The mayor of Jackson, Wyoming, defended his decision to remove portraits of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence from the local town hall building on Monday. The mayor was under fire after replacing the presidential portraits with a Native American leader, Chief Washakie. While some critics found the move "disrespectful" to Trump, the mayor insists removing the portraits sends a powerful message by reminding Americans of the intricacies of our federal, state, and local governments.
In a statement (via email newsletter), Mayor Pete Muldoon wrote that the decision to remove the portraits speaks to both the independent distinctions between the town government and the federal government and the controversial nature of the sitting president. Per the statement:
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.
Like those of Presidents Bush and Obama, Muldoon wrote that the portraits were hung in the building prior to Muldoon taking office and without council approval. He insisted that compulsory presidential portrait displays aren't really his style — but especially not when they're so divisive.
It was local councilman Jim Stanford, The Huffington Post reports, who suggested replacing the portraits with Chief Washakie — a well-known a local figure and historic leader of the Shoshone tribe in the 1800s who was known for brokering peace treaties.
"It's a way to honor our native history," Stanford told The Huffington Post. "I think it's an improvement."
Further, Muldoon's statements suggest another (maybe sassier) approach to those who consider it disrespectful to not picture the president and vice president in the government building. Instead, he said, it might be worthwhile to add some educational charts that explain the "separate but equal branches" of government and how they relate to state and local governments. Here's that #APGovermentBurn:
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.
Muldoon's concerns mostly come from the notion that the non-partisan local governments are required to pay this sort of tribute to the heads of the executive branch.
"We don't have a monarch, and one of the best features of our system is that presidents are people just like everyone else," Muldoon wrote. "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."
Though the portraits remain down, his opponents (including many local Republicans) could still override Muldoon's decision via a town council vote in the coming weeks.