White House asked South Dakota governor about adding Trump’s face to Mount Rushmore: report

Trump called the report "fake news" before adding that it “sounds like a good idea to me!”

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 10, 2020 10:40AM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 28, 2020. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 28, 2020. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Sunday denied a report that his aides inquired about adding his face to Mount Rushmore before declaring it a "good idea."

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in 2018 that Trump told her it was his "dream" to have his face on Mount Rushmore during their first Oval Office meeting when she was running for office.

"I started laughing," she told the outlet. "He wasn't laughing, so he was totally serious."

Last year, a White House aide followed up with Noem to inquire about the "process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore," The New York Times reported on Saturday.

When Trump arrived to meet Noem for a July 4 celebration at Mount Rushmore last month, the governor greeted him with a four-foot replica of the memorial featuring his face, according to the report.

Though Trump refuted the report on Twitter, he did not deny wanting to see himself on Mount Rushmore.

"This is Fake News by the failing @nytimes & bad ratings @CNN," Trump wrote, sharing an aggregated version of The Times report from CNN. "Never suggested it although, based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!"

While The Times reported about the White House inquiry, it was Noem herself who said Trump had broached the subject and was not joking when he did.

"He said, 'Kristi, come on over here. Shake my hand.' And so I shook his hand," Noem said at the time. "And I said, 'Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.' And he goes, 'Do you know it's my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?'"

Trump also tweeted a photo of himself Sunday alongside Mount Rushmore.

Trump has mused about being added to Mount Rushmore since at least shortly after his election.

"I'd ask whether or not you think I will someday be on Mount Rushmore, but here's the problem: If I did it joking, totally joking, having fun, the fake news media will say 'he believes he should be on Mount Rushmore,'" Trump said during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio in 2017. "So I won't say it, OK? I won't say it."

The National Park Service has said there is no secure space on the mountain to add another president.

"The rock that surrounds the sculpted faces is not suitable for additional carving. When Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore died in 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum closed down the project and stated that no more carvable rock existed," Maureen McGee-Ballinger, the head of education at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, told the Argus Leader.

Adding another president would also undermine the purpose of the monument, she said.

"Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum to represent the first 150 years of the history of the United States — the birth, growth and preservation of our country," she explained. "He chose the four presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln) to represent the principles of our present form of government not to represent the individuals themselves."

There is "no procedure for adding another likeness," she added, because "the sculpture is complete."

Mount Rushmore's history has also been called into question amid the renewed reckoning over America's past sparked by the wave of protests over systemic racism.

The mountain, which was sacred to the Lakota tribe and other indigenous nations for thousands of years, and the land on which it sits were illegally stolen from Native Americans in the 1800s, the Supreme Court ruled in 1980. Borglum, the sculptor, was a white supremacist who was involved in Ku Klux Klan rallies and committees. The KKK funded his work at Georgia's Stone Mountain, the "largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world" and the birthplace of the modern KKK, before he quit the project to work on Mount Rushmore.

The presidents depicted on the monument also had their own sordid pasts with Native Americans. George Washington dispatched troops to burn down Native American towns, Thomas Jefferson was the architect of the federal government's policy to remove Native Americans from their lands during the country's westward expansion, Abraham Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota Natives — the largest mass execution in American history — and Theodore Roosevelt infamously waged a yearslong campaign to remove Native Americans from their land.

Victor Douville, the history and culture coordinator in the Lakota Studies Department in Sinte Gleska University, told Snopes that the Lakota people saw the carving as a "defacement of their sacred site," especially because "those four people had a lot to do with destroying our people's land base."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Kristi Noem Mount Rushmore Politics Republicans South Dakota