Category Archives: national monuments

Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

Plans to erect a quite cartoonish rendering of fifteen-century navigator Christopher Columbus on the banks of the Hudson River not only stripped the Genoese credited with “discovering” America of historical context: it deployed the royal emissary who discovered the continent beside a development constructed by Donald Trump, the property developer who would become United States President. The monumental Columbus–projected to be far larger than any statue in the Western Hemisphere–was less of an image of contact, than a heroic image of the appropriation of the New World, an odd switch in signification from the statue rising in New York harbor, holding a torch celebrating enlightenment by the global advance of Republicanism the French government in 1893, and even upstaging it with an icon of appropriation.

This Columbus, towering and monumental in relation to Manhattan, seemed almost able to assimilate the entire continent to his supremacy. The statue, never built next to Manhattan, but eventually erected on an island where Columbus set foot, appears an invitation to an exercise in masochism in the idiom of kitsch. The navigator seems far less situated in a credible historical context, than assimilated to a new mass culture of spectacle of colonization that compresses space in global space in its claims to global authority. The statue confirms the illusion of an independent actor in space, removed from any network of royal funding, international finance, the recycled image cast in Moscow dramatizes the hoary historical myth of imposing control over space single handedly–as if erasing all acknowledgement of human dignity or a colonial context.

Cristobal Colon in “The Birth of the New World” Monument in Arecibo (PR)/Lynmaris Chardon

The supremacism of Columbus’ gesture as he steers a ship on an historic rotary wheel with aplomb by one hand is an amalgam of global authority and the aesthetics of kitsch that begs for more detailed examination than it has received. Standing now at the edges of American territoriality in Puerto Rico, the monumental statue designed for the quincentenary of Columbus’ first voyage is a marginalized but potent marker of transatlantic exchange, reduced to a totem of global power and destiny.

The promised hope of placing the statue on Trump’s planned properties must have appealed to the magnate for its apparent absorption of the entire continent by a figure, gargantuan and larger than life as he sought more impressive buildings that would cement his status on an imaginary global stage. The real estate promoter, who seems to have taken it as a calling card for his own sense of personal majesty, a made-to-order monument that had, in fact, been shopped around already to American Presidents, would be welcomed onto the reclaimed land he had convinced the mayor to rezone as residential, over the objections of then-Assemblyman Jerry Nadler, not on a column, as the World’s Fair monument built to Columbus in Barcelona in 1888 of 60 meters, or the image of pillar on which Columbus stands in New York, cast in Rome for the Italian American community, hands on hip, seventy feet above the city looking to New York Harbor of 1892 where immigrant streams were arriving, but a monument that would be imposed on the far west side of Manhattan, towering above the Hudson River, hailing the land of which he assumed mastery by virtue of royal authority, an apparently freestanding statue imposing absolute mastery of space on observers, gesturing with magisterial obliviousness to his surroundings.

Of course, he looked as if he had stepped out of a comic strip, as much as a , in keeping with the cartoon-like statues of the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tseretelli, who had already accompanied Boris Yeltsin to Washington, DC to present the statue in miniature to President Bill Clinton, before Trump seems to have been offered this image that must have pleased him much as a monumental compliment on his sense of his own grandeur as a builder, a monument that he imagined might be identified with his name in the future as it dominated the skyline unlike any of the buildings he constructed or enhanced by lending his name, including Trump Tower, as a figure that, in Trump fashion, both transgressed the law and asserted it.

This Columbus was, after all, not only a kitsch figure but a father figure of the nation that Trump was being invited to assimilate to his development. As much as the notion of discovery and world-making was a Renaissance trope and trick in trade, staking claims for the Spanish King within previously uncharted territory, deploying a “Doctrine of Discovery” to justify setting foot in new worlds, the statue announces the victory of a new globalism financier by underwater financial currents, laundered funds, and foreign backers that aspired to total authrity. Its position materialized how the historical Columbus claimed, on October 16, 1492, that indigenous subjects would make good servants as subjects of the throne of Castile, appropriating their identity as a way o taking possession of the island of Haiti where he first disembarked, proclaiming its possession to an audience of few, “by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled.” In stock phrases that vividly cemented unfurling a royal standard to the act of taking possession five renamed five islands–San Salvador, Santa María de Concepción, Ferdinanda and Isabella–as an act of discovery, the statue raising one hand like Augustus over a different island seems a transnational salutation of confident appropriation, unlike any other global monument to Columbus, and far greater in size. The pedestal held a cartoonish map unscrolled at its base, atop which travel miniature ships, in an odd hybrid of the windrogse of a portolan chart, graticule of a Mercator map, and GPS screen in its current home.

What sort of map underlay its presentation to Donald J. Trump on behalf of the Russian people in 1997, in ways that unexpectedly would make the realtor a new figure on a global stage not only of real estate, but the new global networks of appropriating funds by money laundering, offshore tax evasion, as a cover for the escalation of widespread illegality in Russia of bribery, criminality, poaching, and organized crime. A decade after Trump’s first attempts to develop real estate in Moscow, and a decade before Trump began to depend on Russian and former Soviet Union financing for real estate projects in Canada and the United States, by potential money laundering, the kitschy monument Columbus offered a masquerade to grant global legitimacy to Trump and post-Soviet Russian oligarchs on a new global stage, that we can only fully appreciate today. A decade before Donald Trump, Jr. confirmed to investors in Moscow that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets” in 2008, the statue was to arrive as Trump returned from Moscow having announced plans underway to replicate Trump Tower in Moscow, licensing his name to the renovation of the Moskva and Rossiya hotels.

