By Tommy Hough
Maxim One: Everything that Trump comes in contact with, good or bad, innocent or guilty, dies an early death in reputation, career, conscience, or lifespan.
Maxim Two: If Trump touches or meddles with anything you love or cherish, like our environment or our democratic heritage or humanity in general, it too will die an early, ugly death (see maxim one).
Maxim Three: Donald Trump is President of the United States, and will continue to inflict maxims one and two on all of us until he is driven from office.
When Ryan Zinke, the most corrupt Secretary of the Interior of our modern era, moved to redraw the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2017, it was an unprecedented act of desecration, and a terrible harbinger for our nation's conservation heritage that will only become more pronounced and destructive should Donald Trump win re-election in November.
Prior to the sheer awfulness of the Trump administration, no president or administration had ever moved, erased, altered, or so violated the set boundaries of parks or monuments, certainly not to facilitate oil and gas interests, thereby undoing the very reason they were established as monuments in the first place: to protect them from environmental destruction and exploitation. Certainly no one has ever even attempted to do so in a manner as transparent and craven as Trump.
But this is an administration that, in three short years, has:
That's a partial list, of course.
Dating back to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, the idea of erasing the boundaries of protected places was considered cowardly, reckless, needless, and defiant of well-worn American traditions of conservation, however imperfect they may be from time to time.
One of the more notable, and uglier, exceptions to this was the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam along the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, from 1919 to 1923. Abhorrent as it was, it was voted on in broad daylight as an Act of Congress for maximum culpability, and didn't physically alter the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. But there's no doubt the stress of the Hetch Hetchy tragedy is what killed John Muir.
The lesson was crystal clear: Parks and monuments, intended for the benefit of all Americans, are not placeholders until some other project comes along. The resources protected within them are sacrosanct.
Previously, presidents and politicians understood that areas protected for conservation had often been the subject of frequently intense, long-term campaigns by communities and generations of activists. After all, National Parks and National Monuments don't fall out of the clear blue sky. They are established because committed citizens demand these areas be saved. Long before and long after John Muir, careers and lifetimes have been spent to preserve such places.
Notable instances in California include the campaigns to save surviving ancient Redwoods and end old-growth logging on federal public land, the lengthy effort to preserve the Stanislaus River, the decades-long fight to preserve the wildest expanses of the Mojave Desert, and more recently, the campaign to Save Trestles and stop repeated efforts to build a toll road through the backcountry of San Onofre State Beach along the length of San Mateo Creek.
In erasing the intent, meaning, and boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, the Trump administration deliberately set a terrible, dangerous precedent, and now they're at it in California as oil exploration (!), i.e. the precursor to drilling, begins at Carrizo Plain National Monument along the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
Established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, the monument was intended to preserve the native grasslands of this otherwise unusual depression along the San Andreas Fault in a "land that time forgot" that explodes into extraordinary springtime wildflower shows, and prevent the same kind destruction wrought by the oil extraction that goes on around it for 50 miles in each direction in a network of Chevron and Shell oil and fracking fields, some of which are the size of cities. Now, like other affected National Monuments, Carrizo Plain faces an uncertain future.
Further north in the Central Valley, Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County was similarly put on notice in 2017, and sold out by that county's own board of supervisors, who applauded the move (!) and even asked Trump to shrink the monument. Sickening.
If we hope to preserve our nation's natural heritage and spirit of preservation – to say nothing of the nation itself – then Donald Trump and his destructive anti-leadership must be soundly defeated and driven from office like the environmental and Constitutional criminal he is.
To use an oil and water example, this president and a healthier planet are simply incompatible. As he has demonstrated on far too many occasions when he has turned American against American and neighbor against neighbor, from his Central Park Five accusations to Charlottesville and Lafayette Square, Trump's lifetime of toxic words, deeds, and destructive rhetoric have revealed zero interest or capable curiosity in crafting a more perfect union or bringing our nation together.
Trump is the toxic darkness that seeks to divide, conquer, and pillage. No amount of light or empty riches will ever satisfy his corrupt heart. In any ordinary era, he would've been a disaster. In the midst of actual crises like a pandemic and unchecked foreign interference in our elections, to say nothing of our nation's social reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police, Trump is anathema to democratic traditions (see maxim one).
Staring out into the emptiness from the steps of St. John's Church on June 1st, shortly after he and his pack of jackals followed White House security forces that literally gassed and beat the shit out of citizens gathered along the route, waving a Bible around as a cheap prop for all to see, Trump became the living embodiment of Vishnu in his cruelest form. From the Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita, it was Trump revealing his soulless, blackened heart to our nation and its people: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
Plenty of us already knew, of course, long before Trump took the oath of office. That toll continues to be played out on our nation, our people, and our future. On refugees jammed into coronavirus-ridden concentration camps, kept in cages on freezing concrete floors. On families willfully and deliberately separated, tossed into the wind for maximum angst and emotional trauma. On black men and women harassed and murdered by police who turn off body cameras and use chemical weapons not even used in warfare.
And on our wild refuges of America, heretofore and hopefully left untouched by today's daily Washington psychodramas. Our long national nightmare of Trump continues.
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.