Murder in the Rose Garden

By Jamie Stiehm

August 26, 2020 5 min read

The laziest first lady in American history paved over parts of the White House Rose Garden for her husband's four addresses to the Republican National Convention.

So, why should we care in a summer of sorrow and woe, wildfires and hurricanes, a reckoning on race and the pandemic? What are crab apple trees to thee and me?

Ruining the Rose Garden design brought destruction of the tulip bulbs that dance in bloom, leading a lively parade of other flowers and shrubs. Gone, just like that. News of the "renovation" landed like a cross to my spirits, a bell of warning that there's more to come from President Donald Trump and Melania Trump. Nothing's sacred to these people.

Gardeners do not renovate, by the way. That's for houses, buildings, man-made places. I have it from the best of historians that Melania Trump is the laziest first lady ever, so perhaps the president plotted the murder and used her as a shield from critics.

Still, the bloody deed is done. Melania Trump is now implicated in her husband's radical disrespect for the dialogue between ages and presidents that goes on in the White House. There's only one president he shows any feeling for: fierce Southern slaveholder, lawyer and warrior general Andrew Jackson, who marched Native American tribes away from their land.

President John F. Kennedy envisioned the Rose Garden as a sublime gathering place and asked a family friend to design the colonnade space and bright colors for each season. He loved the seamless connection to the Oval Office, walking outside to beauty back in 1962. Every time he saw Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon, he asked her how plans for the garden were coming along. He read Thomas Jefferson's garden writings and wished to plant Virginia magnolia trees in an unbroken pattern of history.

It's often thought Jacqueline Kennedy designed the Rose Garden, but it was President Kennedy's signature gift to the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy concentrated on art, furnishings and historic preservation. She once gave a dinner to celebrate Renaissance music and poetry.

Those days are over. The garden, until five minutes ago, exuded a cheery, unfussy elegance that sang of American optimism and belief in the future. Every garden is a world and a vote for the future.

This captures the heart of the loss: a shared concern about the 2020 election and what the future holds.

I was too young to remember the enchanting Kennedy era, of which the garden was a living remnant. The bloom was never off Camelot's rose. Jack Kennedy's sojourn on earth was short. He broke our hearts in a swift snap when he died by murder in Dallas.

Trump has broken our hearts in a different way — slowly, one day at a time, sowing seeds of discord and fury for his summer garden of thorns. And perhaps he has us where he wants us — demoralized, fragile, indoors, boarded up.

We're all missing people or things we love, little and large, under stress and siege since March. Like the post office, reader, our democratic service for all spelled out in the Constitution. The rage Trump rains and sleets on this precious institution is unheralded, trying to shake American faith in voting by mail before the election.

There are two 2020 anniversaries that we marked: Ludwig von Beethoven's 250th birthday, to be celebrated by orchestras worldwide, from Berlin to Washington. I had my tickets ready, choosing among my favorite symphonies. Don't tell me virtual playing is just as good. There's nothing like a full concert hall.

Then there's women's suffrage, winning the vote in August 1920. The centennial got lost in the crush, lucky for Trump. He wouldn't like knowing a young leader, Alice Paul, prevailed over President Woodrow Wilson.

My home state of California, once a promised land, is burning. New Orleans, which holds sweet memories, may be lashed by hurricanes. Somehow, it's all of a piece.

Time hangs heavy on our hands. Biking around town frees my soul, but I miss swimming's summer kiss on my skin. Crickets and cicadas sing me to sleep, a sound that gets back to the gardens we've lost.

Jamie Stiehm can be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

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