Much of these transactions will long remain shadowy. But the arrival of this ostenttious monument announced Trump’s intension to expand his properties from Manhattan to a global stage, and elevate his new development as a showpiece of a global corporation.

If it is long before the Border Wall, the monument whose delivery Trump obtained quite similarly erases the experience of America’s indigenous inhabitants; its very grandiosity and spectacularity that seemed emulate Trump, if it had been made for him, rather than was, as seems to be the case, a totem that post-Soviet Russia presented to American President George H.W. Bush. Rather than suggest a voyage, or a laborious journey, the massive bronze statuary is distinguished by its immobility, rather than mobility–Columbus was a navigator, after all, and his statuary commemorates this voyage–but cast the fifteenth-century navigator in the form of a triumphal neoclassical icon of authority, on a diminished sort of ship. This imaginary Columbus, in neoclassical robes akin to the Statue of Liberty on nearby federally owned Bedloes Island, but was far removed from the romance and excitement of the voyage imagined by the American illustrator N.C. Wyeth, of adventure of the sea, if the ships were somewhat similar–

N. C. Wyeth, Beyond Uncharted Seas Columbus Finds a New World (1927)

–but rather than mastering the open seas and moving beyond charted seas, is reduced to a statement of flashy and large-limbed grandiosity, less of an adventurer than a standing figure announcing “I am here” in not a belligerent but an almost confrontational triumphal cryptic gesture.

Standing atop a pedestal that would include the map he allegedly followed, rather than mastering the elements, the figure reaches deep into a mixed bag of mythistory to declare it on the shores of the Hudson River in a place where Columbus did not, of course, ever stand, where it would have stood before setting suns, on the shores of Manhattan island. If Wyeth’s majestic illustration was made as a framable print for the National Geographic Society to sell to its members, the exclusive nature of the statue Trump believed its Georgian sculptor, Zurab Tseretelli, wanted installed on his newest New York development, in 1997 primarily marked his status as a developer, and ability to make a good deal with Moscow. The monument made for the presentation for the quincentennial of the “discovery” of America seemed a precedent that proclaimed the victory of the arrival of a unilineal development of a transnational economic development of real estate values, removed from any bearing on global geography, as if to celebrate a triumphal arrival of local capital.erasing all sense of cultural relativism by affirming an image of global triumph that echoed Francis Fukuyama far more than George Washington or Karl Marx. The removed kitsch of this figure of alleged patriotism provided an image of pacification of native peoples, not including any group outside of a global economy of which Trump had then. seemed emblematic.

The statuary was indeed installed in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and island that Columbus had visited, its impoverished residents of that fishing village on the outer edges of United States territoriality did not have much of a chance to resist and protest its placement, in the manner of residents of San Juan, as those of Miami Beach, Baltimore, Columbus, OH, and Ft. Lauderdale, undoubtedly taken aback by its monstrosity. Two presidents of the United States were justifiably lukewarm in accepting the gift from Moscow; the monument’s ostentatious heroism was a flat-footed poor fit with national traditions of commemorations, portraying the colonizer as a victor. But approaching Trump, during his early trips to develop Moscow properties in the mid-1990s, mirrored Trump’s attraction to both global politics and global properties in fascinating ways. A mirror for his own monumental self-esteem, the massive statue seemed to publicize the development he had planned for the Hudson River lots, a signal of his welcome of an influx of Russian funds, expanded in sales of apartments and condominiums in Trump hotels and developments from New York to Florida, if not a self-styled image of his own international goals.

This improbably towering Colossus on the Hudson, a true monument of global kitsch, would seem a Las Vegas style recycling of Augustus, an imperial gesturing to the nation as if selling an imagined vision of probity, security, and assurance, if it did not also double as a vision of globalism–one less rooted in nation, than transnatinoality, pumped up by foreign funds, rather than steering to the New World: the robed figure that Trump was keen on as taller than the Statue of Liberty would have saluted Manhattan island, in a way the actual Columbus of course never had, but revamped the austere figure of the navigator as a savior, royal emissary from afar, as a New Man for a new era, perhaps recycling Russian images of idealism as much as recuperating American ones. The rotary wheel was not only anachronistic, it suggested a smoothness of travel that is absurd, a mash-up of a yacht owner and a Roman hero who seeks little from his audience by adoring adulation.

