Now, with just weeks left in his presidency, he’s leaving the way he came in.
I’m not just talking about his desperate effort to convince states not to count the votes of Black people. For what may be the last policy fight of his administration, he’s going to bat one last time for the Confederacy.
At issue is the National Defense Authorization Act, the yearly bill that funds America’s military colossus. For 58 straight years it has never failed to pass; this year’s version spends $740 billion. Members of Congress are determined to pass it next month in the lame-duck session.
But included in the bill — with the support of all Democrats and some Republicans — is a provision to rename the 10 military installations still named after Confederate officers, people who waged war on the United States of America to maintain the ability of wealthy White southerners to enslave other human beings.
President Trump has said that if the renaming provision is not removed, he will veto the defense bill.
We should pause to remind ourselves what a moral abomination it is that there remains any way at all that we as a nation continue to honor and exalt the Confederacy and the men who led it. It is not, as its defenders say, simply a matter of remembering “history.” There’s a reason you don’t send your kids to Heinrich Himmler Elementary School and go hiking in Osama bin Laden National Park, as important figures in history as they were.
And though the process began years ago, Trump’s presidency accelerated the broad realization of how repugnant it is that so many tributes to the Confederacy remain. Having a president whose own personal racism is so undisguised has made it harder to justify the statues and flags and military base names as merely a way of remembering the past.
I doubt that Trump had given more than a moment’s thought to the Confederate flag before running for president, let alone to the people after whom various military bases were named. It’s not as though he had strong feelings about Braxton Bragg or Henry Benning.
But with his keen eye for cultural conflicts where he can be on the angry side, he embraced the Confederate cause within months of taking office. Don’t forget that even the most generous reading of his August 2017 remark that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville was that he was speaking not of the neo-Nazis marching there but only of those protesting in support of the Confederacy.
Today, the Lost Cause gets more lost all the time. Branches of the military have already banned flying the Confederate flag at their events. Mississippi just approved a new flag to replace the one containing the Confederate emblem. NASCAR has banned the flag from being flown at their events. Confederate statues are being removed from the U.S. Capitol. The Virginia Military Institute is removing its statue of Stonewall Jackson.
This is a cultural shift — still a partial one, and long overdue, but a cultural shift nonetheless. Celebrations of the Confederacy no longer just live in the background of people’s lives, unquestioned by so many. The ridiculous lie that those tributes are merely a nod to “heritage” and “history” but have nothing to do with white supremacy is still repeated, but no longer accepted without challenge.
But this is where Trump wants to make one last stand. Even though versions of the defense bill renaming the bases already passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities, Republicans are now urging Democrats to agree to remove the provision so as not to make the petulant toddler in the White House too upset. The Post’s Karoun Demirjian recently reported:
Behind the scenes, a cadre of Republicans has been working on the president to come down off his veto threat, according to people involved in or aware of those discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private lobbying effort. The message they have tried to communicate is that it is not worth going down in history as the president who risked the fate of a defense bill Congress has passed every year for almost six decades over preserving remembrances of the Confederacy.Some Republicans have used this rationale to press Democrats to relent — arguing that President-elect Joe Biden could order the name changes once he takes office, making the argument moot.
Perhaps they’ll convince Trump to drop the issue; it wouldn’t be the first time he telegraphed a confrontation with Congress only to back down. But the idea that Trump should be indulged since the question will be moot once Biden takes office isn’t particularly persuasive.
This is all about symbolism, after all. So what better symbolism would there be than for the Republican Party to join with Democrats to override a Trump veto over this issue?
Republicans could show that they’re ready to reject Trump’s appeals to racism and stand with America against her enemies. They could, at long last, demonstrate just a tiny bit of courage and say no to their doomed leader as he spends his last days in office wallowing in self-pity and resentment. And they could justify it by saying they just wanted to pay the troops and buy all those shiny planes and tanks and guns.
Would that be so hard? For this party, it probably will be.
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