The Smithsonian’s newly appointed secretary recalled a bizarre moment during President Donald Trump’s private tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2017.
According to the Washington Post Saturday, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch’s upcoming memoir described Trump’s visit to the then-newly opened museum shortly before he took office in Jan. 2017. Bunch was the museum’s founding director from 2005 until June, when he became the Smithsonian’s secretary.
Bunch wrote that he rejected Trump’s request for a private visit on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“The notion that we could shut out visitors on the first King holiday since the opening of the museum was not something I could accept,” Bunch wrote.
Before Trump arrived for his private tour — which was accompanied by then-Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and King’s niece Alveda King — Bunch said Trump’s aides told him that the President “was in a foul mood and that he did not want to see anything ‘difficult,’ ” but Bunch himself was optimistic.
“It was not my job to make the rough edges of history smooth, even for the President,” Bunch wrote.
Bunch recalled when Trump paused in front of the exhibit that discussed the role of the Dutch in the slave trade and suddenly pivoted to bragging about his popularity in the Netherlands.
“As he pondered the label I felt that maybe he was paying attention to the work of the museum. He quickly proved me wrong,” Bunch wrote. “As he turned from the display he said to me, ‘You know, they love me in the Netherlands.’ All I could say was let’s continue walking.”
Bunch then wrote that there was “little” he remembered about the rest of the hour he spent with Trump.
“I was so disappointed in his response to one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history,” Bunch wrote. “Here was a chance to broaden the views and the understanding of the incoming president and I had been less successful than I had expected.”
However, Bunch recalled Trump being enthusiastic about the exhibition of Carson’s career, as well as a display of Muhammad Ali.
When asked about the passage, which was written last year, Bunch told the Post in an interview last week that there was “no doubt in my mind there were things he learned, engaged with.”
“What I hope is that the Smithsonian can play that role in a time of partisanship and division,” Bunch said. “I’m not saying who caused it, but the reality is, it’s a different time. And so I just want us to play that role.”
Read the Washington Post’s report here.