In his three calamitous months in office, President Donald Trump has visited a property that is part of his business empire nearly once every three days. And while Barack Obama had gone to nine countries in that amount of time, Trump has been to no other nation – though he just announced an overseas trip for later this month.
That’s not surprising, given Trump’s nativist biases and his need to curl up at night in high-thread-count sheets in his own properties.
But do you know how many times Trump, as president, has been west of the Mississippi? Zero. While most presidents are curious about the land and people under their rule, Trump treats the sunset side of the 100th meridian as a foreign country.
Yet, for something he has never seen from Air Force One, Trump is now trying to do historic and vengeful damage to a vast part of the country that he clearly knows nothing about. With one executive order, he set in motion a plan that could lift federal protection from some of the most stunning scenery and singular cultural landmarks in the world – land owned by the American public.
With another stroke of the presidential pen, Trump issued a directive that could open oil drilling off the California coast, something that hasn’t been done since the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969.
Trump clearly despises California, whose citizens are the main reason he lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any other president. But does he have to put in peril the beaches below Ronald Reagan’s old ranch, a coastline that is pure bliss for surfers and solace-seekers, just to spite his fellow Americans?
It’s not only the blue states of the West that Trump is punishing. His initial budget plan would zero out federal funding for public radio in wide-open spaces of deep-red states. I was in Laramie, Wyoming, a few weeks ago, and got an earful about how much people love their news on the range.
Even the most insular king would occasionally visit the far parts of his realm. Should Trump leave his cocoon of sea-level sycophants, he might be surprised at what he’d find in the other American time zones.
Utah, for one, is a magical state. There, Trump could meet some of the local people who have vowed to defend their new Bears Ears National Monument. This sanctuary, with more than 100,000 archaeological sites and sun-burnished canyons that glow more brightly than the gold in Trump Tower, is one of the places that Trump has targeted with his latest executive order.
No president has ever reversed another’s national monument. Teddy Roosevelt used the power of the Antiquities Act to protect the Grand Canyon. President Barack Obama used the same act to ensure that Bears Ears would be intact for future generations.
“Today, we are putting the states back in charge,” Trump said in signing the directive to review large national monuments created since 1996. “It’s a big thing.” It’s also, most likely, an illegal thing. This land, Trump fails to note or understand, is federal land – owned by all Americans. If he’s successful in taking away a national monument, he will be depriving every citizen of a rightful inheritance.
Trump says prior administrations bypassed the states and put millions of acres “under federal control.” That is a lie, one of the 488 false or misleading statements Trump uttered in his first 100 days. Bears Ears is already part of the nation’s public land endowment.
What’s more, the people who’ve lived around Bears Ears the longest were given a broad say in preserving a home of their ancestors. Five Native American tribes have long pushed for the designation.
The monument designation was “a celebratory moment in our history,” said David Filfred of the Navajo Nation. “Our voice was finally heard and our cultural and spiritual heritage respected.”
Trump might feel more at home in neighboring Idaho, the only state in the union where politicians have removed references to climate change from school science standards.
But maybe not. Booming Twin Falls, Idaho, is considered a national model for forward-looking rural development. There, the founder of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant (gasp!), runs a plant paying good wages that has also hired hundreds of Middle East refugees (double gasp!).
But it would take Trump more than four hours to get to Idaho. And given that he spends four hours per round of golf – well, who’s got the time?
One state over, Trump could also dip into Washington state’s red zone, in the desert along the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River – another national monument. In the fall, the river is crowded with Trump voters trying to catch Chinook salmon. They’ve promised a fierce fight to defend the River of the West.
For us Westerners who don’t like tacky Easterners messing with God’s Country, the best hope may be Trump’s assertion a few days ago, one of his few statements you can believe: “I don’t stand by anything.”