President Trump said that he was “sad” at the removal of “our beautiful statues” and that “you can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” The President’s home in Trump Tower is a short distance from a great, amazing, huge collection of public statues and monuments—Central Park. I wonder how often he has gazed at them and was inspired to learn more history.
The southeast corner of Central Park, the closest entrance to the Park from Trump’s penthouse, is only a few minutes walk (or more likely, a few minutes golf cart ride) from the Tower. There he would have encountered a statue of William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback. If looking at the monument inspired him to read about that General, he might have learned that Sherman’s capture of Atlanta is credited with guaranteeing Abraham Lincoln’s re-election and thereby the defeat of the Confederacy. Lincoln pledged to preserving the Union, his opponent was expected to make peace with the Confederacy. Does Trump think about what would have happened had Sherman failed at Atlanta? Perhaps he does not think about what it would have meant for slavery and blacks or the cotton trade and the New York financiers who backed it or how it would have affected expansion into the territories, but surely he would wonder how Mar-a-Lago and his Charlottesville winery would have been affected if they were now in the Confederate States of America.
If he sought to learn more about Sherman, he would learn how important the defeat of the Confederacy was to this American patriot. He could learn that Sherman, like many others of his era, had changing views about blacks; that thousands of freed slaves joined his March to the Sea; that he settled thousands of the recently-freed on land expropriated from Southern whites. He could think about how Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction wiped away many of these gains for the former slaves.
Trump might learn that Sherman declined the Republican Presidential nomination of 1884 by saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” Would he find this amazing? If you don’t want to serve as President, you should figure that out and say so before being elected.
A block away from Sherman’s likeness are statutes of Simòn Bolivar, the Venezuelan who is known for liberating much of South America from Spain, and Josè de San Martin, the Argentine who helped liberate both Argentina and Peru from Spain. He might learn from these figures that South Americans do not look kindly on foreign powers trying to dictate to them. But, of course, if Trump had learned this, he probably would not have made his recent statements about Venezuela.
A short hike, or even shorter ride, from these men on horseback is Balto’s statue. Balto was the Siberian husky that led a final team of sled dogs delivering diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, in 1925, a story that was covered by newspapers worldwide. Surely there are lessons to be learned here about humanitarianism and the mainstream press. And perhaps the President might also realize that he ought to have a puppy.
Perhaps Trump has seen these statues near to his penthouse, and though I find it doubtful, even learned something from them. I am more confident, however, that Trump has not learned from a statute at the other end of the park from the one of Sherman. It is near 110th Street, which borders Harlem. There he could see a statue of Frederick Douglass. Enough said.
Central Park has, not surprisingly, more statues and memorials, including ones of Beethoven, Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns, and many others. But perhaps the most important one to visit if you are in the park these days is on the east side of the park near 74th Street—Alice in Wonderland! Surely there is much to contemplate at her feet.