Tsurab Tseretelli, “Birth of.the New World” (2016)
Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Alex Maguire/REX/Shutterstock (5736251i)
‘Birth of a New World’ sculpture by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli

The monument that was intended as an inauguration of sorts of transatlantic commerce with Russia would have marked the involvement of Trump in a corrupt network of real estate and an expansion of money laundering and international finance that have raised considerable suspicions about President Trump’s representation of national interests. And while the story of the “failed monument” which curiously traveled the world over its two decades of its apparent homelessness, before being erected in Arecibo, in Puerto Rico, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. Offshore of Puerto Rico, in a nearly deserted fishing village, where it has become a source of pride, the statue of Columbus curiously joins an also smaller Statue of Liberty, or a replica of the original, erected in 1918, in mysterious circumstances, that stands downtown. The majesty of the costly project seems to have not diminished after it circulated, seeking homes along the Eastern seaboard before an abandoned Bacardi factory, before running aground in Puerto Rico, where Columbus did set foot in November 19, 1493, on a shore filled with farmlands, and few spectators to admire it, far from San Juan, but near the statue that seems its twin.

Arecibo, PR

As if a competitor to the 1884 gift of the French Republic, in considerably rescued form in her 1918 Arecibo version, the Russian sculpture of nearly 300 feet seems to dominate the space of the lady of law: and if its itinerary that might well be mapped; its symbolics existed in a language of spectacle between Moscow, Manhattan, and The Donald.

If the story leading up to the mooring of Columbus in Puerto Rico in 2016 has been told, the resourcefulness of plans to move the monument across seas, after it was cast in Russian foundries, seems to have a shadow history in remapping global power relations. The strikingly parallel histories of the massive Columbus and the fortunes of the realtor demand to be examined as a history of aesthetics, finance, and the magnification of Trump’s unexpected political career. The aspiration to erect a monumental heroic bronze of the fifteenth-century navigator occurred two years before Trump celebrated his status in the polls for U.S. President for the Reform Party then headed by Jesse Ventura on “Larry King Live!“–announcing polls to champion his possible candidacy with false modesty. “Well, I guess the polls started it. The polls came out, and they said if I ran, I’d do very well,” Trump said as if he wanted to conceal his ambitions or present his election as foregone; “I don’t know, I just don’t even know. I mean, they put people’s name — they put various celebrities’ names in, and I did very well in polls, and, all of a sudden, people started calling . . .”

The turn to embrace his status as a public figure that Trump expressed as a happenstance reflection of the popular will that polls embodied–rather than a sense of public consensus or vote–is an eery aftermath to the ominous predictions that Trump had taken to forecast of impending disasters of the poorly led ship of state, no longer sufficiently respected by allies, or abroad, that had led Trump to style himself as an alternate vision of a politician, “young, dynamic, successful,” as a Democratic sponsor of his hosting of a Congressional dinner in 1987, who was, as John Kerry had praised him, “independent.”

The businessman was calling for reducing the deficit, accelerating nuclear disarmament, and expanding the financial burdens of military allies, leading him to be avidly courted by Republicans and Democrats alike by 1997 and to only surprise some by declaring “I believe that if I run for President, I’d win”–if few knew what party Trump belonged. Yet the specter of his candidacy already haunted the nation.

Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury,/December 6, 1999

The roll-out of this non-political beast, understood primarily through the lens of his own magnificence, was aptly echoed in the grandiosity of a statue of the fifteenth-century navigator who was about to be squirreled into the United States territory as a sign of his own vainglory. Promotion of Columbus promised a point of entrance for the realtor to an image of national identity, uncannily similar in nature to what he later declared in 2015, as an eagerness to defend American interests in a global market. It certainly was, promoted as the largest statue in the western hemisphere, larger not only that the iconic Statue of Liberty, given by the French government in a gesture of solidarity of Republicanism, but a monumental language perhaps both made in Moscow and pure Trump.

Did Trump’s apparent bravado, independence, and daring fit the bill for which Democrats searched as they sought someone “young and who would be good at politics but had never been especially involved in politics before,” as political parties searched for compelling figures to espouse the messages that they believed they delivered, but could be good at messaging. The search for a new image of political leadership seemed to fit Trump by 1990–even if he was presented over fifteen to twenty years later as still coming from outside politics–and made him a likely target of whose identification of himself with Columbus might be imagined, as he tried on new opportunities for self-identification as a politician that seemed, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the candidacy of Bill Clinton, to be regularly arriving at his door.

In this context, the cast image of a monumental Columbus arrived. Questions rose during the Colombian quincentennial about whether the fifteenth-century navigator represented the nation of the United States. The statue designed in Moscow was not designed for Mr. Trump, but was strikingly ahistorical in its triumphal celebration of the “discovery” of the continent not only as an image of national identity, but demanding consent to an image of public authority far removed from American monuments or a tradition of political monumentality. The historical Columbus was of course with little sense to have “discovered” a new world with such a sense of recognition that the statue seems to assert; Columbus lacked this sense, either when he set of from Spain without any clear sense of what lay on the horizon, or even a clear sense of where he was, by the time he had championed the wonders of the Indies, which he believed lay in Asia, even returning from his first transatlantic voyage.

