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One Day, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Will Join History Alongside Monticello, Mount Vernon, And Sagamore Hill

There is fine line between patriotism and nationalism. The line which separates enduring respect for a truly great leader from a cult of personality is finer still.

A certain amount of mostly harmless hero-worship has always pervaded the American presidency. Human beings come programmed to want to follow a strong leader.

Sometimes that devotion is earned and deserved. In perhaps the greatest feat of a lifetime full of noteworthy accomplishments, George Washington, gave up power after only two terms at a time when he could have become president for life.

Today, we celebrate George Washington by naming just about everything that can be named after him, by stamping his likeness on currency, and, of course, by visiting his former home, Mount Vernon.

Thomas Jefferson was another impressive president, with another impressive estate that can be visited to this day. Situated on a beautiful mountaintop outside Charlottesville, Monticello overlooks the University of Virginia. As a historic site, Jefferson’s home affirms his legacy as the president who gave us the Lewis and Clark expedition of discovery and who peacefully doubled America’s size with the Louisiana Purchase. On a darker note, the site also tackles Jefferson’s more complicated and contemptible qualities as a slave owner.

Theodore Roosevelt, hero of the Battle of San Juan during the Spanish-American War, distinguished himself in office by smashing harmful monopolies, by greatly strengthening our National Park System, and by successfully mediating the Russo-Japanese War (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first American to win a Nobel Prize of any kind). Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill is open to the public, operated as a historic site by the very National Park Service Roosevelt did so much to help create.

You can visit the former homes of several other celebrated U.S. presidents. Of course, while America has been fortunate to have been led by many great presidents over the centuries, it has also had its share of lackluster, dud presidents.

Yet, even the bad presidents tend to get their homes preserved as historic sites. James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, the presidents before and after Lincoln, respectively, are widely considered by historians to have been the two worst in U.S. history for, respectively, bungling the lead-up to the Civil War and undermining Reconstruction to help deny freed slaves their rights after the Civil War. You can tour both their homes. Nixon’s too.

Hell, William Henry Harrison was president for only a month. You can nevertheless go see his house.

All of this brings me to the sad, undeniable conclusion that someday Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida will open to the public as a national presidential historic site.

Given that Trump owns various properties and was once known as a prominent New Yorker, one could argue that the Trump Tower penthouse or some other residence might receive the historical attention in lieu of Mar-a-Lago. Yet, given that Trump himself seems to prefer Mar-a-Lago (it is his current primary residence) and that Mar-a-Lago is already ostensibly protected by an agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, my money is on a major Florida Trump historic site.

In fact, Mar-a-Lago is also already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was deemed a national historic site in 1969 by the Department of the Interior. It was built in the roaring 20s by heiress and notable partier Marjorie Merriweather Post. Donald Trump acquired the property in 1985 at the bargain price of $5 million when the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation failed to sell it to multiple different potential buyers (Post herself spent about $7 million building Mar-a-Lago in the 1920s, which would equate to more than $100 million today).

Of course, designating private property as a National Historic Landmark or listing it in the National Register does not prohibit owners from taking any action they may otherwise take with respect to the property, nor does it mean that the property needs to be open to the public (Mar-a-Lago remains notably private, with Trump using portions of the property as a private residence and with a $200,000 initial fee to join as a patron of the club portion). A lot of properties are involved in these programs, most having nothing to do with presidential history: about 2,500 properties are designated as National Historic Landmarks and more than 90,000 are entered in the National Register. These programs may provide limited federal funding for preservation of designated properties, but are not necessarily related to presidential history specifically, and operate parallel to the multiple ways in which a presidential historic site may be administered.

Not all of the historically preserved presidential home sites are managed by the National Park Service: many are administered by private organizations. Examples of privately run presidential homes include Monticello and Mount Vernon. While it pains me to consider that my tax dollars may someday be used to subsidize tours of Mar-a-Lago, this might actually be the best possible outcome as opposed to private administration.

“This is the toilet next to which Mr. Trump stacked the classified documents with the national security secrets,” one can imagine a sharply dressed docent from the NPS saying as she gestures professionally at the porcelain throne. “That was before the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, of course.”

You’re just not going to get that sort of contextualization within the purview of a private group led by Trump loyalists, or, heaven forbid, perhaps even by his adult children (those sorts already whine about places like Monticello being too woke). Under that kind of leadership, Mar-a-Lago would be more like the Museo de la Revolución in Havana, portions of which are so thick with hyperbolic propaganda that prudent visitors must be wary against suffering eye-roll-related repetitive stress injuries.

Trump is an old man — he is 77. Like it or not, one day, in the not-too-distant future, Mar-a-Lago will be preserved for posterity as a piece of presidential history. We cannot stop this from happening.

What we might be able to do is provide the public pressure, and yes, the funding, to prevent Mar-a-Lago from becoming nothing more than a tacky everlasting shrine to MAGA. I’d much rather it be a cautionary tale than a mecca for aging January 6 rioters.


Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].

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