Hunting season: Trump’s war on public lands
Since President Donald Trump took office, I’ve tried to figure out why oft-repeated lines lambasting his endless shortcomings—his feuds with Gold Star families, his barely comprehensible Twitter rampages, his lack of knowledge about the government he runs—stir in me such a strong sense of annoyance. Trump is a dangerously incompetent leader, and his pathological need to attack people he doesn’t like has real consequences for our politics and our society—so why do I hate when people criticize these faults? The president’s actions on Monday were my answer.
In an unprecedented use of the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to designate landmarks, Trump drastically reduced the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. The move will shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50 percent, ostensibly to wrest control of the land from bureaucrats in the federal government and return it to the people of Utah. In reality, the people of Utah—71 percent of whom approved of President Barack Obama’s decision last year to make Bears Ears a monument— won’t do much more with it than watch mining and drilling operations immediately drop their anchors and tear up the natural landscape.
Though he didn’t say anything particularly stupid or racist, this move is classic Trump: doing something a lot of regular people don’t like, and which he never campaigned on, to appease a few powerful conservatives.
The 13 months since Trump’s election have been exhausting. It’s easy to grab onto a few one-liners about his incompetence and his malevolence toward every marginalized group you can name. It’s fun to laugh at (and, if you’re like me, genuinely admire) his 2,530-calorie McDonald’s order. It’s a lot harder to reckon with his destruction of public land cherished by native tribes, conservationists and archaeologists.
But that’s no reason not to reckon with it. The platitudes that I so despise water down Trump’s absurd and destructive presidency to just the stupid and mean things he says. They gloss over the tangible, irreversible damage he is currently inflicting on the United States.
On the night of Nov. 8, 2016, most of us probably didn’t get around to worrying about the security of national monuments as we imagined the disaster that would be Trump’s America. We were horrified by his verbal attacks on the media, on people of color, on women and on Gold Star families—and rightly so. But now, he’s been in office for almost a year, and we’re still shouting into the void about the Gold Star families and the incompetence and the offensive tweets. Meanwhile, the verbal attacks have been joined by actions, including the one that sold out sacred lands and ten thousand archaeological sites for a bit of political capital.
Basically, you should be a lot more mad about this than you are about his latest Twitter beef. The campaign ended a year ago, but we’re still in the same mode we were in then, hanging on and cringing at his every word. Which is why if I hear “Trump” in the same sentence as “Gold Star family” one more time, I’m gonna lose it.