This past weekend, a little-known holiday was celebrated. National Public Lands Day, which was created in 1994, serves to “connect people to public lands in their community, inspire environmental stewardship, and encourage use of public lands for education, recreation, and general health.” While National Public Lands Day may be an obscure holiday, the issue of the future of public lands is a critical one and one being hotly debated across the country today.
From the moment he descended that escalator to announce his candidacy in 2015, Donald Trump vocally and forcefully broke with establishment Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues — including the issue of public lands.
Mr. Trump was the only Republican candidate seeking the nomination who was willing to stand out on the issue of public lands, pledging to be a great steward of our public lands:
“We have to be great stewards of this land. This land is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”
Mr. Trump went even further, making it clear he would oppose efforts to return public lands to the states, saying, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do with it.”
Despite these pledges, and at the urging of special interests and a handful of disgruntled members of Congress, President Trump issued an executive order this spring instructing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review all presidential designations or expansions of national monuments of greater than 100,000 acres since Jan. 1, 1996.
Mr. Zinke has completed his review and transmitted his recommendations to the White House. According to several outlets, Mr. Zinke’s recommendations make minor adjustments to a handful of monuments but don’t eliminate any of them.
The establishment’s response to Mr. Zinke’s thoughtful review? They aren’t happy about it. They aren’t happy because they didn’t want a thoughtful review — what they wanted was a systematic dismantling of our federal public lands and national parks.
William Perry Pendley, writing in National Review, claims that Mr. Zinke “went rogue” and that Mr. Trump should act more broadly to roll back public lands.
The views of the author, a vocal critic of President Trump during the general election, and the publication, which notoriously ran an entire issue dedicated to opposing Mr. Trump, speak volumes about the opposition to public lands in the Republican Party: They are not Trump supporters.
During his run for president, Mr. Trump made it clear he was a different kind of Republican. He isn’t Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. Mr. Trump has never taken his marching orders from the establishment types, bucking them on issues like immigration, trade and foreign affairs. Mr. Trump was willing to break with establishment conservatism on these issues because he understood that while unfettered free trade, open borders and foreign adventurism might be good for the corporate special interests — these policies were hurting America’s working class.
And it is those forgotten Americans — our working class — who Mr. Trump promised to fight for, which is why he is willing to break from the pack on the issue of public lands.
Some so-called conservatives view our lands as nothing more than another commodity that can be sold off to the Chinese or turned into parking lots. It is just dirt to them, dirt that has no more value than any other commodity.
They think this way about public lands because to them, public lands are wholly unnecessary. Who needs to worry about access to public lands when you can afford exotic vacations, five-star hotels, and private hunting reserves?
For tens of millions of working-class Americans, the folks who were the backbone of the Trump revolution, public lands are an essential part of their life. They are places where families vacation, places where we show reverence to the greatness of our country, and places to hunt and fish. Working-class Americans understand that some things in this country are so fundamental to who we are as a nation that they aren’t for sale at any price.
As President Trump weighs how to move forward on the question of public lands, monuments and national parks, he should once again put the interests of working-class Americans above those of the establishment elites.
• Christopher R. Barron is the president of Right Turn Strategies and the former organizer of LGBT for Trump.