In a move that some consider provocative, the Mayor of Jackson, Wyoming has removed portraits of both President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence from where they hung in the Jackson Town Hall.
The Washington Post reports that in their place now hangs a portrait of the Native American Chief Washakie.
The Mayor’s name is Pete Muldoon, and he took office on January 1 of this year. Though he has described President Trump as “divisive,” he says removing the portraits was not a politically-motivated decision, saying he would have removed portraits of Barack Obama as well.
In an official statement, Muldoon made his justification clear: “We aren’t required to display signs of respect — our respect is earned, not demanded. Dictators like Joseph Stalin required their portraits to be displayed everywhere. Luckily, we do not live in a dictatorship. We can choose who we honor.”
According to The Post, Muldoon explained that his non-partisan government should avoid outwardly advocating for a particular party. He says that belief applies to both Republicans and Democrats, “We all have our own political views, but I don’t think the town should be promoting one over another. And we do that when we place a politician’s picture up.”
The move has stirred quite the controversy in the small town, with Republicans crying partisan foul.
I want to to address the controversy over my decision to remove President Trump’s portrait from the wall at Town Hall.
Let’s start with acknowledging a few basic facts.
First, Donald Trump is our president, and he’s president because he won the election under the rules we have in place.
Second, our town government is a non-partisan body. We do not work for the federal government, and there is no requirement to have a picture of the president displayed at Town Hall. Citizens are free to display pictures of whomever they choose at their own homes and businesses, but the idea that we are required to display a portrait of the president at Town Hall is simply not true.
There’s a tradition of hanging portraits of the president in federal offices within the executive branch – not unlike how grocery stores display pictures of the manager. It illustrates the chain of command for that branch of government. But the Town of Jackson is not in the president’s chain of command.
Since it’s not a requirement, the only two reasons I can see for displaying the portrait would be for educational purposes or to honor Donald Trump.
I see no educational value in such a display. Everyone knows who the president is, and while displaying a chart showing the three separate but equal branches of government and their relationship to state and local governments would actually provide a useful civics lesson, a portrait of the president does not.
There has been an argument made that we should respect the office of the president, if not the president himself. Fair enough – but there are two other equal branches of government, and no one seems particularly interested in displaying portraits of the Speaker of the House or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
This leaves us with the portrait as an honor. Donald Trump is an extremely divisive figure. Whether you agree with his opinions or not, it’s undeniably true that many residents intensely dislike him, and find his political views odious. Our previous president, whether deserved or not, evoked a similar response from some residents.
When the Town Of Jackson decides to honor such a divisive person, it is taking sides against some of its residents. The Town Council has made no such decision, and until and unless it does, that kind of honor will not be bestowed. I don’t know who put up the portrait of Trump, but it was not authorized by myself or the Council.
If Barack Obama was still president, I would make the same decision. There was a picture of Obama at Town Hall, and it was put up before I was elected mayor. I don’t believe it should have been displayed either. So I’ll be replacing presidential portraits with an organizational chart of federal, state and local government, which will make clear that the citizens, through Congress, are sovereign and create policies which the Supreme Court ensures are consistent with our Constitution and are subsequently executed by the president. And while the president does have additional powers granted by the Constitution, the Constitution itself is controlled by the people.
The United States is a constitutional republic. We don’t have a monarch, and one of the best features of our system is that presidents are people just like everyone else. We aren’t required to display signs of respect – our respect is earned, not demanded. Dictators like Joseph Stalin required their portraits to be displayed everywhere. Luckily, we do not live in a dictatorship. We can choose who we honor, and in my role as a representative of all town residents, I’ve decided that the Town of Jackson will not take sides by honoring any partisan politician and will continue to focus on the needs of all members of our community.
Mayor of Jackson, WY