There was a bit of video that caught my eye from President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore, courtesy of CNN.
“This is our country at its very best,” Trump is seen saying at the beginning of the clip, looking up misty-eyed at the monument, a bit awed. “What an incredible achievement.”
“Visiting Mount Rushmore today, President Trump taking in the majesty of the moment,” the CNN voice-over says, the narrator sounding himself a bit awed. “This monument to four great American presidents.”
“Just the accomplishment and the beauty, it really does make one very proud to be an American,” the president says in the video.
“Trump has his own mountain to climb,” the narrator says, referring to the election. He sounds a bit hopeful, though.
I’m sorry, I got that all wrong.
That was actually a 2016 clip involving Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders visiting the South Dakota monument during a swing out West during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Just replace every reference to Trump in the above transcript with Sanders’ name and it’s accurate, though.
What changed? Sanders said Mt. Rushmore made him proud to be an American in 2016, and CNN seemed to agree. Now people want to blast the presidents off the mountain. pic.twitter.com/ofC9XFxAb7
— Philip Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) July 4, 2020
Want to guess how Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore got covered on CNN four years later?
“President Trump will be at Mount Rushmore, where he’ll be standing in front of a monument of two slave owners and on land wrestled away from Native Americans,” CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago said Friday. “I’m told that, uh, he’ll be focusing on the effort to ‘tear down our country’s history.'”
CNN: “President Trump will be at Mount Rushmore, where he’ll be standing in front of a monument of two slave owners and on land wrestled away from Native Americans.” pic.twitter.com/UYjzEiUkU9
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 3, 2020
I’m told that, uh, he wasn’t inaccurate.
After all, four years ago, Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were still slaveowners. This wasn’t information recently unearthed from musty books in dimly lit library reading rooms. (The other two presidents featured on the face of the mountain haven’t fared too well, either, in the face of the statue-toppling mob.)
It wasn’t just CNN spreading this message in the run-up to the Independence Day weekend, which I needn’t tell you. The New York Times — which called Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore “dark and divisive” when it was anything but — used the occasion to run an article titled, “How Mount Rushmore Became Mount Rushmore.” Spoiler alert: American malfeasance.
“Native Americans have long criticized the sculpture, in part because it was built on what had been Indigenous land. And more recently, amid a nationwide movement against racism that has toppled statues commemorating Confederate generals and other historical figures, some activists have called for Mount Rushmore to close,” The Times reported Wednesday.
The article cast a very specific light on how the original sculptor for the project, Gutzon Borglum, carved the bas relief sculpture of Confederate figures at Stone Mountain in Georgia and had links to the Ku Klux Klan.
Then there was the original sin of stealing the land from the Lakota Tribe, which considers it sacred ground. Then there were the various sins of the presidents on Mount Rushmore — who, for whatever reason, weren’t as enlightened as today’s college students.
“Visitors look upon the faces of those presidents and extol the virtues that they believe make America the country it is today,” Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said in a statement, adding that the monument was a “brand on our flesh” that must be done away with.
“Lakota see the faces of the men who lied, cheated and murdered innocent people whose only crime was living on the land they wanted to steal,” he said.
It’s more difficult to watch the goalposts shift when you’re talking about reading pieces in The New York Times than when you’re watching the same scene four years apart. It’s much more obvious when you look at the CNN clip and realize how it treated the same monument when it’s four years apart and a different political ideology is involved.
The renewed context is supposed to be that we’re reassessing monuments in the wake of the protests. But I thought the media was supposed to be enlightened about this sort of thing. Why are we reassessing them now when CNN has always had the answers?
The reason is obvious: It’s an election year and Donald Trump is on the ballot.
George Floyd and the protests his death in police custody touched off are only a pretext.
If Trump had visited South Dakota right after the election, while Barack Obama was still the president, I could conceivably see CNN urging the former president to order an airstrike on the monument.
Thankfully, Bernie Sanders got to see Mount Rushmore in all its “majesty” before it got canceled.
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