President proposed garden amid protests against police brutality that fueled the removal of statues tied to historic injustice A man plays a trombone on a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters Heading out of office in a blur of insurrection, mass deaths due to a pandemic, scandal and lies, Donald Trump on Monday issued an executive order directing the building of a National Garden of American Heroes, “to reflect the awesome splendour of our country’s timeless exceptionalism”. The 45th president proposed the garden last summer, in response to national protests against police brutality and institutionalized racism that contributed to the vandalism, felling or removal of statues connected to slavery and other historic injustices. Trump first broached the idea in a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, which depicts the former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. He denied a New York Times report that he had spoken to South Dakota governor Kristi Noem about adding his own face to the mountain. All four presidents on Mount Rushmore were targeted by protesters. Washington and Jefferson owned enslaved people; Lincoln ordered a mass execution of Native Americans and is the subject of statues celebrating emancipation that some feel embody outdated racial attitudes; a monument outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York shows Roosevelt on horseback, towering over figures representing black and Native Americans. Trump’s executive order lamented what it called “a dangerous anti-American extremism that seeks to dismantle our country’s history, institutions and very identity”. The garden, it said, “is America’s answer to this reckless attempt to erase our heroes, values and entire way of life. On its grounds, the devastation and discord of the moment will be overcome with abiding love of country and lasting patriotism. This is the American way.” The order equated the throwing of paint at statues in parks with traumatic events in American history: the burning of the White House by the British in 1814, the assassinations of Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr and the attacks on New York on 11 September 2001 in which close to 3,000 people were killed. “America is responding to the tragic toppling of monuments to our founding generation and the giants of our past,” Trump’s order said, “by commencing a new national project for their restoration, veneration, and celebration.” The order said the garden would honor those “who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history”. A long and eclectic list, arranged alphabetically, ran from the photographer Ansel Adams to Lorenzo de Zavala, a Mexican-born doctor and diplomat who died in Texas in 1836. Kobe Bryant, a basketball star who died in a helicopter crash in California last year, was included. So were the writer Hannah Arendt, a scholar of totalitarianism, and conservative columnist William F Buckley; singer Johnny Cash and quiz show host Alex Trebek; hard-right supreme court justice Antonin Scalia and his liberal friend Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Green Bay Packers NFL coach Vince Lombardi and animator and ultra-conservative Walt Disney. The list prompted immediate confusion, particularly over its mix of names from history, high culture and mass entertainment. “Given rest of list,” tweeted the New York Times reporter Alex Burns, “seems fair to ask: Chris Columbus the explorer or the director of Mrs Doubtfire?” Ben Jacobs, a former Guardian reporter, asked: “How can you include [Humphrey] Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne but exclude Gary Cooper?” The order directed the secretary of the interior to identify a site and provide funding and said a taskforce would “publish an annual public report describing progress on establishing the National Garden and on building statues”. Joe Biden has nominated for interior Deb Haaland, who if confirmed will be the first Native American to hold a cabinet position. The Biden transition team did not immediately comment. But as the 46th president prepares to take office, promising a series of orders of his own to reverse Trump policies, it seems likely Trump’s garden will never be built.