By casting the monument as a confirmation of the navigator’s role as a national figure who arrived, his right arm raised in acclamation, as if swearing fealty or in classical salutation, before the coast of the New World. The form of greeting worthy of Augustus belied that Columbus had not in fact travelled. Rather than being site specific or historic, the massive sculpture seemed a token and symbol–if not an idol–to an ideal of economic openness to international trade, a declaration of monarchical supremacy foreign to America political traditions. The multi-piece monument was a totem of economic grandeur and unbridled expenditure on funds, whose lavishness as a documentation of grandeur might obscure its role in a geopolitical chess board of global finances, that by then hinged on New York City’s financial markets. For the massive statue marked possibilities of money laundering, and foreign expropriation of wealth to offshore destinations, revealing terrifyingly modern global tentacles more than a language or intent of discovery.

The double entendre of the massive statue’s name, Birth of the New World, was inherited, but appealed, no doubt to Trump, who readily accepted the idea of promoting the monument on properties where he planned to build in 1997. He felt entitled to accept the gifted work to be erected in land he owned on the Hudson River, bought at low cost and converted to residential zoning, as an extension of his development scheme, announcing the imminent arrival of a colossal bronze Columbus, right arm raised in salutation as if hailing the New World he saw for the first time, from the Russian people.

The image of the fifteenth century navigator had been planned for the prevention to commemorate the quincentenary of the first transatlantic voyage of the fifteenth century navigator, a conceit that Zurab Tsereteli had worked on in models that he had presented to Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He had earlier given models to of the navigator in heroic form, and a statue of a standing Columbus he had presented to forty five meters tall, emerging in classical robes from an egg of bronze, displaying triumphantly an unscrolled map of the voyages of the three ships of his first voyage–Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria–as if to herald his nautical accomplishment referenced the legend of Columbus’ demonstration of the sphericity of the earth, “Birth of the New Man” (1995), which Tseretelli also designed, ever resourceful in the needs of exportable public statuary, to be presented to Mayagüez on the occasion of the XXI Central American and Caribbean Games. (Russia also gave a copy of this statue to Spain, installed in the park of San Jeronimo, Seville, used to smuggle soft high-grade raw soft copper from Ukraine of industrial value, evading export taxes. What, this leads us to ask, did this massive tube of a hollow statue actually contain?). Financial evasion of taxes may hint at the intention of the grander statue of Columbus offered Trump, saluting the island of Manhattan as if for the first time, of which the statue of Columbus unfurling a chart seems but the first draft.

Thirty Meter tall Columbus within Forty-Five Meter Tall Egg-Shaped Bronze Lattice in Seville

If the Seville image of Columbus emerging from an egg seemed to hold a map on which the three caravels slid to the New World, opening up its lattice of ship ropes cast in the form of an egg doubled as a Beryozka doll bearing high-grade copper evading export tax, what concealed agendas and private interests were within the taller, if strikingly similar, he vehicle of goods concealed within it bronze shell, like a Beryozka doll, of this Russian connection planted on the properties of real estate but mark a startling growth of laundered funds through international banking.

If the storied if apocryphal notion that Columbus had argued for the ease of the opening of an international trade route by taking an egg and breaking its end to balance it during dinner-time debate for skeptics who challenged his conviction that the cosmographic knowledge needed for his transatlantic voyage was an act of daring diminished by all who “had wondered at it as an impossibility” before he flattened one end of the eg to make it stand on its tip, as the sixteenth-century Milanese traveler Girolamo Benzoni had first recounted in 1565, revealing his ingenuity before a fictitious dinner party before Spanish nobility, the egg shaped cage recalled the cosmographic invention of Columbus as an act of daring, invention, and bravura–that recycled a solution Giorgio Vasari described in 1550 of how the engineer Filippo Brunelleschi in 1418 solved the problem to build a dome of Florence’s cathedral, S. Maria del Fiore, astonishing and besting the “most ingenious craftsmen of design.”

The global traffic in bronze statues of Columbus sought to announce the opening of Russia for trade during the post-Soviet period fit a trade in the kitschy recycling legends, myths, and folk tales that Tsereteli pioneered. The Seville statue recalled the challenge of design celebrated as underlying the logic of transatlantic discovery was repeatedly staged in statues as an individual bravura act.

Trump boasted rather fulsomely, as is his won’t, about the “gift” of a statue was taller–by six feet!–than New York’s Statue of Liberty,–as if, by happenstance, to suggest its transcendence of New York’s skyline and cement his legacy as a builder beyond Trump Tower itself. The statue’s fitting size seemed specific to the New York monument, to be the largest in the western hemisphere, was not serendipitous; it seemed to match Trump’s tastes and global appetite. Over the wreckage of the rail yards, would the heralded statue boasted to Mark Singer, in a remarkably unfiltered manner, Trump argued the three hundred and eleven foot statue to development where he remained a minor partner would be on its way soon, its head already in the United States, and the body, if it remained in Moscow, where it was forged, would arrive, he claimed in deadpan, as he was “working toward that end,” “favorably disposed toward” what he described as the “huge personal honor” of erecting the monument on his private land where he wanted to sell condominiums.

