The American West may be the last bastion of what it means to be American. The image of the Old West brings a sense of beauty with the sky-scraping mountain ranges, the deep valleys, and the endless desert and woods. The feeling of utter freedom, unencumbered by corrupt bureaucracy – as one is across the East and much of the South – is something you have to experience.
That sense of beauty and utter freedom is purely American, and purely conservative.
What does it mean to be American? Abraham Lincoln said in his address to Congress in 1862, “A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability.” The United States as a nation may not always exist. The laws of the United States come and go as much as its presidents. But what the United States contains – the Redwood Forest, the Rocky Mountains, and even the national monuments Trump decided to shrink, like Bears Ears – is what will last long past our children’s children. Manmade monuments will have fallen, been torn down, or been repaired five-times over by the year 2100, but not our national parks. As Lincoln quoted the Book of Ecclesiastes in that same speech, “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever.” Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne stated similarly: “Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.”
Numerous Republicans have lined up in support of the Administration’s position, and dismiss the idea that the federal government is exercising too much power or that corporate interest will benefit.
But whatever may occur in the future, the initial push to shrink these lands at all was largely due to energy corporations. Take, for example, Energy Fuel Resources, which lobbied the President to shrink Bears Ears, Utah by 85 percent, paying lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels tens of thousands of dollars (and whose firm’s head just so happens to be the nominee for deputy secretary of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler). The shrunken territory, as planned, has high concentration of uranium mines – exactly what Energy Fuel Resources wants.
“The uranium deposits are outside the monument now,” Governor Gary Herbert of Utah confirmed, but only because the parks have been shrunken.
Lest we forget, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was just involved is a suspiciously corrupt deal to revitalize Puerto Rico’s electrical industry after the hurricane with a contract to a tiny company in Montana named Whitefish Energy. No bid, naturally. Millions of course. The National Review recently battered him over the seediness of the deal, saying in their headline that it “stinks.” Whitefish, National Review blasted, had “no real work force, no experience in comparable government projects, and a job that is, by itself, about 300 times the firm’s reported revenue.” Shady and corrupt if we’ve ever heard it. In 2017, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management sold hundreds of thousands of acres of land to companies, and some project the first half of 2018 will have nearly one million acres sold.
(To be clear, Zinke’s ethical problems go back even to his days as a House Representative from Montana in 2014, concerning a PAC that was created which had $200,000 discrepancy in its profit.
Ronald Reagan loved and lived in California. Barry Goldwater loved and lived in Arizona. Both, giants amongst giants, saw the West and the landscapes as pinnacle Americana. Goldwater, in his immeasurably important work, Conscience of a Conservative, dedicated most of a chapter to the environment, writing that it is “our job is to prevent that lush orb known as the Earth … from turning into a bleak and barren, dirty brown planet.” Goldwater recognized that the environment took priority over what corporations and companies may want, and applauded President Richard Nixon’s war against polluters.
Goldwater was in many ways the father of 20th century conservatism, and there was no greater disciple than Ronald Reagan. When President, President called “the preservation of our environment … common sense.” He signed such preservation laws as the Coastal Barrier Resources Act in 1982, which forbade federal subsidies to new development in certain areas. He requested “one of the largest percentage budget increases of any agency” to the EPA in 1984, saying that $157 million budget for receiving new lands to conserve.
The Framers of the Constitution and Founding Founders would have realized, as most were farmers of their time, that turning the land into infertile soil – as Energy Fuel surely wants to do – would have been unnecessary. George Washington was a member of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, and upon his address to the Continental Congress in 1776, he noted that “whether [Americans’] houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed” by the British. Centuries later, and what was a foreign army is now a domestic businesses. Thomas Jefferson noted that Washington would “had rather be on his farm than to be made Emperor of the world.” Jefferson, the agrarian son of the Enlightenment, saw the Louisiana Purchase as not just doubling the size of the country, but doubling the size of the American aspiration to be free and unencumbered. Corporations, like government, encumbers human freedom.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, along with the generations of Americans after them, looked to the West and saw immense natural beauty, and declared that it was Manifest Destiny for these ranges and valleys to be under the Stars and Stripes. If we were to shrink the monuments, we risk turning them into the oilfields and mining corporations.
The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, said in Cymbeline, “How hard it is to hide the sparks of Nature!”
If things go the way they are under Secretary Zinke, perhaps there won’t be many sparks of nature to hide much longer.
BY CRAIG SHIRLEY
Craig is founder, chairman and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, the public relations, marketing, and government affairs firm he originally founded in 1984. He is also the author of three bestsellers on former U.S. president Ronald Reagan –Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America (2009), Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (2005), and Last Act: The Final Years and emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan (2015).