Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Because this is who I am, I draw a great deal of meaning from the fact that yesterday somebody within the National Parks Service, specifically somebody in charge of the Badlands National Park social media presence, decided to go rogue and tweet a handful of climate-related facts in direct defiance of the Trump administration’s gag rules and its position on climate-change science.
The Badlands were of great significance to Theodore Roosevelt–in late 1884, exhausted from the grind of politics and still bereaved due to the deaths of his wife and mother mere months before, he retreated to the Dakotas for nearly three years, reinventing himself as the rugged outdoorsman that would become his prevailing image throughout and beyond his life. The national park that bears his name is comprised of three separate regions of badland, and Roosevelt also maintains an earned reputation as one of America’s great conservationists.
He’d be appalled, I feel confident in saying, at much of what is going on in both Washington and the Dakotas right now. He built his latter political career in the role of a trust-buster, demanding greater regulation on large corporations who acted in bad faith to destroy competition and drive up prices. He detested criminality in its many forms, and he would have correctly judged our 45th president as a villain of the highest order.
I won’t refer to Roosevelt as a paragon–his faults were neither subtle nor inconsequential–but I do find much in him to admire in this moment of history, as we stare into the pulsing vortex of genuine fascism. I can admire his refusal to be paralyzed, either by his grief or by his ill health as a child; in both cases he looked at the steepness of the incline ahead and made the decision to climb. I can admire his voracious appetite to learn and engage with people one-on-one, the way he couldn’t stop himself from reading any book that made its way into his hands. I can admire his willingness to speak loudly and clearly and to always have much to say. Indeed, having much to say once saved his life, as he was once shot at point-blank range by a would-be assassin, and the folded sheets of a speech he was arriving to deliver hindered the bullet from going so deeply as to kill him.
His voice and his words literally saved his life, and here’s the key part of that story: He made it his priority to deliver them, the pages now torn through, before agreeing to go to the hospital.
So yes, nameless heroic Badlands National Park employee. Yes to what you did, and yes to whatever you keep doing, and yes to any of us who follow your example in the weeks and months to come. In the same way that Republicans have lost all claim to the character of Lincoln, they have also lost all claim to the character of Theodore Roosevelt, and we may take of his legacy what we need while discarding that which we do not.