Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers, for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.
—Francis Bacon, Essays, 1625
President Obama has, as it were, gone to the hill. He has renamed Mount McKinley. Its new name is Denali. This is, as the New York Times put it, “an Alaska native name with deep cultural significance to the tallest mountain in North America.”
I doubt the name is of any significance to the mountain. But I am not one of that kind who believes an inanimate object has an animating spirit—a nymph, a dryad, a naiad, or a whatnot. And I wouldn’t have taken the editors of the New York Times or President Obama for one of that kind either.
And if there is a mountain god in this 20,327-foot rock pile, I doubt he, she, or it is feeling deep cultural significance about being called Denali. It is the name of a very large SUV manufactured by General Motors and emitting copious amounts of greenhouse gases. My wife and I own two.
In the Athabaskan family of languages denali means “the high one.” According to the Alaska Native Language Center there are fewer than 1,000 Athabaskan speakers. In a nation of 319 million where 318,999,000 of us don’t speak Athabaskan, if President Obama wanted to change the name of Mount McKinley, he just should have been honest with us and called it “The High One.”
But why would President Obama want to change the name of Mount McKinley? It might be spite. In the 1880s and early 1890s the peak was called “Densmore’s Mountain,” after a gold prospector who was the first dead, white, European male to reach the mountain’s base. President Obama seems rather opposed to dead, white, European males, or, anyway, to the culture they engendered.
Then, during the presidential campaign of 1896, another Alaskan gold prospector changed the mountain’s name to “McKinley,” the candidate he supported. McKinley won. McKinley was a Republican. You can see why President Obama would be upset.
Alaska has voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since statehood except for 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running against Lyndon Johnson. This may have been because Goldwater had the word “gold” in his name and was not from Alaska but was from Arizona instead. Alaskans are touchy on the subject and jealous of their national preeminence in all matters concerning that precious metal. But I wander from my topic.
President Obama’s economic policies indicate that he is not in favor of “sound money.” We would have sound money if the United States were on the gold standard as it was in McKinley’s day. We may thus infer that President Obama has no use for gold prospectors, much less a dead, white, European, male Republican one.
President Obama has other reasons to attempt to erase the memory of America’s 25th president.
Like President Obama, McKinley came into office during a severe economic crisis. McKinley fixed it. America became broadly prosperous.
Like President Obama, McKinley was an isolationist dragged into a foreign war he opposed. McKinley won it. America became a world power.
Like President Obama, McKinley faced Chinese trade problems. McKinley solved them. America out-competed China with the “Open Door Policy.”
Unlike President Obama, McKinley didn’t transfer to an Ivy League university, get a college diploma, or go to grad school—things Obama was famously all too good at. And during the brief time McKinley attended an institution of higher learning he wasn’t a po-faced political science major indignantly calling for South Africa divestment. He was an SAE frat boy.
McKinley became a lawyer by the old-fashioned means of “reading for the law” in a real law office so that McKinley knew what he was talking about when he talked about the law. (Vide U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether the Affordable Care Act is legislation or a tax.)
In fact, McKinley was a human rights lawyer, except he was successful at it. In 1876 McKinley defended, pro bono, a group of coal miners who, clashing with strikebreakers, had been arrested for riot. McKinley got all but one of the coal miners acquitted.
McKinley’s defense of the coal miners was so brilliant that it impressed the owner of the mine. Cleveland pluto-crat Mark Hanna would become McKinley’s most important political supporter and foremost campaign donor. Talk about “Bringing People Together.”