“The wrongs done to trees, wrongs of every sort, are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when the light comes, the heart of the people is always right.”
John Muir, 1938
Ever since President Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the designation of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees as protected state parks under the order that the unspoiled land will “be held for public use, resort, and recreation…inalienable for all time,” an endless succession of villains have tried to undermine and threaten what would eventually become the National Park Service.
Throughout the last 150 years, one enemy of the parks after another has risen up to dispossess the land from our collective ownership in the name of private for-profit interests to exploit and destroy it however they see fit. In most cases, the parks and the people have won the day. In other cases, such as with the damming and flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, the villains have been occasionally victorious.
Today, December 4, 2017, President Trump joined the ranks of those villains, becoming the first president in modern history to literally shrink the boundaries of two National Monuments, in this case one monument designated by President Obama and another designated by President Clinton through the Antiquities Act, a piece of invaluable legislation signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, allowing the president to set aside land for the enjoyment and benefit of the people, without the approval of Congress. (Republicans are also seeking to rewrite the Antiquities Act, making it more difficult for presidents to designate monuments.)
As of today, and in accordance with Trump’s order, the Bears Ears National Monument has been shrunken by 84 percent, from 1.4 million acres to 220,000 acres. And the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been reduced in size by nearly 50 percent. In other words, Trump just stole literally millions of acres of your American birthright as well as the birthright of indigenous tribes in Utah, and he’s handed that land over to ranchers, real estate developers and the fossil fuel industry.
In other words, Trump is selling your land to the destroyers of it.
There are so many things in this world that Trump simply doesn’t understand, nor will he ever understand. In this context, Trump doesn’t seem to grasp that the National Parks don’t belong to the government, they belong to the people. They belong to you, regardless of your political party or your economic status. The government is merely the steward, holding the land in trust for all Americans. TR famously described the National Park Service as “noteworthy in its essential democracy.” No one is barred from visiting these nearly pristine acres of natural splendor. No one is restricted from immersing themselves in the enduring continuity of the Parks — what John Muir, the grandfather of the Parks, called “the hope of the world.”
Trump ripped a little of that hope away from us today.
We’ve had many awful and even corrupt presidents, but Trump is truly the first villain president — acting on his darkest instincts and the darkest instincts of his cult-like followers. Whether it’s authorizing mining companies to poison rivers, streams and drinking water; or whether it’s allowing hunters to psychotically murder hibernating bears for some reason; or whether it’s stripping millions of people, including children, of their healthcare; or whether it’s stealing untouched and protected land from the people, Trump appears driven to wickedness, and this list barely scratches the surface of his villainy.
Past Republican presidents have certainly acted in accordance with conservative ideals, but Trump goes beyond ideology and instead acts on cruel whimsy and his obsessive reversal of every Obama achievement. He’s the destroyer good things, simply to watch them die — not unlike the way his children wantonly kill and mutilate exotic animals.
Along those lines, Trump’s remarks in Utah today were a virtual greatest hits of words spoken by every enemy of the Parks for the last century-and-a-half. Absolutely nothing he said today was new or original. From the beginning, opponents have screeched about allowing the states to have more control. They’ve screeched about the economic benefits of exploiting the land for development. They’ve screeched about presidential overreach. They’ve lied to the people by misrepresenting who owns the park land. Trump unoriginally repeated every tired old anti-Parks trope because he knows nothing.
He also delivered a great big “eff you” to the great TR, eviscerating the purpose of Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act: “Past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments.” To a misanthropic real estate developer, “the smallest necessary area” is still too much.
Of course he also included his own Trumpy gibberish to the proceedings, adding a layer of insult to injury.
“And I have to say, really,” Trump said, “Talk about a very special guy that I made Secretary of the Interior. Does he know the interior. He’s knows it, he loves it. He loves seeing it and riding on it. Ryan Zinke, who truly believes in protecting America — he is protecting America. And nobody loves it more. Ryan.”
Secretary Zinke loves riding on… the interior?
Kidding aside, augmenting and protecting the parks has been a bipartisan endeavor, at least in terms of modern presidents. President Reagan added 18 parks. Bush 41 added 14. Bill Clinton added 19. Bush 43 added 7. Obama added 19. Yet Trump’s first move on the Parks is to add nothing and, instead, to take land away from us. In the process, Trump has turned the Parks into a political wedge issue, releasing his cult followers to join him in his opposition to the parks. Simply put: it shouldn’t be this way, but there it is. More damage to the system without any particular benefit, minus adding to Trump’s reputation for being an irredeemable troll.
The darkness of ignorance, as John Muir once said, has descended on the White House.