Politician worship is misguided

Johnson County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Rod Sullivan speaks in a board of supervisors work session in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Johnson County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Rod Sullivan speaks in a board of supervisors work session in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Iowa could soon have the first county in America named for a TV wrestling star.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan is asking community members to consider alternative namesakes for our county, besides former Vice President Richard M. Johnson, a slave-owner and enemy of Native Americans. This is my vote in favor of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson County, named for the WWF-wrestler-turned-movie-star.

Sullivan floated the idea in his weekly constituent email this week, connecting the issue to the removal of confederate monuments in several states.

“It is interesting to consider the naming of Johnson County in light of the recent movement toward eliminating Confederate monuments. Should we consider naming Johnson County after someone else?” Sullivan wrote this week.

Sullivan highlighted Johnson’s grim background and suggested a few possible alternatives. President Lyndon Johnson or First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, blues musician Robert Johnson, or civil rights organizer James Johnson.

At least one other county made such a change. More than 30 years ago, King County, Washington changed its namesake from Confederate leader William Rufus King, to Martin Luther King Jr.

I applaud Sullivan for bringing up the issue and I agree names and monuments matter. But instead of switching out one political figure for another, I hope we can instead move on from worshipping politicians at all.

Black Americans shouldn’t be forced to support shrines to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, nor should Japanese-Americans be forced to subsidize anything honoring Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman. No American should be forced to honor any figure they simply don’t like.


Yet that’s what happens when government erects monuments, physical or figurative. Those projects consume our resources and carry the community’s tacit seal of collective approval. They represent us, whether we agree or not.

Canonized politicians become sugarcoated history. Our past is filled with complicated figures, yet history tends to hold them up as either good or bad. When we name things after people, we plant them on the good side of history and brush away their failures.

Presidents provide perfect examples for why hero worship is bad. Each and every one was responsible for things we look back on and wonder how they could have let happen. Yet millions of children go to schools named in their honor, and many likely never learn the dark parts.

Governments should not make heroes, for the same reasons governments shouldn’t pick religions. Americans are free to choose their own saviors and deities, and honor them how they see fit.

When we enshrine politicians and bureaucrats, we are perpetuating a false perception government builds strong communities. The opposite is true — communities flourish despite government. True heroes are faceless figures whose names nobody knows — the militiamen, frontiersmen, farmers, and workers.

And yes, even our entertainers and athletes — the Dwayne Johnson’s of the world — are more worthy than any Lyndon’s or Lady Bird’s

• Comments: Sullivan.AB@gmail.com; adam4liberty.com


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