I am told that local indigenous people are not big fans of the Mount Rushmore sculptures. It would not be necessary to ask why.
So the Native American people, and the people of the United States in general, need another head carved onto Mt. Rushmore like we need another head sprouting from our shoulders. It could set a very bad precedent. Next we might see Sarah Palin’s face plastered onto the Statue of Liberty. Let’s stop this before it starts.