President Donald Trump
Credit: White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

In Teddy Roosevelt’s 1913 autobiography Progressive Principles, he wrote about his father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.

“My father…was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.”

In his 2013 book, Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt, Edward Kohn reports that Teddy Sr. sent Teddy Jr. off to Harvard with the following advice: “Take care of your morals first, your health next, and finally your studies.”

Fred Trump didn’t offer this type of guidance to his son, Donald. That’s the beginning point to understanding why the current president doesn’t belong on Mt. Rushmore. As a child, I had trouble understanding why Teddy Jr. was carved into that mountain rather than his distant cousin, Franklin. As an adult, I’ve come to wish that the monument had never been created at all, since it was carved on land that was supposed to be set aside in perpetuity for the Sioux.

I visited the place first back in 1982, on a trip I took before high school with one of my older brothers. I returned with my own family in 2017, right around the time of the troubles in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was there during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s an interesting place to visit for the bizarre little culture that has sprung up around the monument. The carving itself does not live up to the hype.

Any tribute to America’s greatest presidents should obviously include Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. We also have stand-alone monuments to them in our nation’s capital. Donald Trump would more fittingly be included in a tribute to our worst presidents, but according to Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, he thinks otherwise.

Since the first days after she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018, Kristi Noem had been working to ensure that President Trump would come to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks-filled July 4 extravaganza.

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore?

Donald Trump disputes that this conversation ever happened, but not that he belongs on Mt. Rushmore.

It’s not a very convincing denial, and apparently there’s physical evidence.

In private, the efforts to charm Mr. Trump were more pointed, according to a person familiar with the episode: Ms. Noem greeted him with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.

Somewhere there’s a four-foot tall mockup of a five-president Mt. Rushmore that includes Trump’s mug. I hope one day the Smithsonian gets their hands on this thing, assuming that it hasn’t been inadvertently crushed by a dwarf. It would look good and get a few grim laughs in the National Museum of the American Indian.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at