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Paragons of Heroism?

Well, now we know who Trump is thinking of for his Nation Garden of American Heroes.

For example, Billy Graham, “God’s machine gun”, probably the most successful evangelical preacher of the USA, a man who, although Southerner, repudiated segregation; on the other hand in his self-appointed “crusades” he fought liberalism, supported the Vietnam War, railed against abortion and homosexuality, saw Anti-Christ in the guise of communism on the brink of taking control over glorious America and therefore supported McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities, regretted not being able to treat Jews differently, as they were much too powerful, did his utmost to thwart John F. Kennedy’s presidency, because he was convinced that no Catholic should live in the White House. And he was the first to successfully instrumentalize modern media to spread his message and rake in millions (only to the glory of his God, of course).

Or Antonin Scalia, Justice of the Supreme Court, who Trump probably likes, because he considered the death penalty for minors constitutional, voted against decriminalizing homosexuality, and lamented the lack of evangelical Christians at the Supreme Court.

Why Dolley Madison, First Lady at the beginning of the 19th century, was granted the honour, nobody can really explain. Perhaps because she was the first female American to send a telegram. The choice of Betsy Ross is no less anecdotal. She is said to have sown the first Stars and Stripes – which, though historically disputed, surely deserves a statue.

Christa McAuliffe died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. It seems to me this was a tragic accident, not a heroic deed. But probably it suffices to die as an American on an American mission. One definitely should remember such people, but in this context her commemoration is simply ideologically exploited. In addition, the question arises why the other six astronauts who died in the disaster are not to be immortalized too!

A few other things are remarkable, like the high number of members of the military (which should not surprise anybody, considering the national pride in the best and most courageous soldiers on earth, which was only shortly subdued in the wake of the Vietnam War), or the choice of overwhelmingly Republican presidents (who, as we know, were the only presidents apart from the Founding Fathers who made America great). There is not a single Hispanic or Asian and, hardly worth mentioning, no Native American (as Trump explained on July 4th, the American Way of Life, believe it or not, began as early as 1492, and before this on this continent there was – nothing; and afterwards just hordes of insidious savages; nothing to be honoured far and wide).

But let’s not be over-critical. On this list there are many respectable and honourable men and women, black ones too, like M.L. King, Harriet Tubman or Booker T. Washington (a moderate businessman; his adversary W.E.B. Dubois, who in contrast advocated direct and strong political action against the Jim Crow laws, and was one of the founders of the still influential NAACP, is not on the list). But why do I have the impression that these people have been planted by the more successful of Trump’s aides, and by his wife? Why else should a sworn misogynist want to honour the women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, or aviation pioneer Amelia Earheart? Because he has no idea who exactly they are, I guess.

The historian Adam Domby points out that the Afro-Americans selected are considered “safe” and “comfortable” in public opinion. And the Washington Post suggests another pretty convincing explanation for Trump’s rather odd and arbitrary choice of heroes: a startling number of the people on his list are film characters, and some of them became widely known only after Hollywood had immortalized them. And this is precisely where Trump in all probability got all his information from. Or does anyone believe he got it from books???

There are e.g. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, America’s best-known frontiersmen, whose legends were hawked around in innumerable films; or the servicemen Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Audie Murphy, who are of extremely minimal historic interest but were styled up as cinematic heroes or even became actors themselves.

By the way, in Trump’s executive order it says that all statues have to be “lifelike” and “realistic” and “not abstract or modernist representations.” Surely everybody can understand this; after all, it is Trump’s garden, and everything else would be way too far beyond him and his fans.

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