The story of the “failed monument” has been told, but the gift that post-Soviet oligarchs long planned to offer as a gift to the United States, was cast by Trump as a final achievement, as if threading a needle, to the promotion of his own properties on a global scale greater than New Yorkers were accustomed to associate his brand. As the brash boy from Queens who had made good, the figure of Columbus, the scrappy sailor who had been dignified beside Trump International in Columbus Circle, which dwarfed the iconic image of Columbus since 1994. He may have even sought a new image of Columbus in 1997 to provide a model for the new symbol of his own internationalism, and international ambitions, and to mark the arrival of a new burst of financial energy to the empire of Trump Properties, and birth of Trump International–not backed by Spanish sovereigns whose emblem was on the bronze sails behind his back, but a faux national icon that concealed its own Russian backing.

Could the planned arrival of a generic piece of faux patriotic statuary also chart Trump’s persistent conflicts of interest as his first political ambitions emerged? The statue he described only as a “gift” from the Russian people to the United States that he had in 1997 boasted he had orchestrate in pursuit of real estate abroad, arrived from the very financiers of the post-soviet real estate market, and Moscow-based firm, who lured him to visit the city to attract funds to Moscow’s redevelopment. Re-imagined as a fifteenth-century navigator preposterously sailing into New York Harbor, or up the Hudson, mighty far from Columbus’ actual transatlantic route, against what any elementary school student might know of the voyages of discovery, if the statue demoted the place of the map was demoted to its base, the brazen rewriting of history was an act of kitsch few New Yorkers wanted to see: it seemed a means of simultaneously both attracting and repelling attention of observers in the gaudy monumentality in which Donald Trump had seemed to specialize.

The gifts of massive statuary designed by Zurab Konstantinovich Tsereteli, a Georgian sculptor with an active trading of public sculptures in Moscow, had become a sort of stock trade in monuments as gifts of state in the post-Soviet era. Highly generic in form, vaguely stripped of history, and persistently monumental, the monuments Tseretelli crafted were somehow a search for a new level of kitsch to respond to the kitsch of Soviet monumentalism, stripping figures from historical context and monumentalizing their grader. The gifting of monuments of Columbus to Mayagüez, Seville and–it was hoped–New York provided a celebration of a spirit discovery that were anonymously funded, but launched in a spree of international trading as Russia sought to open corridors of foreign trade, and Trump’s investment of Donald Trump in Moscow.

Trump announced the arrival of the hundred and ten meter bronze statue, including base as the result of his close ties to Russian elites–less as an image of American patriotism, than a means to dignify in the most opulent manner possible his most recent Manhattan property development. Did he intent it to replace the The iconic statue outside Time-Life–or Gulf + Western building seems to have been prized by Donald Trump that it became a target of his desires. Just in October, 1996, New York’s City Planning Department rejected the proposal to emblazon the orbital globe with “Trump International” on the orbital globe as a way to brand his new venture–but the developer took the shiny orbital globe, silhouetting the world’s continents on a thirty-foot wide globe, modeled after the Unisphere built for a 1964-65 World’s Fair, as fair game to brand his ambitions, as it lay on property he now owned, and even if the words “TRUMP INTERNATIONAL” were not emblazoned on it to reveal his new global ambitions, the shiny sphere was replicated, in Sunny Isles, as an icon of the global scope of Trump Properties.

Brandell Studios, Architectural Rendering

The provision of Trump with a new image of Columbus on his own Hudson Yards development would be, perhaps, an alternate glorification of hi self-fashioning and marketing as a truly international developer. Was the discussion of the arrival of Tsereteli’s monumental figure of the navigator meant to hold an image of the orbital globe that Trump saw as an emblem of his new expansive network of global real estate properties beyond New York City–as if to brand the statue that was located on his properties as an icon of its aspirations to an actual globalism, and as if a statue could bolster its claims to internationality by virtue of a monumental map.

Six Foot 1997 Model of Zurab Tsereteli’s Birth of the New World”

Was the figure of the fifteenth century navigator consisting of over 2,500 pieces of steel and bronze were more of a token or a pawn in a global Ponzi scheme of money laundering, cancelled debt–even as Trump accepted it eagerly to promote his buoyant reemergence on a global stage, having cleverly disburdened himself of abundant financial debt? Or would it conceal the greater debts that his involvement with Russian backers, canny on playing the fulsome developer for all he was worth, would itself conceal? The inflation of this “gift” of bronze that was in itself valued–or Trump boasted it was valued–as containing $40 million of raw bronze alone would be evidence of his success at the mythic “art of the deal,” if the construction of deal–and the deal that it meant for American tax payers, or for the tax board–have been rarely scrutinized. If the statue given to Seville was found to be a way of smuggling high-grade copper out of the country tax-free, was the image of Columbus something of a Trojan horse, as much as the boondoggle it is usually portrayed to be.

The idea of the arrival of the massive statuary that seemed a big win-win certainly left Trump in the mood for levity. At a time when he was ready to open his own private Club, the renamed and rebranded Mar-a-Lago, the figure of Columbus seemed a new validation of his global esteem, and gave him a sense of legitimacy, after the failure of his Atlantic City casinos, built for $1.2 billion, as a gaudily orientalist “Eight Wonder of the World” in 1990, whose “opulence” and “size” of its three casinos he boasted would make it “the most successful hotel anywhere in the world” went underwater after it failed to generate the needed $1.3 million daily to break even in overhead costs.

