To the Editor:
ohn Podhoretz and Noah C. Rothman describe the “decimation of the Obama legacy” (“Bare, Ruined Choirs,” December). They submit: “If you wish to see his monument, look around,” describing the vast political damage inflicted on the Democratic Party. The authors end their article noting that in four years “there may be no monument of Barack Obama’s left standing for anyone to look at.”
Messrs. Podhoretz and Rothman make an excellent case that Obama’s legacy will have crumbled in four years. I am not so sure, however, that there won’t be monuments. It comes down to a matter of perspective. If you live in places like northern Maine, Utah, or Nevada, and you look around in four years, you will likely still have plenty of monuments to President Obama. One of his most enduring legacies will literally be monuments—national monuments; President Obama has created more than any other president.
Many of these are controversial. The designation of national monument protects federal lands forever, but one thing they’re “protected” from is economic development, and locals often don’t appreciate that. One national monument in California, Mojave Trails, is 1.6 million acres. A marine national monument off the New England Coast protects 5,000 square miles. Local fishermen and lobstermen are not happy about it. Nor are many locals happy about the new 87,500-acre national monument in Maine’s North Woods.
Presidents have long been protecting and reserving federal lands. Most national forests were reserved by presidents under the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, until Congress took away that power. In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, which authorized the president to create national monuments to protect “small” areas of significance. Congress never defined the word small, allowing presidents to use their own definitions. Many significant American treasures have been protected as national monuments. Before it was a national park, the Grand Canyon was made a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt.
Here is the interesting part. Many of the local residents near national monuments feel, as Senator Mike Lee of Utah put it, that the monuments amount to “government-sponsored injustice and bureaucratic tyranny.” These critics of national monuments are hoping that the new president feels the same way. No president has ever undesignated a national monument, and it is unlikely he would have the authority to do that. Donald Trump has stated he will undo executive orders; would he try to undo national monuments? Could he? If monuments to President Obama are going to crumble, some of them will need to be national monuments.
Pendleton, South Carolina