Reasonable people might accept the argument that the two giant national monuments in Utah are too big, too restrictive or too much the result of an undemocratic process.
But no one should be able to look at the celebration that unfolded Monday in our state’s Capitol building and see anything other than a disgraceful display of powerful people whooping it up over the pain they were inflicting on, among others, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.
Of course, it isn’t the first time our president was heard to brag about something he’d done that he should have been ashamed of. But the sight of Utah’s governor, its U.S. senators and representatives and leaders of its Legislature grinning and clapping and otherwise having a good time was downright sickening.
Some small karma did arise when political stinkbomb Steve Bannon, the man perhaps most responsible for the election of the president Utah’s leaders were partying with Monday, spent Tuesday denigrating Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular.
Utah leaders such as Gov. Gary Herbert and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee rightly rose to Romney’s defense. But the turn of events should give the Utah office holders some taste of what it’s like to be a Utah Navajo these days.
There was no good reason for the president to take an ax to Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created 21 years ago by President Clinton, or to vivisect the Bears Ears National Monument, proclaimed less than a year ago by President Obama. Unless, by “reason,” one means the opportunity for a president of one political party to tear down the accomplishments of not one, but two, presidents of the other political party.
For all the criticism of arrogant exercise of the power granted to every president by the federal Antiquities Act, the destruction of Utah’s two monuments was no more democratic — and, in the case of Bears Ears, far less deliberate and open — than was their creation.
Monday’s action grew out of the myth, spread at great taxpayer expense by some of Utah’s lawmakers and county commissioners, that the federal ownership of so much of the state is somehow unlawful or unfair. It is part of the widely perpetrated fraud of an idea that if the small towns and rural areas of Southern Utah were somehow freed of the yoke of federal land ownership they would magically begin to thrive.
It is a deliberate ignorance of the fact that rural areas across the nation are watching their youth move away, their schools and post offices close, the availability of everything from jobs to groceries to medical care dry up and blow away. And that happens just as much, if not more, in states that have little or no federal land.
The decades-long effort of the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian tribe, backed by many other Native Nations, to create the Bears Ears monument did not deserve this presidential kick in the teeth. The Indians are, predictably, going to court and the whole matter will be tied up there for years.
The roll-back of Grand Staircase also shamefully belittles the efforts by many enterprising Utahns to build sustainable businesses to serve the many visitors from around the globe who come in search of the quiet and stark beauty found there.
The Utah leaders who took part in Monday’s grotesque display of hubris have lost all right to stand up for our unique status as a public lands state, or to have a seat at the table when thousands of crucial decisions about how those lands would best be managed are made.