The addition of a statue of Columbus would seem not only emulate one of the lost seven wonders of the world, erected in Rhodes as the tallest statue of the ancient world, but would be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. Would the figure of Columbus moreover offer the developer, in a true win-win, the desired logo for branding Trump International. It might have rebranded Trump in American politics, with Russian sponsorship, at a cost with which the nation has been saddled.

Trump on Links at Recently Opened Private Club, Mar-a-Lago, 1997/Max Vadukul

The ties of the realtor who had been interested in shifting his game from Atlantic City, after the failure of a large Casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, went under, led him to set sights on more majestic and still more mythic goals of worldly grandeur, and why would not Columbus fit the bill? The authoritarian statue certainly suggests a newfound proximity to post-soviet Russian funders, as the global financial game that Trump orchestrated seem to grow in its disconnect from America, and its concentration on the fabrication of an ideal America, with little correspondence to the actual nation and its interests. Although Trump asserts never to have had or sought or even want assistance from Russia in his Presidential campaign in increasingly strident tones, the attempt to persuade New York City to relocate a monumental bronze glorifying the fifteenth-century navigator Christopher Columbus suggests otherwise.

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Filed under Christopher Columbus, Donald J. Trump, globalization, globalized economy, national monuments

Clipping Bears Ears

The recent demotion of Bear’s Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante as national monuments pose risk of a deepening widespread and almost inevitable alienation from public lands.  The tenuous status of public lands was apparent in the mandate of protection after intense lobbying of the American Petroleum Institute and other players in the energy industry to cut the limits of National Monuments across the United States, in ways that stand to redefined American West.  And even as our so-called President touts his relation to the common people, apart from the political class, the proprietary relation to public lands that he seeks to instill by removing protected lands of national monuments like Bears Ears stands sadly at odds with the longstanding image of the identification with the legends of the white man in the open space of the American west’s sun-drenched outdoors, whose landscape was open to the grit of white, male conquest of an empty space–although the decision to remove Bears Ears from the list of protected lands suggests an abandonment of that image of the heroic cowboy, replaced by the disillusioned world-weary post-industrialist capitalist character we seem to have as American President.

 

Trump and Wayne in western backdrop.jpg

 

For Trump has definitively moved away from that imaginary, and the image of the open frontier, or of this land is your land, this land is my land, into a vision where the very same land is now poised to be opened to mineral extraction and prospecting, reducing the area once identified with the West to an area defined by the priority of industrial claims, and transforming it to a terrain inviting the colonization by extractive industries.  With his pursed lips, and evasive eyes, turning his back on a monumental landscape of the West, President Trump appears oblivious the destruction of space to occur across the national monuments opened to prospective mining, extraction of resources, and mineral industries, as if to deny their history, and allow the big rigs of extractive industries to enter to repossess those areas they have claimed on the map.

The preservation of a national monument that would rejoin fragmentary Indian Lands, indeed, was the strategic scope of the declaration of the two regions as part of our protected national heritage, in an attentive to remove previously protected lands from mineral prospecting in southern Utah, with the aim to improving the local economy and attract investment to the state now represented by Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, who have both advocated the proposal to open the region to prospectors, with far less concern for its future of the country–responding to heavy lobbying by uranium mining company Energy Fuels Resources, which provoked a widely criticized Interior Department review, Trump issued executive orders that shrunk the monument to newly reduced boundaries.  For Hatch, eagerly labeling the designation of the national monuments as “unjustified federal land grabs,” evoking the increasingly militant anti-federal lands movement, particularly strong in Utah, who act as if the government had hidden interests in staking claims to a territories form wildlife refuges, conservation areas, national parks, or national monuments, summons a misguided anti-government credo as a basis for ending public lands.

 


Protection of National Monument of Bears Ears would expand claims to native lands in Southern Utah/Joe Burgess for New York Times

 

In replacing a sense of “goods” for the nation worthy of protection by the federal government–the purpose of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which expanded executive ability to conserve areas for preservation of their historical or scientific interest–to a vision of the executive asfacilitating abilities for exploitation of national space, and ensuring energy extraction.

The result is to threaten fragile material evidence of the region’s prehistoric inhabitation in a site recently put off-limits to oil and gas exploration on account of its use value to extractive industries, contesting the inherent value of preserving an area that has been considered among the most “endangered” historical sites in America.

 

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The rewriting of what constitutes a national monument is quite a sense of a sharp change in history, marked by an inevitable separation of the landscape from the past.  The shift of Bears Ears from a site worthy of conservation,seems definitively erased as the revelation of the minerals, oil, and gas that lie beneath the ground within the earlier boundaries of the former National Monument.  The possibilities of extraction had been mapped in surveys of the mineral resources of the region, which focus not on the delicate nature of its environment; the map of minerals ignores sacred remains lying on the surface in its boundaries, and foreground them, rather than the delicate ecosystem of animals and pure water.  Indeed, its pollution would irreparably compromise the region, and replace the reasons cited for its historical and cultural value to its exchange value.

