By the standards of President Barack Obama’s many outrages, his decision to re-name Mount McKinley isn’t very consequential. Still, it’s infuriating for a variety of reasons.
There’s the fact he did it by executive action, for one thing. Mount McKinley was so named by an act of Congress, and signed into law by a predecessor president, and under our constitutional system presidents aren’t supposed to be able to unilaterally repeal laws. This president obviously believes otherwise, as already shown by his executive actions on illegal immigration and other matters, and that is a problem of the greatest consequence.
We’re also appalled that the memory of President William McKinley, who was a vastly better President than Obama, is being quite officially dis-honored. McKinley inherited office during an economic depression and led the country to unprecedented prosperity, was victorious in the Spanish-American War, and never asserted the unilateral power to repeal laws. He probably would have accomplished even greater things if he hadn’t hadn’t been assassinated by a crazed anarchist early in his second term, which at this point is rarely taught in schools, and the now-faint memory of that tragedy also deserves the honor that Obama presumes to withdraw.
McKinley was a successful and much beloved Republican president, though, and it’s all the more galling that this surely had something to do with it. One strains to imagine Obama ever withdrawing an honorific from any Democratic president, and we note that his Treasury Secretary has even chosen to withdraw the staunch abolitionist but notoriously capitalist Alexander Hamilton from his place of honor on the ten dollar bill, rather than the slave-holding and Indian-persecuting but Democratic Party-founding Andrew Jackson from his spot on the twenty, so there’s also the added stench of rank and most petty partisanship.
The new name for the mountain is Denali, which is the old name that indigenous Alaskans use, but this exquisite sensitivity to the special interests of an ethnic identity group also rankles. The area surrounding Mount McKinley is already acknowledged as the Denali National Park, the indigenous Alaskans have always been free to call the mountain whatever they wish, just as native New Yorkers still refer to John F. Kennedy Airport as Idlewild and we Kansans call the river running nearby our home the “Ar-Kansas” rather than the “Arkan-saw,” and there’s no reason the rest of the country should cease it’s admittedly mostly unknown homage to McKinley. The same impulse to impose a guilt-ridden revisionist history on the public is driving Hamilton off the ten spot in order to make room for a woman or a person of color or best of all a woman of color, and it’s erasing the Confederate battle flag from the roof of the “Dukes of Hazards” muscle car, and it’s appetite for destruction is such that won’t be satisfied until every vestige of such dead white, male, and rock-ribbedly Republicans as McKinley are long forgotten.
What can be done by executive action can presumably be undone by more sensible executive actions, at least, so one can hope that someone more along the lines of William McKinley will come along next year and start getting some un-doing done. In the meantime, it’s still Mount McKinley to us.
— Bud Norman