For a civic leader just about anywhere in America, one of the worst sentences to hear may be, “The president has announced he’s coming to town.”
That could be trumped (pardon the pun) only by this sentence: “And he’s going to make a controversial announcement.”
So, Merry Christmas, Utah!
The White House announced last week that President Donald Trump is planning a trip to Utah in December to announce a reduction in the sizes of both the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The announcement did not say exactly when he would come or where he would make his announcement.
Perhaps it will be at the site of one of the monuments, in which case the Wasatch Front might breathe easier. But given how long it might take to reach such a site, something closer to Salt Lake City International Airport seems more likely.
Presidential visits, especially from Republican presidents, tend to generate a circuslike carnival of protests and demonstrations. In 2006, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson personally led one of seven rallies marking a visit by President George W. Bush.
By contrast, a 2015 visit by Democrat Barack Obama prompted virtually no protests, despite plenty of local discontent with his policies.
But I digress.
The point is, while the right to protest is a precious and important part of freedom, a carnival of demonstrations right now doesn’t seem to be the best thing for the holiday shopping season. Few people seem to listen to what the other side says in these verbal contests, and the current mood in the nation makes this especially so. That goes for all sides of the fray.
Recent reports that Russians have been secretly organizing protest on all sides of issues in this country add another layer of intrigue.
Adding to the aggravation is that none of this will matter much. Trump’s announcement won’t settle anything.
When Obama announced a 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears Monument last December, Utah’s Republican politicians threw a fit, saying it should have been much smaller. But with a smaller monument on the horizon, groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are preparing a lawsuit to counter whatever the president does. This could be tied up in litigation for years.
If you’re looking for someone to blame, you could start with members of Congress in 1906. They passed the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to create national monuments all by themselves, without any legislative check.
Republicans like to point to the part of the act that says the limits of any monument “ in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
But really, that language is vague. One person’s smallest area is another’s land grab.
Until now, no one has challenged the notion that a president could change a monument a previous president created. If the courts decide in Trump’s favor on this, then we might as well set fire to the Antiquities Act.
That’s because the next time a Democrat gets a four-year lease on the White House, he or she likely will tinker with these monuments again, to be changed yet again when a Republican comes to power, and on and on.
Not that setting fire to the act would be a bad thing.
Frankly, I have mixed feelings about that. The act has, no doubt, allowed for the preservation of many important sites Congress otherwise might not have protected. But when you grant one person dictatorial powers over a matter, people get angry. Protests ensue.
Longing for the good old days won’t help. For one thing, they never existed.
Woodrow Wilson came to town 98 years ago to speak at the Tabernacle on Temple Square about the League of Nations, a controversial proposal he was pushing despite heavy opposition.
The Salt Lake Telegram reported that 1,800 law officers were on hand that day to guard against assassination or “the impulsive actions on the part of cranks or others who might cause untold annoyance or interruption.” In some other cities, people had been shouting Wilson down.
Presidential visits, it seems, have been headaches for local leaders for a long time.