President Trump thinks he should be on Mount Rushmore. Isn’t that terrible?
That is what Trump predicted we in the news media would say when he raised the subject Tuesday night.
“I’d ask whether or not you think I will someday be on Mount Rushmore, but, no — here’s the problem. If I did it joking, totally joking, having fun, the fake-news media will say, ‘He believes he should be on Mount Rushmore!’ ” Trump said. “So I won’t say it, okay? I won’t say.”
He started to go on with his speech but came back to the subject. “They’ll say it anyway tomorrow: ‘Trump thinks he should be on Mount Rushmore. Isn’t that terrible?’ What a group. What a dishonest group of people, I’ll tell you,” he said.
Hence our obliging his prediction. Clearly the idea of whether he might someday end up on Mount Rushmore has never entered Trump’s mind. It is the most distant thought possible. It is demonstrably the case that Trump has no interest at all in being on Mount Rushmore.
So let’s go where Trump refuses: What would it take to add him to the monument, should he at some point in time entertain the notion?
First, some history. Construction on the monument began in October 1927 and lasted until October 1941, just before World War II. The four faces depicted were not all carved at once. George Washington was sculpted first, then Thomas Jefferson, then Abraham Lincoln and, finally, Teddy Roosevelt. The project constantly struggled to raise the money necessary to pay for the carving, though the federal government covered most of the cost. It was initiated by an act of Congress allocating federal land for the carving and a (contentious) bill in the South Dakota legislature authorizing the work to begin.
In total, the project employed 400 people and cost $989,992.32.
In 2017 dollars, that’s over $17 million — but it was also for four faces. We’re talking only about one: Trump. How much would that cost?
To answer that question, we spoke to Stuart Simpson, a stone-carver based in Cedar Park, Tex.
His estimate — which was obviously very rough given the infrequency of projects of this scale — was that it would take a team of about 180 people about four years to complete the job. (The work is “not like making a pizza,” he said.) That team would consist of about 25 designers, 30 trained stone workers and some 125 laborers to do the bulk of the chipping away at the mountain to create a 60-foot-tall head.
At estimated hourly rates of $100 (designers), $50 (trained stone workers) and $30 (the rest of the crew), that’s about $64 million alone — just for labor.
The way the work would proceed would be by “taking away the parts that you know don’t need to be there,” working from the top down, Simpson said. He likened it to terracing the side of a mountain, which, in a sense, it is. While the original sculptures were carved using tools such as jackhammers, Simpson noted that building this in 2017 would offer some advantages.
“Technology these days is way more advanced,” he said. “I think a lot of it will still have to be sculpted and removed off the mountain in the same manner that it was in the past, but with the new computer abilities and 3-D scanning, I would think there’s much more equipment that could be used to make it a more accurate and easier process.” Laser locating could allow for much more precise carving, for example, allowing a carver to hit a very particular depth on a section of Trump’s face.
That’s assuming the mountain cooperates. Before work begins, Simpson explained, the team would “want to fully understand the quality of the face of the mountain that you would be carving into.” The Jefferson head, for example, wasn’t originally slated to be in its current location but had to be moved because weak granite in the planned location. Uncertainties like that need to be addressed upfront. Even when carving the face, though, there might be weak spots, Simpson said, necessitating a slight change of plans.
There’s a lot of detail in the existing sculpture, as workers tasked with cleaning it have discovered in the past. (That includes errors: There’s a part of a drill bit stuck in Washington’s eye.)
But there are limits to what you can do with stone. “I don’t know if they could capture the wispiness of that hairdo,” Simpson said.
So that’s the process itself. Before it could begin, though, there would need to be some political maneuvering, persuading the South Dakota legislature and, possibly, Congress to move forward on reopening a project that was finalized 76 years before. (That finalization was mostly about money, mind you. A planned chamber embedded behind Lincoln was abandoned in the 1940s and completed by the National Park Service in the 1990s.) It’s not exactly clear that this is how such a decision would proceed, given the uniqueness of the question, but it seems like a legislative solution would be the best bet.
Jay Vogt, director of the South Dakota State Historical Society, was skeptical, telling us that his “best gut feeling is that there will never be a change to the memorial.” But given how strongly South Dakota backed Trump in 2016 (he won by nearly 30 points) and given Trump’s self-avowed ability to make deals to get things done in Congress, the political side of it shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
And it’s not like there isn’t political will for the move. In addition to the cheering reception Trump got on Tuesday night, a Change.org petition demanding that Trump be added to the memorial had an impressive 378 supporters Wednesday afternoon — nearly three times the number of people who think Mount Rushmore should include the face of Harambe.
The real hurdle, then, is persuading Trump to accept the honor of being included on the mountain. It’s hard to say whether he would; the thought has simply never entered his mind.