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Memento Mori

Mt. Rushmore Becomes Latest Target in Monument Culture War

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

In an astonishing escalation of the ensuing historical monument culture war taking place in America, it seems that Mt. Rushmore is not even sacred anymore.  Mt. Rushmore is yet another target of the leftist “Cultural Revolution” mob attempting to revise history to fit its narrow, incomplete, and inaccurate worldview. 


In a stunning tweet Monday evening, which has since been deleted, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said, "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 tweet is referring to a fireworks event being held on July 3rd at Mt. Rushmore to celebrate America’s Independence before the 4th of July holiday.

It is an unfortunate escalation that obviously crossed the lines, and within an hour was surreptitiously taken down by the DNC with no apology, correction, or explanation. 

But since Mt. Rushmore has been attacked, it might be helpful to understand what Mt. Rushmore is, why it was built, and why it is celebrated.

With over 2 million annual visitors, Americans have been making the pilgrimage to South Dakota to pay homage to Mt. Rushmore.  On the mountain are carved four of America’s greatest presidents – including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – to represent the first 130 years of American history. 

The Mt. Rushmore monument was initially conceived by Doane Robinson – a state historian of South Dakota, to boost tourism in the state.  Robinson received enthusiastic support from South Dakotan U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck, who passed a series of bills in Congress to underwrite it and secured the support of then-President Calvin Coolidge.  


With funding secured, Robinson teamed up with renown sculptor Gutzon Borglum to conceive and sculpt what would eventually be what we know as Mt. Rushmore today.  It took 14 years (1927-1941) to complete the project and would eventually come to symbolize the “triumph of modern society and democracy.”

The four presidents selected were chosen for specific reasons.  Here are the reasons for honoring each of these presidents, according to the U.S. National Park Service website:

George Washington, First President of the United States

“Born 1732, died 1799. Washington led the colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Borglum chose Washington to be the most prominent figure on the mountain and represent the birth of the United States.”

Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States

“Born 1743, died 1826. Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of our country, adding all or part of fifteen present-day states. Gutzon Borglum chose Jefferson to represent the growth of the United States.”

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

“Born 1858, died 1919. Roosevelt provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the "trust buster" for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man. Borglum chose Roosevelt to represent the development of the United States.”


Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“Born 1809, died 1865. Lincoln held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished. Gutzon Borglum chose Lincoln to represent the preservation of the United States.”

Having personally visited Mt. Rushmore recently, it is this last president that shocked me and was the impetus for my writing this op-ed.  How is it possible that the man responsible for freeing the slaves – President Abraham Lincoln, would be linked to white supremacy? 

And this is not an isolated incident involving Lincoln as vandals and rioters recently graffitied the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and are now attempting to tear down the Emancipation Memorial in D.C. as well, which depicts President Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing an African-American slave.  It should also be noted that this memorial was funded by freed slaves.

In all fairness, there has been some controversy surrounding how the US.. government secured the Black Hill Mountains land where Mt. Rushmore is located.  The Sioux Indians claim that the land had been granted to them by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), but that the U.S. took back the area from the tribe after winning the Great Sioux War of 1876. 

Also, there is justified criticism that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners and part of their legacy is inextricably tied to that fact.  But history and historical figures are replete with contradictions and judging them now through a modern social justice lens fails to fully understand the historical nuance, context, and manner in time, and the historical achievements both achieved – including leading America to victory in its revolutionary war and writing the Declaration of Independence, among the many other achievements detailed in the above U.S. National Park Service descriptions for each.


We cannot, and should not, tear down every historical monument in this country that offends.  It does a great disservice in understanding, learning from, and appreciating our great, complex, and imperfect history.  We should teach history – not destroy history, so that future generations learn the lessons of the past so they are not doomed to repeat its past mistakes, but also grow and build on its triumphs, which included ending slavery at the horrific cost of 600,000 of our fellow countrymen.

A country and its people are tied together in large part by its history.  Those seeking to revise, distort, or erase America’s history do a great disservice.  There is no other nation that has done more for freedom in the world, including defeating Nazism and Communism and providing humanitarian relief to countless others – with nothing expected in return.

Mt. Rushmore has become a symbol of American Exceptionalism and is revered by millions of visiting Americans each year and is studied in our school classrooms all around the country.  Recent calls to tear down Mt. Rushmore are another attempt by the rampant “Year Zero” left to tear down what America is and continues to stand for, albeit imperfectly - the pursuit of a more perfect union.

I wonder if anyone in the media will ask presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden whether or not he believes Mt. Rushmore glorifies white supremacy. 

Christopher N. Malagisi is based in Washington, D.C. and is currently the Executive Director of Outreach for Hillsdale College | Washington, D.C. Campus, but expresses these views in his own personal capacity. He previously served as CPAC Director & Director of External Relations at the American Conservative Union, and as Editor in Chief of Salem Media’s Conservative Book Club.


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