Are we in danger of mipmapping not only our national patrimony, but future?  It is almost as if Trump is following a new map, provided by the extractive industries with which he has thrown in his lot.  And in place of preserving individual sites of antiquity, this map shifts from the above-the-ground complex ecosystem and archeological ruins previously cited as warranting protection for future generations and for the nation:  what was a “good” for the nation is in the course of being redefined, as the underground “goods” able to be extracted displace those lying on the surface of a bioregion of southeastern Utah currently in danger of being compromised–even as the newest national monument in the intermountain desert protected by Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition largely in recognition of widespread evidence of its historic inhabitation.  While Trump argues at his own tribal rallies, exultantly insisting “we’re into [clean air and water” also, folks–but you don’t have to turn off all business!” even as the EPA rolls back clean air and water rules, the absence of attention to environmental preservation in the national monument is striking and mind boggling, if not a relinquishing of duty.

By revoking the region’s status as a national monument, and reducing the protected area to almost 80 percent of the current Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument by 45 percent, Trump has divided Bears Ears into two smaller regions, to allow access to the red, mineral-rich areas, in particular, following on the recommendations of his Interior Secretary drastically to shift the status of a considerable range of national monuments that would include the historic mesas.

 

 

The new geography of the national monument suggests a vision that is stubbornly and insistently reduced to mineral resources, flattening the historical value of the region and replacing any sense of its place by mapping it at a dangerous remove, and foregrounding the value of its industrial resources above its landscape.  Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History could not see the destruction of the open spaces of lands until after they have occurred, of course, at which point they lie at the feet of the Angelus Novus, who is propelled forward in time, seeing only the wreckage at his feet; but the rewriting of the material relation to the land–and the symbolic relation to the land–constitute a broad remapping of the place of the west and western lands within our minds.  If labor was the exploitation of nature for Benjamin, the exploitation of nature rests both on material labor, but the remapping of the landscape we once saw as part of historical memory as a nation to a material resource, destined to be opened to a growing energy market, and be converted into petroleum and gas.  Trump has, in short, turned his back on any romantic concept of the open spaces of the west, with some uncertainty, as he seems to take a step into an unknown future of open access to energy resources mapped as lying under these once hallowed grounds, which stand to become transformed into an industrialized landscape, and changed beyond recognition, without a sense of what we have lost.

We are in danger of losing any sense of the picture on the ground.  The map of resources seems to compromise the map of the land by local inhabitants, or indeed the picture of the region on the ground of a lived landscape, filled with rich traces, and freshwater streams, that has long held status as a sacred site in our national imaginary as a frontier.

 

Wlderness Photography Bears Ears

 

The accelerated arrival of an entirely new relation to the land, as extractive industries that has been used to demote Bears Ears from a nationoal monument stands to transform open spaces that were once identified with the mythos of the nation.  The resulting removal of all regulations that the reduction of national monuments would mean fails to understand the monument as an ecosystem of environmental integrity, and indeed the historical value of the lands as sites:  it is almost as if the difficulty of defining the value in a society which uses GPS to map locations on a UTM projection to locate mineral deposits and sites of potential petroleum drilling–and erases the holistic image of a vanishing landscape that has long been so central a part of our national patrimony.  For by reducing the land set aside in the National Monument to questions of cash flow, the administration seems to have decided to use a map to abstract the Bears Ears area to the value of resources hidden beneath its historic landscape.

 

Mesas of the Valley of the Gods in former Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah/Alex Goodlett for The New York Times

 

The revisionary mapping of public lands that has occurred within the Trump administration is no less than a dramatic revision of national priorities.  It reveals something like an amnesia of the relation to the land, now seen as an antiquated practice of political regulation, and a rhetoric of opening valuable historical regions to mineral prospecting, in ways that no President has ever elected to disrespect one of his predecessors by rescinding the area of a designated monument that a president has decided to set aside.  In ways that shifts our relation to our own futures and pasts, the remove of the landscape suggests a remapping of priorities and space, removing protections from red rock canyons where some 10,000 artifacts remain.  As parcels of that landscape increasingly stand to be leased to extractive industries, despite the fragmentation of open lands across western states.  Indeed, the encroaching the interests of the American Petroleum Institute on what was once understood as preserved wilderness has become a way to rewrite the state’s relation to federal lands, and indeed the patriotism of the protection of public lands of longstanding historical value.  In ways that reflect the deep anger at the protection lands negotiated by the Obama administration–and done so in a way that tried to involve community stakeholders over time, if concluded late in the Obama Presidency–and the obscuring of claims historically made from 1976-2010 alone in the region once defined as Bears Ears–

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–the division of the national monument into two rumps opens many of the areas where mining claims  were staked, and allows further claims to be made, as well as encourages easy transport of extracted materials from the historic grounds, by denying their claims to historical value.  Indeed, by reopening many of the BLM claims on the region, the decision to parse Bears Ears from a continuous monument seems a give-away to extractive industries.

