In a bizarre interview with Fox News last night, President Trump stood next to a sculpture in the Oval Office that he said depicts former president Teddy Roosevelt, and explained that statues are vital to learning about history. Trump went on to complain that some people want to tear down statues of President Roosevelt, just like the art in his office. The only problem? The sculpture Trump was talking about isn’t Teddy Roosevelt. It’s an anonymous cowboy from the 1890s.
“Every president chooses what to put around them,” Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade said during the interview while pointing at the various pieces of art in the Oval Office. “You chose Lincoln as a bust and Lincoln as a picture. You chose Andrew Jackson, and is that Teddy Roosevelt?”
“Yes,” Trump says about the sculpture that is definitely not Teddy Roosevelt. “And by the way, they’re taking down the statue of…”
“Teddy Roosevelt,” Kilmeade says, helping to finish Trump’s sentence.
“Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump finally spits out. “So, explain that one.”
The sculpture in the Oval Office of the White House is called The Bronco Buster and was originally designed in 1895 by Frederic Remington. The sculpture was partially inspired by Remington’s own illustration in an 1888 issue of Century Magazine which accompanied an article by Teddy Roosevelt, according to the White House Historical Association. Some of Roosevelt’s fellow “Rough Riders” from the Spanish-American War even gifted him a version of the statue that was displayed in his private home in New York, and this connection may have led to Trump’s confusion.
Either that or the president is just an idiot.
Remington, an American Realist painter and sculptor of the “Old West,” never claimed that the Bronco Buster depicted Roosevelt and it doesn’t even look like the 26th president when you can examine it closely.
The statue simply shows an unnamed cowboy “breaking” a wild horse, a symbol of “taming” the American West and something closely associated with Roosevelt’s drive to colonise Indigenous land.
“Remington’s dynamic depiction of a cowboy breaking a wild horse also embodied Roosevelt’s vision of the westerner, whom he praised as a hardworking, self-reliant American hero,” the Met Museum explains on its website.
Several identical Bronco Buster sculptures were made in the preceding years, but the one that sits in the White House is an original cast that was donated by Virginia Hatfield and Louis Hatfield Stickney of Kentucky in 1973 during the Nixon presidency, according to the Gerald Ford Presidential Library.
The Bronco Buster, which belongs to the White House and not a single president, has sat in the Oval Office under multiple administrations, including the presidencies of George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as you can see in the photos below.
Photo: Getty Images
President Barack Obama stands at his desk on August 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. with the Bronco Buster sculpture highlighted in the background
Photo: Getty Images
President George W. Bush in the Oval Office on September 21, 2005 in Washington, DC. with the Bronco Buster sculpture highlighted in the background
The full interview with Trump is available on the Fox Nation website.
Trump went on to whine about the statues that have been taken down by protesters and municipalities across the U.S. during this summer’s uprising, first sparked by the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“The states… a lot of states are weak. A lot of people are weak. And they’re allowing it to happen,” Trump said of the statues that have been taken down across the country.
Ironically, Trump told Fox News that even if you don’t like the people being depicted in a statue, you can’t take that statue down because it’s vital for understanding history. He also complained that people who are tearing down statues actually have no idea who they’re tearing down and why they’re doing it. How does Trump know this? Because he can apparently read their confusion through the TV box.
“A lot of these people that want it down, don’t even know what they’re taking down. I watch them on television, and I see what’s happening. And they’re ripping down things, they have no idea what they’re ripping down,” Trump said.
But if Trump doesn’t even know what the statue that sits a few feet from his own desk represents, what good are statues for teaching history in public places?
Trump went on to say that it all started with Confederate statues and then moved on to Ulysses S. Grant and others. Trump even claimed that some protesters want to “take down Lincoln.”
Kilmeade tried to give Trump an opportunity to address the concerns of people who dislike living in a country with statues of slaveholders. Needless to say, Trump didn’t inspire confidence in anyone who’s against slavery.
“Since you have done a lot for the African-American community, what is your message to them who say, ‘my ancestors were enslaved because of their…’” Kilmeade asked.
“My message is that we have a great country. We have the greatest country on Earth,” Trump said. “We have a heritage, we have a history. We should learn from the history. And if you don’t understand your history, you’ll go back to it again. You will go right back to it. You have to learn. Think of it — take away that whole era, and you’ll go back to it sometime — people won’t know about it.”
Trump appears to be saying that if you don’t leave up statues of slaveholders then slavery will somehow become legal again in the United States. Or something. Who knows at this point?
President Trump, an unrepentant white supremacist who used to sleep with a book of Hitler speeches next to his bed in the 1980s, is going to continue with his attacks on protesters in defence of statues, especially if those statues represent history that can be better learned in books.