I sometimes think I should just stop being surprised and/or appalled by anything Donald Trump says or does, but more often I hope I never stop being shocked and horrified by how awful he is. Yesterday I managed to ignore the internet all afternoon only to arrive home and be asked if I’d seen his antics at a ceremony ostensibly meant to honor the Navajo Code Talkers. Some of his remarks were fairly typical of Trump, but they took place in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, and included his use of the name Pocahontas as a slur.
There were plenty of reactions from the media and politicians, and I have plenty I could say (both as a historian, and as a decent human being), but there are better voices for this moment. Indian Country Today reported on the event. The National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel issued a statement in which he rightfully redirected attention to the people who should have been at the center of this conversation: “Today was about recognizing the remarkable courage and invaluable contributions of our Native code talkers. That’s who we honor today and everyday – the three code talkers present at the White House representing the 10 other elderly living code talkers who were unable to join them, and the hundreds of other code talkers from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Navajo, Tlingit, and other tribes who served during World Wars I and II. We also honor the service and bravery of all of our veterans and those currently serving from Indian Country.” Later in the day Native News Online’s Mark Charles (Navajo) wrote, “PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP COULD NOT HOLD HIS TONGUE. HE COULD NOT FIND THE COURTESY TO CONDUCT THE CEREMONY IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION BEYOND THE GENOCIDAL GAZE OF THE SEVENTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. AND HE COULD NOT CONTROL HIS INCESSANT NEED TO KEEP THE SPOTLIGHT ON HIMSELF, NO MATTER WHAT THE CONTEXT, OR WHO HIS AUDIENCE.”
Think what you will about Trump–if you’re among the 38% of Americans who still approve of him, clearly decency and logic have nothing to do with your support and you won’t be swayed–but don’t ignore that in a ceremony meant to celebrate the contributions of Navajo servicemen from a wider Native community that has historically been marginalized, and continues to be today, Trump marginalized American Indians yet again. Remember this moment, yes, but remember the histories of the Native men and women this ceremony was intended to honor, too.