In his Independence Day Celebration speech, controversially located at the base of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, President Donald Trump announced the issue of an executive order to create a “National Garden of American Heroes.” Released on July 3rd, the executive order calls for the creation of a national garden that will pay tribute to “the giants” of the US’s past.
The order is a direct response to the removal, toppling, and vandalisation of monuments and statues, particularly those relating to the Confederacy, across the US as a result of the killing of George Floyd. In his speech, President Trump blamed “far-left fascism” for wanting to “wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” To an audience chanting “USA! USA!” Trump said: “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing.” The proposed national garden seems to be Trump’s attempt to ensure this doesn’t happen, although the plan has been met with criticism.
“Presidents certainly have a role in shaping national conversations about the meaning of our history. But this comes off as a desperate act of political grandstanding to his base,” Kevin K. Gaines, a professor of social justice and civil rights at the University of Virginia, told The New York Times. “Washington D.C. is already full of national monuments to some of the revered figures on Trump’s roll call of heroes.”
Other critics have suggested that the garden be more of a graveyard, of sorts, for monuments and statues that glorify a problematic past as opposed to a shiny new attraction that would simply add to a plethora of monuments that already exist. “The garden should contain these disgraced figures and the countless other monuments to historical icons once considered heroic on the basis of faulty values,” suggests critic Jonathon Keats in Forbes referencing many of the statues that have made recent headlines. “And it should provide adequate context for their evils to be understood, lest misdeeds be forgotten and other villains take advantage of our ignorance of history in the future.”
Within 60 days, those on the task force, which will be headed David Bernhardt, the secretary of the interior who was appointed by Trump last year, have been asked to release plans for the garden. Guidelines handed down from the president state that the garden must be near a city and that statues that represent people must be “lifelike or realistic,” as opposed to “abstract or modernist representations.”
Those memorialised in the garden are expected to be “historically significant American[s],” as defined within the executive order. Trump also offers more than 30 Americans that meet the aforementioned criteria that should be included in the garden. These figures range from Amelia Earhart to Ronald Reagan, some, of course, are more controversial than others (conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the only US Supreme Court justice to be recommended by the president, or evangelist Billy Graham, for example). The order also makes room for those who were not American citizens but played an integral role in the formation of the nation, including Christopher Columbus and the Marquis de La Fayette. However, it has been pointed out that there are no Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, liberal, or modern Democratic party individuals listed as suggestions.
In addition to those listed, the order states that candidates that could fit the bill include “police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty” and “opponents of national socialism or international socialism.” Authors, scientists, other elected officials, artists, and teachers could also make the cut. “None will have lived perfect lives,” the order caveats, “but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.”
Trump’s executive order asks that the garden be completed ahead of the 250th anniversary of the issuing of the Declaration of Independence which will be July 4th, 2026. Of course, these plans hang in the balance ahead of the November presidential election that will determine the future, or lack thereof, for the Trump Administration.