On Friday, The Washington Post published an essay by its art and architecture critic arguing that former President Donald Trump must never have an official presidential library, and that blocking such a library was an “issue of national security.”
In the essay, titled, “Trump wants a library. He must never have one,” Philip Kennicott states bluntly, “Trump must never have an official presidential library, and Congress should move quickly to make sure he never will.”
Bemoaning the fact that the National Archives has already launched the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library website, Kennicott opines that there has been a “larger scam that has become attached to the presidency: the use of presidential libraries and museums to entrench perpetual fundraising and hagiography as a permanent part of every post-presidential career.”
Kennicott cites a Politico article that asserted an attempt by Trump to build a presidential center would likely fail, then surmises, “But that doesn’t mean that Trump won’t try and that, in trying, cause further damage to the country.” Kennicott urges Congress “to reconsider the legislation that helped create and shape the presidential libraries now administered by the National Archives” adding that Trump’s intention of “perpetrating one last, giant grift … makes this urgent, even an issue of national security.”
Kennicott explains how presidents’ documents and paperwork since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt were donated for public access, adding, “The 1955 Presidential Libraries Act formalized the process, encouraging presidents to donate their papers, as well as land and a building to house them, which the National Archives would officially maintain.” He notes that presidents were “allowed considerable — often far too much — control over what records were considered presidential and when the public could access them.”
He segues to Trump: “The case of Trump is exceptional by any standard, and he should be afforded no discretion over his records or any privilege to extend the amount of time before the public can see them.” He urges Congress to “begin an extraordinary effort” to “recover as much of his communications legacy as possible, even material that wasn’t deemed ‘presidential.’” Kennicott’s rationale: Trump “mixed public and private interests in a way that was unprecedented in modern American history.”
As precedent, Kennicott points to actions taken against another Republican president, Richard Nixon, concerning whom President Gerald Ford signed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, giving the government control of Nixon’s records.
Kennicott again warns of the “danger” of a Trump presidential library: “The danger of Trump using a presidential library to burnish his image is far more serious, with the ex-president and his surrogates still promoting the idea that his electoral loss was somehow fraudulent. That creates an ongoing uncertainty in American public life, which Trump and even more unscrupulous actors will use to further division, inflame tension, exacerbate racism and delegitimize the American democratic system.”
He also calls for public “sham[ing]” of anyone who would agree to work on the library: “Americans should shame anyone — including architecture firms, exhibit designers and corporate donors — who helps Trump perpetuate the lies that nearly destroyed our 244-year-old effort to create a democratically governed republic.”
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