So imagine my surprise when I heard that the park is one of four possible locations for Trump’s “National Garden of American Heroes,” announced by Executive Order on July 3.
That’s a few scandals ago, but remember when the removal of Confederate statues was in the news? This “garden” idea was one of Trump’s least offensive reactions to all that, to just pick his own “heroes” and put up statues for them. The announcement said that preference would be given to “the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.”
The first 31 “heroes” are: Billy Graham, Antonin Scalia, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Amelia Earhart, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Christa McAuliffe, George Patton, Betsy Ross, George Washington, Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Audie Murphy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson.
The list was described as not exhaustive, and our mayor was told that the number of statues could rise to several hundred!
Not just the names but the sculptures’ style would be dictated, too. “All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.” Because no Modernism! (This is consistent with Trump’s draft Executive Order – called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” – requiring that all new federal buildings be Classical in style.)
Now in my first career I attended dozens, maybe hundreds of meetings about proposed memorials and statues in DC, so I’d read the “Garden of Heroes” announcement with interest but shrugged it off in the “never gonna happen” category, knowing it takes years for these things to be approved, and Trump would be gone soon, anyway. As one tells oneself these days.
Even if he won re-election (I know, I’m shuddering as I type those words), this would surely go the way of that other expensive vanity project of his – the Wall.
But then shit got real when I got the email from our mayor: “It has come to my attention that one of the locations that the Department [of Interior] is most strongly considering is Greenbelt Park.” He announced a town hall on the subject, which I attended, of course (virtually, like everyone).
Issues Raised in our Town Hall
- The mayor noted the park was commissioned for its “greenery,” which is especially important for a town famous for the green belt around it – it’s “part of our brand!” And when he heard there may be hundreds of statues he wondered, “Are they going to be miniatures?”
- So he declared the proposal “legally suspect” and said he assumed it could be tied up in courts, “certainly until January, when things will work out.” (More cautious optimism.)
- “The list is horrible! Really insulting.” “It’s a show of force, and very worrisome.” Seems like they’re “sticking it to the liberals.”
- “Why not include FDR?” (whose administration created Greenbelt). And it’s “odd to have Scalia without Marshall or Warren.”
- Many expressed concern that it would be “very politicized” – no shit!
- “Feels like a whim.” “He’s claiming grandeur for himself.” Ditto.
- “People will be up in arms about this!”
- Someone mentioned the environmental impact statement taking a long time to prepare, and “hopefully Trump would be in jail by then.”
- Is there the infrastructure for all the new traffic?
- “Who would be attracted to it?” was a concern that hadn’t even occurred to me but yes, I can imagine people coming here to show their support for the Confederacy. Think Charlottesville. “This feels like infiltration and is very threatening, honestly.”
- “It’s a misappropriation of resources.”
- The mayor mentioned that lots of cities are actually asking for this! So why not let some other city reap the imagined economic benefits from such a “garden.”
Having solicited input without comment until the very end, the mayor finally declared that “I stand strongly against this project.”
Politics aside, I bet most would agree that putting dozens or hundreds of statues in a forested national park isn’t exactly showing them off to their advantage. To say the least.
Now I’m pretty inclusive in my artist tastes and would hate to see modernist or abstract works banned. However, I wonder if such a ban would have blocked my least favorite new statue in DC – this one of Martin Luther King Jr. as a Chinese emperor, so tall that visitors rush up to it, only to get a view of his knees.
A favorite of mine is this statue of Frederick Douglass, installed at the University of Maryland campus in 2015. It’s realistic and downright fiery! And at 7.5 feet tall, it’s majestic but still reachable.