Trump takes July 4 celebration to faraway South Dakota range, but pressing voter issues follow
The president leaves D.C. for a July 4 'comeback' America event, but voter issues about pandemic, statues, racism not far behind.
June 29, 2020 - 9:49am
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President Trump has decided to leave the nation’s capital for July Fourth and take his celebration on the road by going to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, but the event is being followed by election year criticism, similar to that cast upon his event last year.
The choice to hold a rally in the state’s Black Hills mountain range follows the president’s purported fondness for the 79-year-old stone monument in which the faces of four presidents are carved.
An announcement back in May 2019 that the 2020 Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore would again include fireworks was met with some criticism.
But the backlash has intensified since Trump said in early May that he would attend the Rushmore event and since George Floyd died May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police, sparking nationwide criticism about racism being ingrained in U.S. history.
Activist groups led by Native Americans organizations are planning to protest on July 3, the day of Trump’s official visit, as part of the president’s U.S. “comeback” campaign — after months of the coronavirus pandemic, record unemployment and the social unrest following Floyd’s death.
Beyond the concerns about fireworks sparking wildfires, critics argue that a mass gathering could further spread the coronavirus.
South Dakota as of Saturday had 6,479 reported virus cases and just 87 related deaths, among the lowest numbers in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still the biggest concern about the event — which has emerged in ongoing, nationwide protests after Floyd’s death — appears to be whether statues and memorials honoring leaders of America’s past, particularly those for Confederate leaders, should be removed from public spaces.
A statue of George Washington, one of the four U.S. presidents represented at Mount Rushmore, in past weeks was removed and set afire by protesters in Portland, Ore.
The four faces of the presidents are known as the “shrine to democracy” and were chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum for their leadership during four phases of American development: Washington led the birth of the nation; Thomas Jefferson sparked its westward expansion; Abraham Lincoln preserved the union and emancipated slaves; and Theodore Roosevelt championed industrial innovation, according to the Associated Press, which could not get a comment from the White House about the event.
Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala tribe and the president of a local activist organization called NDN Collective, says Mount Rushmore is “a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s still alive and well in society today,” according to the wire service.
South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem and the president have been like-minded about the mainstream media and trying to keep the economy alive during the pandemic. Noem did not order a shelter-in-place for residents, while many other governors did.
“My approach to this virus was to provide South Dakotans with all the information I could and then trust them to exercise their freedom, to make the best decision for themselves and their families. We took a unique path — we haven't locked people up, forced businesses or churches to close, or ordered a statewide shelter in place,” she said in her recent "Lessons Learned" speech about the virus.
“The mainstream media attack those who push for freedom and for people to be able to make the best decisions for their families,” she continued. "But politicians who take away people’s freedoms and enforce lockdowns are praised — and shielded from real scrutiny."
And like Trump, Noem doesn’t think monuments to early American leaders should just be erased from history.
“These men have flaws, obviously every leader has flaws,” she recently told Fox News. “But we’re missing the opportunity we have in this discussion to talk about the virtues and what they brought to this country, and the fact that this is the foundation that we’re built on and the heritage we should be carrying forward.”
Last year, Trump pumped up Washington, D.C.’s annual July 4 celebrations with a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, military flyovers and a tank display — criticized in part for purportedly including VIP seating for donors.
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