Archaeological Personalities and the Profession’s Future
We live in a moment in which the profession of historical archaeology seems characterized by…
U.S. government has a wonderful ability to reinvent itself every four years with the Presidential election. That ability can be disconcerting when the election results in a sharp change in philosophy and policy. The transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump will be the most dramatic sea change in the history of the American presidency. For many of us, Obama was a champion who celebrated America’s intellectual vigor and diversity. Hillary Clinton was a champion of women’s rights. Trump is none of the above.
However, we do not need to look at Trump’s election with fear and trepidation; rather, we need it to serve as a catalyst to us to serve the communities that need our assistance, to serve as a voice for the disenfranchised and all of America – male and female, gay and straight, black, white, red, yellow and shades in between – and to do our work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
It is difficult to forecast what a Trump Presidency will be like; that comes with the territory of having elected a man who has never served in public office and who has no legislative record. We know he will challenge immigrants and immigration; we know the United States is a nation of immigrants and we can help tell their story. We know he will deny climate change and the Paris accord; we know that climate change has already left its record on our landscape and can remind the nation of places already lost as well as those we will be losing. We know he will emphasize the importance and place of male white Americans; we know that America was crafted by the hands and voices of women and men of many races and we can bring their voices to life. We know that he believes the U.S. should stand in isolation; and we know that the U.S. is a hub of a global world, that the global world and economy was set in motion by European exploration of the 15th century, and that it cannot be undone by one man in four years.
My colleagues in the cultural resource industry ask what a Trump Presidency and Republican Congress will mean to historic preservation. Trump speaks against environmental regulation; however, many of the initiatives he will challenge and overturn are Executive Orders from President Obama that will not affect us. He calls for streamlining environmental review; I support that call, and the CRM industry has made great strides in the past decade. This is an area where we can all apply our acumen; I have no qualms with doing our work better and faster. I do not believe that the Trump administration will challenge the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) itself; a colleague expressed her concern today that a Republican President and Congress would attack the NHPA. I informed her that that had already passed, in 2010 when Representative Pombo and the newly elected Republican Congress under second term President Bush attacked the NHPA. Their efforts were soundly defeated by the voices of many Americans – archaeologists, historians, citizens, middle Americans, city-dwellers – all of whom who understood and made it clear that our history is what defines us as a nation. I will gladly defend the territory of American history, and that is a non-partisan tract that cannot be overrun. Pombo, by the way, was not re-elected, and the Republican leadership told their Congressional members to leave the NHPA alone.
I am an eternal optimist, which is, I think, a characteristic of the American spirit. We are a nation of expansion and opportunity. So as I reviewed President-Elect Trump’s platform today, something I had not done before the election, I found myself agreeing with some of the things he calls for. I would be glad to see term limits on Congress. I fully agree that our government could and should work more efficiently. And I believe that our Veterans deserve far better treatment and service than they are being given. As a citizen of the U.S., I will be glad to work with President Trump where we agree. And I will also be glad to oppose him if needed.
All of us have an obligation that did not come with this election; it comes with the territory we occupy. We are stewards of the past; we are the caretakers of unwritten history. We have a job to do. Use your sites and projects to inform the public, remind people that their feet were not the first to tread the lands they are visiting, illustrate all of the people who made the U.S. the great nation that it is, and make certain that our elected representatives understand that our heritage is the greatest currency we have. Our history, all of our history, is what makes the United States what it is, is what makes us Americans, is what makes us great. Not Again. Then, Now, and Forever.