Blogs > Jim Loewen > A Renaming Everyone Can Get Behind

Jul 7, 2020

A Renaming Everyone Can Get Behind

tags: Ronald Reagan,memorials

For a decade at least, Washington, D.C., has been stuck in ugly political gridlock. As a step toward renewed bipartisanship, I offer this modest proposal. 

At the turn of the last century, Republicans engaged in a wave of memorials and renamings for President Ronald Reagan. In 1998, a Republican Congress passed a bill requiring renaming Washington National Airport for Reagan. The airport authority and many D.C. residents pointed out that it was already named for one president, but "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport" went into effect nevertheless. 

After George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001, the renaming went on in earnest. Historians know that memorials in the U.S. have often sprouted in waves. Union monuments began to go up immediately after the Civil War. Most Confederate memorials were dedicated much later, in the period 1890 to 1940. Why? Because victors usually put up memorials, and in about 1890, the Confederacy — or more accurately, since it was a new generation, neo-Confederates — won the Civil War. And, Republicans argued, had not Reagan similarly won the Cold War?

A year or so after the breakup of the Soviet Union, I heard an interview about it with Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been Foreign Secretary in the U.S.S.R. Asked if Ronald Reagan deserved partial credit in some way for the downfall of Communism and the breakup of the U.S.S.R., he was momentarily struck dumb. Clearly he had never thought of that hypothesis. Having considered it, he rejected it out of hand, citing more basic economic, societal, and ideological contradictions within the Communist system. 

But this made no difference to Republicans. Years ago Walt Kelly had mocked such thinking in his comic strip Pogo, in a scene in which Albert Alligator, claiming some political mantle at the time, took credit for the weather, a fine sunny day. "Why not?" he protested. "It happened during my administration, didn't it?"

The resulting mania for memorializing Reagan thus reflected a political rather than historical judgment. Historically, Ronald Reagan surely ranks no higher than the third best Republican president of the twentieth century, well below Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. No matter. Grover Norquist, leader of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project and even more famous for his no-tax-increase pledge, called for a monument to Reagan in each of America's 3,067 counties and on the national mall in Washington, D.C.; his face on the $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton's; and perhaps his profile added to Mount Rushmore! "Or we could have our own mountain," suggested Norquist.  

An article by Greg Kaza in National Review called Mt. McKinley a "precedent" for renaming some other peak for Ronald Reagan. Of course, more recently McKinley has given way to Denali, its aboriginal name, but at the time the example made sense. 

I have a suggestion for Mount Reagan that I think will never get renamed for someone else.

Each of our United States has by definition its highest point. The highest point in Reagan's home state of California is already named, of course, for Josiah Dwight Whitney, who founded the California Geological Survey. So is the highest point in Reagan's native state, Illinois, 1,235' high Charles Mound. In fact, the highest point in every state is already named, even Florida's Britton Hill, a mere 345' from sea level — except Delaware's.

Indeed, Delaware's tallest spot was misknown until recently. It was thought to be marked by a National Geodetic Survey azimuth on Ebright Road between Brandywine and Brandywood in far northern Delaware. The Ebright Azimuth turns out not to be the highest point in Delaware, however. The highest point in Delaware, at 451' a full two feet above the Ebright Azimuth, is in a mobile home park some 300 yards west. It is "the elevation in front of the first trailer," according to William S. Schenck of the Delaware Geological Survey. 

Of course, Ronald Reagan had nothing particularly to do with Delaware. But then he had nothing to do with aviation, either, except for smashing the air traffic controllers' union, which didn't stop Republicans from renaming Washington National Airport Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

And, like McKinley with Spain, Reagan did win a war — with Grenada. So perhaps he does deserve to have a mountain named for him. Delaware's tallest spot — “Mount Reagan” — is perfectly appropriate. It matches exactly the size of the war Ronald Reagan won. 

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