Ann Coulter says she cares more about securing the border than she does about the “Yosemite gift shop being open.” The conservative commentator, in a cable television interview this week about the government shutdown over funding for President Trump’s border wall, lamented the devastating drug epidemic in the United States. “And the vast majority of those drugs,” she said, “are being brought in because we have a wide-open border.”
I am the proprietor of a “gift shop” at Yosemite — the Ansel Adams Gallery — that exhibits and sells the iconic photographic images made by my grandfather, images that have provided many Americans an introduction to their beloved national park. If I thought closing the gallery would have any positive impact on the issue Coulter cites, I would shutter it myself.
She is correct that there are problems far greater than the operation of a single small business in a national park. She misses the point completely. The use of illicit drugs does not stem from the supply; there is a demand issue that needs to be resolved. Anyone with a sense of economics will know that as long as there is demand, there will be efforts to supply. The amount of drugs coming through the desert over back roads or no roads is a drop in the bucket compared with what is coming through regular ports of entry. Let’s at least be honest. “The wall” is about legal and illegal immigration, fear and racism.
The gift shop in Yosemite National Park is actually open, despite Coulter’s assumption that we are not. The shutdown has had a small impact on us so far. Visitors can still enter the park, even if they find services reduced. The shutdown is having a far greater impact on the hundreds of Yosemite National Park Service employees and their families, on the contractors that need sign-offs on work done to be paid, on the primary concessionaire, which is laying people off. The shutdown compounds problems not helped by floods in April and fires in July and August that closed the park. And this is just one national park, among more than 400 park units, and just one agency of the Department of Interior. The shutdown affects millions of people, so being concerned (or not, in this case) about its impact on a single small business is complete nonsense.
I don’t know if it is irony or travesty or both, but it was exactly 75 years ago that Ansel Adams published a book and mounted an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York titled “Born Free and Equal.” They told the story of the Japanese Americans still interned at a “relocation camp” in Manzanar, to the east of the Sierra Nevada here in California. Ansel decried the situation and sought to show its wrongs but also the strength of these American citizens to cope and survive. “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment,” Ansel wrote of this work. It was wartime, and there was virulent anti-Japanese sentiment. The exhibition closed prematurely. The book was pulled from the shelves and burned. The U.S. government shuttered the internment camps and returned people to their homes the next year, before the end of the war and, significantly, before the Supreme Court had an opportunity to rule on the matter. The camps were illegal and immoral, and the government knew it.
It’s hard not to see parallels today. First there was the effort to ban Muslims from entry, then the detention camps that separated children from their parents, and now the fight over a wall on the border.
The Adams family is always careful about responding to the question “What would Ansel say?” There are nuances to be considered. Ansel Adams was a strong advocate for the environment, but he disagreed with some organizations over tactics. He knew that you cannot solve a significant problem without working with all interested parties. In this case, however, I venture to say he would disagree completely with the executive branch on the policy (a border wall), the grounds (racism) and the means (government shutdown).
The reality is that “the wall” has become a symbol more than a policy, and that symbolism resonates with everyone in the country — for or against. Coulter promotes that symbolism, which is destructive and not conducive to accomplishing anything. Her profession is provocateur, not policymaker, not reporter. The callousness of a government willing to cut off the incomes of nearly a million of its employees defies comprehension. Meanwhile, the Ansel Adams Gallery is open and Yosemite is spectacular. Come and visit.