UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – A Rushmore revolution

In a popular film from 1991, Grand Canyon by Lawrence Kasdan, a character played by Danny Glover tells Kevin Kline’s character to “get yourself to the Grand Canyon.” In a movie about personal discovery and re-defining faith in society and the self, the Grand Canyon serves as a point of inspiration, implying that a trip to this wonder of the world might provide some degree of epiphany about a person’s direction in life. The Grand Canyon is a place to go and recharge, restoring faith and encouraging a sense of awe and wonder. These days, following a tumultuous election and years of angst as political pundits continually divide the nation into Red and Blue states, I think America needs to “get itself to Mount Rushmore.” 

The uniqueness of this monument to the icons of American history is the universality of these men. In an increasingly partisan country, the men of Rushmore are regularly claimed by both political legacies. At any given time these monoliths of American political rhetoric are adopted by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. While that might seem complicated and confusing, it should actually be seen as comforting and validating. The point is that these presidents are both and neither. They are all, as well as none, of the above. Beyond party and ideology, they are, quite simply, Americans.

When I look at the faces on that cliff in South Dakota, I see leadership on the grandest scale.  These are men who held deep powerful convictions, yet acted in the most pragmatic ways.  While Jefferson believed in limiting the power of the federal government, he used such power without shame when purchasing the Louisiana territory. While Lincoln knew the Constitution and the law as well as anyone, he was not above manipulating both to save the union. Roosevelt was a fearless capitalist, who nonetheless, was not afraid to use the strong arm of Washington to restrict the more troublesome qualities of the economic system. None of these men were so rigidly foolish to believe one ideology or party had all the answers. In fact, some might say the brilliance of the Founding Fathers lay in their understanding they didn’t know everything, and could not foresee the challenges America would face.

These men governed in a way that was always best for America. Far more than is the norm for political leaders in the twenty-first century, the Rushmore presidents were deeply devoted to keeping the promise that is delivered in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I can’t help but believe the men of Rushmore would be profoundly dismayed by the nature of political discourse in America today. It’s not that they opposed differences of opinions. Think of Jefferson’s disputes with Adams, Lincoln’s presiding over the greatest division in American history, and Roosevelt splitting off to form a third party in 1912. What each of these men did throughout their careers was fight the corruption of the ideals upon which America was founded.

I can’t imagine what they would think if they knew that more than $14 billion was spent on the 2020 election campaigns. While Jefferson wrote the book, so to speak, on free speech, I can imagine he would suggest, “That’s some darn expensive speech.” I can almost see Roosevelt’s sneer. I can feel Lincoln’s eyes staring with profound disappointment. America needs the men of Mount Rushmore. America needs a Rushmore Revolution.

We need a new political movement that is neither Republican nor Democrat, one not driven by ideology. We need a perspective that acknowledges the value of both sides, one not simply focused on beating the other party for control. We need a group of men and women who will devote themselves to a common goal, making the best decisions for the best of all Americans. We need to make a fresh start, and then we need to ask ourselves. What would Washington do? What would Jefferson do? What would Lincoln do? What would Roosevelt do?

We need to streamline a government and a political system, so with all the pragmatism of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, we can stop shouting at each other and criticizing each other and demeaning each other, and simply fix the problems. We need to find the commonality that is the greatness of the men of Rushmore.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com