Regarding South Dakota’s efforts to have a Fourth of July fireworks display at Mount Rushmore this year, let’s cut to the chase.
Last week’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Roberto Lange to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Gov. Kristi Noem did NOT come about because Lange (who was appointed by President Obama), the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service (NPS) and/or the Biden Administration hate America’s values, which Noem herself inferred on Fox News and again in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Press & Dakotan.
“This is part of the radical left’s agenda,” she declared on Fox last week. “They don’t want to celebrate America or our freedoms. They’re pushing critical race theory. They’re pushing the 1619 Project. And this is just another one of those battles to erase our true, honest and patriotic history in this country.”
Noem randomly name-checked a lot of convenient hot-button issues that may stir her supporters, at least the ones who aren’t paying attention to the reality of the situation, but offered little insight into the matter.
Fireworks displays had not been held at Mount Rushmore since 2009, in large part because of fire-hazard concerns caused by a devastating mountain pine beetle infestation in the vicinity of the Mount Rushmore monument. Dry conditions have also not helped.
President Donald Trump reinstated the display in 2020, but this year, the bid for another fireworks show was rejected, with COVID-19 concerns, tribal objections and environmental worries cited.
Lange said his role wasn’t to determine whether a fireworks display “is a good idea.” He said, “Ultimately, there are strong arguments in both directions as to the balance of harms, and the public interest in the short term appears to lie with having the fireworks display, whereas more long-term interests militate against it, at least for this year.” He added it would be “improper judicial activism for this Court to disregard settled law” in terms of how federal agencies make their decisions, The Associated Press reported.
In her lawsuit challenging the NPS decision, Noem called it “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of powers granted the agency by the Constitution. There was no reference to the “radical left,” the 1619 project, critical race theory or whatever else, mostly because such points would be laughed out of court.
But in her weekly column, she insisted, “(Those on the left) wish to cancel the great men on that mountain who accomplished so much to make America the most special nation in history. It’s but their latest attack on American history and our founding principles.”
She wrote this several weeks after Mount Rushmore had to be closed for a few days earlier this spring while a wildfire was fought near the park. Noem herself declared a state of emergency for the area that would run through June due to “widespread drought conditions, low humidity, high wind and high temperatures that create serious peril for our state.” Conditions have not improved much since then and the current heat wave and continued low humidity are contributing to the danger.
But no matter.
“In the radical left’s view, America has become one of the villains of history,” Noem wrote, addressing the Mount Rushmore issue in political terms. “That’s why they promote kneeling for our national anthem. That’s why they tear down statues honoring our nation’s heroes. And that’s why last year there were calls to tear down Mount Rushmore itself.”
There are two different arguments being made here — a legal one, which is what the court addressed, and a political one, which is being thrown into the court of public opinion. The former might make at least some degree of sense, although it ignores the NPS’s concerns and Noem’s own emergency decree; the latter is just political theater — unless one thinks endangering vulnerable forest area is a true measure of patriotism.
Honestly, the lack of fireworks does not equate to a rejection of American values. For instance, in the fall of 2011, the NPS announced a 2012 Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore, sans fireworks, that would “highlight patriotism, cultural celebrations of American heritage, and features the true meaning of Independence Day, while at the same time protecting the park’s resources and encouraging visitor safety.”
But that’s not what is on the table with this lawsuit, which does not have the best interest of the area around Mount Rushmore in mind. In fact, this lawsuit seems to reduce the monument to little more than a political prop, which is a shame.