At government buildings across the nation, a picture of a smiling, benevolent-looking politician is just about as common as fluorescent lights.
Last week the mayor of Jackson, Pete Muldoon, had the president’s portrait replaced with a photo of Native American Chief Washakie. Vice President Pence’s portrait was pulled, too.
Although Muldoon, who took office Jan. 1, called Trump a “divisive figure,” he insisted in a lengthy statement on his website that politics wasn’t a motivating factor behind the removal.
“We aren’t required to display signs of respect — our respect is earned, not demanded,” Muldoon’s statement said. “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.”
The first-term mayor told The Washington Post that he doesn’t think Jackson’s nonpartisan government should boost a political party, and that his stance applies to Democrats and Republicans. In Jackson, the mayoralty is a nonpartisan.
“We all have our own political views, but I don’t think the town should be promoting one over another,” he said. “And we do that when we place a politician’s picture up.”
But local Republicans say the move was politically motivated — especially because the affluent ski-town is a liberal island in a conservative state.
In the 2016 presidential election, Teton County, where Jackson is the largest town, was the only county in Wyoming won by Hillary Clinton — 57 percent of voters chose Clinton, 31 percent picked Trump. But Trump thumped Clinton in the state, winning 70 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 22.5 percent.
“This issue is bringing ugly national partisan politics into our community and disrupting what has been very effective nonpartisan hardworking local government,” Paul Vogelheim, the chair of the Teton County Republican Party, said in an email to The Post.
“Hanging pictures of the president has been a tradition in the community since at least the mid-80s. I find taking down these pictures as political showboating and totally disrespectful and dishonoring of the position of the president.”
Tyler Lindholm, a Republican state lawmaker from Wyoming’s conservative 1st District, echoed this sentiment.
“As far as I know, no public office ever took down President Obama’s picture or Vice President Biden’s picture,” he said in a video message on his Facebook page. “And yet as soon as a Republican is elected, Jackson takes a stance that they’re going to jerk their pictures down. I guess that shows character, doesn’t it?”
The Teton Republican Party launched a petition that asks the Jackson Town Council to pass a resolution requiring portraits of the president and vice president “to always hang in Teton County’s local government buildings.”
Muldoon told The Post that those reactions — and messages he has received that called him a “liberal billionaire” and “said they’d punch me in the face” — bolster his point.
“The portraits are fine. I have no problem with them. But the requirement to display them and the anger and outrage when they’re not put up, that’s where it gets weird. That’s a cult of personality, and it shows in the emails that I’ve been getting.”
Muldoon said he saw parallels between the controversy in his town and the North Korea comparisons the Trump administration has garnered following a meeting where Cabinet members heaped praise on the president.
“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. It was one of two dozen laudatory statements made as media cameras recorded. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”
CNN called it “a scene directly from the boardroom of ‘The Apprentice.’ A group of supplicants all desperately trying to hold on to their spots on the show by effusively praising Trump — each one trying to take it a step further than the last.”