Vice President Mike Pence went to the Panama Canal last week and gave a speech comparing his boss to President Teddy Roosevelt, who played a key role in getting the canal built.
“And in President Donald Trump, I think the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy, and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt,” said Pence. “Think about it. Then, as now, we have a builder of boundless optimism, who seeks to usher in a new era of shared prosperity all across this new world.”
In truth, the only way Trump could possibly inspire a discussion of the quintessential progressive is to remind us how far the GOP has drifted from its conservationist roots, and how desperately we need a Teddy Roosevelt now.
For while Roosevelt was at times a builder of boundless optimism, he was far more a conservationist of boundless optimism, the exact reverse of Trump.
In drawing his comparison between the two presidents, Pence failed to mention Roosevelt’s commitment to protecting America’s natural resources — a legacy Trump is now seeking to undo. Roosevelt put a remarkable 230 million acres of this country under public protection. He created 18 national monuments, five national parks, 150 national forests (including the first), and the U.S. Forest Service.
Compare that legacy to the aggressive stance Trump has already taken toward America’s national monuments. “No US president has ever revoked a national monument’s status. Trump might be the first,” reads
a CNBC headline from Sunday. On April 26, Trump signed an executive order requiring a review of the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to declare a national monument if an area is scientific, natural or cultural value. This week, Trump’s Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is “expected to recommend that at least some of the national monuments under review… be rescinded or shrunk in size.”
Guess which president signed the Antiquities Act
into law on June 8, 1906? Hint: While attending Harvard University in the late 1870s, he “studied biology intently
and was already an accomplished naturalist and a published ornithologist.”
In his famous 1910 speech, “The New Nationalism,
” Roosevelt said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
Roosevelt’s brand of nationalism was thus pretty much the exact opposite of Trump’s brand. For Roosevelt, the true nationalists and patriots were progressives — and environmentalists: “Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation” he said.
There are no greater preventable threats to the safety and continuation of the nation than unrestricted carbon pollution. That’s why there is nothing more anti-Roosevelt than constantly attacking climate change
as a hoax, appointing climate science deniers to oversee environmental protection and federal lands and foreign policy, and working to roll back all global and domestic climate action.
Theodore Roosevelt is, after all, a man who wrote
The United States at this moment occupies a lamentable position as being perhaps the chief offender among civilized nations in permitting the destruction and pollution of nature. Our whole modern civilization is at fault in the matter. But we in America are probably most at fault… Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.
Trump, on the other hand, is trying to not just allow the destruction and pollution of nature, but to actually accelerate the destruction and pollution of nature. And at a time when the entire world has, at long last, unanimously come together to address the gravest of all threats to the future of our children with the Paris climate agreement, Trump, alone along all the major world leaders, has announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the historic accord.
Finally, while Pence says that Trump, like Roosevelt, “seeks to usher in a new era of shared prosperity all across this new world,” Roosevelt understood that to share prosperity with our children, we must be all be stewards of the environment. In his 1907 State of the Union Address
, he said, “To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.”