The gains of that lobby in asserting their claims and rights to access mineral deposits and veins stands to emerge as one of the largest land grabs in American history, reshaping the notion of the protection of public lands and access allowed to drilling, pipelines, and mines on federal lands, as if definitively abandoning any concept of the value in their preservation for posterity.  Indeed, only by recasting the role of government as securing lands worthy of protection as a case of undue restraint on business can the dire effects of  the plans for expanding private leases on public lands be failed to be recognized as a shifting the preservation of historical legacies to permit widespread industrial leases on federal lands in ways that abandon and relinquish a clear long-term view of their value.  When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke questioned whether a third of Interior employees were “loyal to the flag” before the National Petroleum Council, a petroleum industry group–and desired to reduce the “physical footprint” of the Interior Department by reducing the civil service employees who he sees as obstacles to opening up the permitting process for oil-drilling, logging, uranium mining, and energy development he sees as President Trump as having a legal mandate to accelerate, Zinke seems to make an end-run around the public custody or preservation of increasingly fragile lands of sacred resonance to many of the residents who most prize its integrity.

 

Bears Ears Buttes Big expanseGeorgy Frey, Getty Images/National Geographic

 

Valley of Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument 

 

Indeed, the agressively regressive attacks that the Trump administration has made on environmental regulations or responsible custodianship of public lands–leading states to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for rolling back agency policies of designating areas of dangerously high ground-level ozone in unprecedented ways–is mirrored in the attack on protecting public lands, on which the Interior Secretary seems to have no endgame save leasing them to industry.  The agressiveness with which Zinke has taken aim at the government’s custodial role over wilderness and public lands–some of the few places where undisturbed ecologies exist–suggest a widespread attack on the notion of wilderness.  Is it possible that the Trump administration is preparing to excavate any federal mandate to protect historic lands, as well as to allow the expansion of extraction across previously protected lands?

When Interior Secretary Zinke complains “I can’t change the culture without changing the structure,” he suggests a broad disbanding of regulations accumulated over time with local groups after consideration of public impact that he wants to cast as obstructionists and arbitrary bureaucrats.  Yet when Zinke suggested that “Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” he conjures a terrifying hybridization of manifest destiny and unrestrained corporate greed.  Zinke’s initial review of a full twenty-one National Monuments on federal land stand to change the landscape of the American west.  For in removing acreage of interest to private industry from federal protection, in a particularly short-sighted move under the quixotic banner of energy independence, the Trump administration seems bent on allowing the very federal lands protected by government for posterity to be treated as lots able to be leased for private development, without appreciation of their historical, cultural, or sacred value.  The map of National Monuments under “review” suggest a euphemism analogous to downsizing, and a shift in the conception of the custody of national lands–including the Grand Canyon–that seems to prepare for the excavation of what were the most protected federal lands.

 

 

Reduced Monuments

 

The expansion of national monuments currently designated “under review”–which has led to the recent declaration shrinking Bears Ears and renaming two protected areas that constitute but a rump of the once National Monument he Obama administration named after substantive negotiation with local stake-holders, reveal the dangerously unconsidered course by which protected public lands stand to be declassified in order to meet the demands of private industries, many of whom have already mapped mineral deposits or previously leased mines in their ground.  Zinke tweeted images of how he rode to his first day as Secretary on Interior on a horse named Tonto, sporting a ten gallon hat, flanked by the US Park Police, in a coded gesture to fulfill the demands of farmers and outdoorsmen:  the self-designated cowboy of Trump’s cabinet was on his way to eliminate protected status of federal lands, ready to remap most delicate open areas for extractive industries and the environmentally toxic mining and drilling of fossil fuels, in the name of energy independence:  if intended to evoke Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment to the outdoors, the dark garb and black hat suggested apt funereal garb to preside over the dismemberment of the American West.  But the usurpation of an identity as a cowboy outdoorsman in which Zinke has cultivated seems an apt metaphor, if unintentional, for the disenfranchisement of native inhabitants of a land that has been hold sacred for generations, and is a priceless repository for cultural artifacts and prehistoric ruins, as well as a priceless fossil record of dinosaur bones.

 

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Zinc’s cultivation of the image of a cowboy outdoorsman who loves western open lands exemplifies a dangerous sort of double-dealing.  For his policies he adopts run rampant over protection of the most fragile federal lands.   And despite presenting a public face of affection for the outdoors concealing the agenda of energy industries to shift the landscape of the American West, the re-dimensioning of public lands and National Monuments opens them to coal industries and petroleum and uranium mining.

The redrawing of Bears Ears is isolated, but foretells a terrible vision of the curtailment of federal lands by future leasing, drilling, and mining–at the same time as curtailing access to parks by substantially raising their entrance fees nationwide.  Nowhere are the fears of opening lands to drilling more feared than in the Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.   Yet under the quixotic directive of ensuring “American energy dominance” the koan of the Trump administration, and the meaningless slogan “Energy Is Good,” the charge to remove regulations on coal, drilling, and oil pipelines are cast as a means to confirm our prosperity and energy independence as a nation, in deeply misguided ways that are based only on doublespeak, but epitomized by the withdrawal of any sense of custody for the increased scarcity of undisturbed open lands, or an obligation to future Americans.

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Filed under American West, Bears Ears, environmental preservation, federal land protection, national monuments