While the name change will be viewed favorably in the Last Frontier, Alaskan tribes don’t even agree on what to call the mountain. Sure, the Koyukon Athabaskan natives (pop. 2,300) call it Denali — the Koyukon term for “the great one” or “the high one” or simply “big” — which is popular with the non-native settlers, but other tribes call it other things. Generally all translate into some variant of it being a really big mountain. Except for what the Ohio Republican tribe insists it be called: Mount McKinley.
And they have a point. Ohioans and Alaskans have special bonds that have received scant attention. First president to visit Alaska? Ohio’s Warren Harding. Their junior senator, Dan Sullivan? Hails from Fairview Park, Ohio. I could go on, but it’s clear to me that Ohio and Alaska have a special relationship worth preserving.
Ohio Republicans have battled for the McKinley name before. Alaskans petitioned Congress in the 1970s to change the name to Denali, but Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula was there to stop them. Sen. Rob Portman and governor and presidential candidate John Kasich have come out swinging for McKinley this time around. It makes sense that Obama would use an executive order to avoid congressional input. But why Obama chose to do it is befuddling – didn’t he win Ohio twice? And this is how he repays them? How many times did he win Alaska?
Clearly, a Kasich administration would solve this on day one. Or, as we learned Monday, a Trump administration, with the Donald tweeting:
McKinley received the naming honors thanks to a gold prospector named William Dickey. At the time, America was at a crossroads between gold and silver. The practice of bimetallism allowed people to redeem paper currency for either metal. McKinley was for the gold standard, which made the currency redeemable for only gold. His opponent, William Jennings Bryan, supported the Free Silver Movement. Since gold is obviously better than silver, as confirmed by the Olympic medal system, Dickey was a McKinley man. Sick of all of the “lead from second place” silver standard obsessives who supported William Jennings Bryan over McKinley, Dickey wanted to go for the gold (standard), and named the mountain after McKinley as retaliation after a days-long argument with free silver proponents in the wilderness.
Speaking of the gold standard, where are all the Ron and Rand Paul sound money gold bugs on this? You’d think the president who signed the Gold Standard Act could get some support from the libertarian machine. Alas, no. (Perhaps McKinley’s support for tariffs is too much for that crowd to bear, or the whole Spanish-American war thing.)
Alaskans have never taken to the name McKinley and generally call it Denali. In the lower 48, though, the word Denali is more associated with a very large GMC vehicle. A bit awkward that a president is changing the name of a mountain on a climate-change trip to what most know as a gas-guzzling SUV. McKinley was the first president to ever ride in a car; he shouldn’t be usurped by one. Besides, almost nothing bears his name. Other than the high school in “Glee” and the now-defunct $500 bill, what does he have?
Taken too soon by an assassin’s bullet, McKinley and his presidency — which historians have looked upon more favorably recently — are worth remembering. Independence for Cuba (what could go wrong?) and annexing a premier vacation destination and the future 50th state (sorry, birthers) are among his many interventionist successes. McKinley promised “prosperity at home, and prestige abroad” and delivered them.
To be sure, Mt. McKinley was named prematurely, having been named after him not only while he was still alive, but while he was running for president. Yet now, McKinley is being stripped of this honor at time when the social media mobs are rightly seeking to purge Confederate names from gracing places like schools or parks that often bear no relationship to their historical contributions, tainted as they may be. McKinley doesn’t belong in their camp.
Mount McKinley should stay. The man’s achievements have already slipped from the minds of too many Americans. Let him have this big mountain.