Wingnut Week In Review: Mountain Out of a Molehill

Terrance Heath

This week, President Obama gave a national landmark its name back. Wingnuts tried to make a mountain out of that molehill.

President Obama made a historic trip to Alaska this week. What made it historic? Well, while there the president announced that he would restore original the name of the nation’s tallest mountain, to honor the Native Americans who gave it that name in the first place. Mount McKinley would once again be called Denali.

It made sense on several levels.

  1. First, Alaskans have called it Denali for years. A majority of Alaskans wanted the mountain’s original name restored, and have tried to get it restored since the 1970s. One Republican congressman from Ohio, Ralph Regula singlehandedly kept Alaskans from restoring the mountains name for decades. The Board of Geographic Names won’t change names if there’s regulation pending. So, Regula just kept regulation pending. Regula’s fellow Ohio representatives took up the cause when he retired in 2009. So, after discovering a 1947 law gave the Secretary of the Interior some power to act when “the Board does not act within a reasonable time,” it made sense to finally move after waiting more than 40 years.
  2. Second, the mountain was renamed as the result of a political spat in the first place. Around 1896, a gold prospector name Dickey got into a spat with some supporters of William Jennings Brian and his free silver movement. Dickey retaliated by naming the mountain after presidential candidate and gold standard supporter William McKinley. McKinley hadn’t become president or been assassinated when Dickey renamed the mountain after him, and never set foot in Alaska. The name was formally recognized by the government in 1917.
  3. Third, the indigenous people who named the mountain Denali in the first place reached Alaska long before Europeans “discovered” North America. “Denali” means “the high one” in the language of the Athabaskan people, who have lived in the region for thousands of years. So, it was Denali a lot longer than it was Mt. McKinley. And nothing gave Dickey the right to change its name, other than being a white guy, and conservative for that era.

So, it was a simple, long overdue correction to restore the mountain’s original name. Other than that, nothing really changed, except that the mountain now shares the name of the national park at its base.

In a sane world, it wouldn’t have been headline news outside of Alaska, and wouldn’t have been more than a blip in national news. But we don’t live in a sane world anymore.

If it had been done by any other president, the news would have been met with distracted yawns. But it wasn’t done by any other president.

Thus, conservatives lost their minds.

  • House Speaker John Boehner said in a rather tame statement (compared to what was to come), “I’m deeply disappointed in this decision.”
  • Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) declared “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans,” and vowed to put the House Committee on Natural Resources to work trying to undo it. (Because the committee doesn’t have anything more important to do, apparently.)
  • Radio host Bryan Fischer explained why the president restored the mountain’s name: “Well, there’s a very simple reason: President McKinley was a Republican and he was American and he was white. So he was all the things that President Obama has such a visceral distaste for.”
  • Karl Rove flogged his upcoming book on McKinley, and said he hoped President Obama would be “more gracious” to “the man who made it possible for him to be president.” That’s because McKinley was born in Hawaii, which was annexed in 1898, during his presidency.
  • Right-wing baby-mama Bristol Palin was apparently just as upset that the president stayed in “our nicest hotel,” rented enough rooms for his Secret Service detail, and brought his own limousines. Oh, and restored Denali’s original name.

Others took their outrage to Twitter.

(Editor’s Note: Wrong! As noted above, the mountain was renamed after McKinley in 1896. William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.)

 

(Editor’s note: Wrong! The Spanish-American War started in 1898 — two years after the mountain was renamed for McKinley.)

All this from people who have no problem naming and re-naming everything they can think of after Ronald Reagan. (Yes, I still refer to the nearest airport to D.C. as Washington National Airport. I always will.)

The brouhaha over Denali is really about was best explained by James W. Loewen, author of Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.

Replacing Native American names with those of European Americans is a form of cultural imperialism. The practice declares that the new rulers of the landscape can afford to ignore what Native names mean and connote in favor of new names that typically have no relation to what is named.

In other words: Whatever white folks named it, that’s what it ought to stay.

Standing In The Chapel Door

It’s been a rough week for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk — and self-appointed enforcer of “God’s Authority” on earth — who became the newest martyr to cause of right-wing bigotry when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in accordance with the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in July.

First, records showed that Davis has been married four times herself, only stopping to get religion after her third divorce. Barring others from getting a first bite at the apple, when you’ve already had four, seems kinda selfish. Davis’ many marriages don’t make her any different from millions of Americans who’ve been married three or more times. The difference is that most of them aren’t trying to stand in the way of anyone else getting married.

Then U.S. Supreme Court turned Davis away, when she asked the justices for a temporary stay that would effectively permit her to continue denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples while she sought a permanent order, after a federal court denied a similar request. So, Davis was summoned back to federal court, where she got the contempt of court citation she’d been begging for, and got trundled off to jail.

It turns out that Davis was such a holy terror on the issue that her deputy clerks are willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but are too afraid of Davis to do so. Davis apparently forbade her deputies from issuing licenses. So, this wasn’t just about Davis right to practice her religious beliefs at work, but her right to force her religious beliefs on those who worked under her. With Davis in jail, her deputies have already started issuing licenses.

Twitter, needless to say, had a field day with Davis.

 

 

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