In July, President Trump tweeted that he would veto any defense spending bill that renamed military bases that honor Confederate leaders, like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Lee in Virginia. Legislation matching that description, the annual National Defense Authorization Act, currently has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, but Trump has said privately that he hasn’t changed his mind about blocking it, according to NBC News. As recently as the September debates, reporters were still asking the president if he was willing to condemn white supremacist and militia violence in cities like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, which he seemed hellbent on exacerbating amid nationwide protests. His apparent commitment to thwarting a perfunctory spending bill because it might diminish the veneration of prominent white supremacists is more evidence that this was an absurd question. Even as a lame duck, Trump’s stance remains clear.
From NBC News:
While some Republicans are now shifting their positions to align with Trump, Democrats are refusing to budge on the agreed-to amendment, threatening passage of the legislation.
The effort to change the names of military bases honoring Confederate military leaders has been a target for Trump for months. It was among the disagreements he had with his former defense secretary, Mark Esper, who was quietly working with Congress to codify the renaming of bases in the bill before Trump fired him this month …
[The] chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., indicated that he’s gotten the message from Trump, and he called it a “big issue” of contention in negotiations with Democrats.
“Only the president can say whether or not there’s any room for a negotiation,” Inhofe said, adding that he doubts that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would put legislation up for a vote on the floor “that has a veto on it.”
Whether Trump will follow through remains to be seen. But his decisive loss to Joe Biden in November has not prevented him from doing exactly what he said he would after losing. He has contested the election results at every turn, pursuing spurious legal challenges, threatening GOP candidates with bad press if they didn’t support him and lie on his behalf, and generally spreading misinformation about widespread voter fraud while insisting that he actually won according to the “legal” vote count. He appears to have tried to pressure Republican legislators in swing states into seating pro-Trump electors to deliver him their Electoral College votes — an effort to overturn popular will. There’s little indication that losing has chastened or dissuaded the president from being as active in undermining democracy today as he was before he lost, when he pursued a method of Census administration that was almost certainly designed to disenfranchise people who didn’t vote Republican. There’s no reason to think his approach to promoting white supremacy would have changed either.
The implications are becoming clear. From the beginning, the idolatry surrounding monuments to the Confederacy was an intimidation campaign aimed at Black people. The defeat of the secessionists during the Civil War gave way to a brief period where the formerly enslaved made inroads toward full participation in American life. Black citizens were granted voting rights and elected to public office. But the white backlash that followed was seismic and ushered in an era of tremendous repression and racist violence. Lynchings were rampant, and the implementation of fascistic legal systems further restricted and degraded Black life across the South. This process was accompanied, and in many ways enabled, by a revisionist understanding of the preceding era. The pro-slavery Confederates were recast as gallant heroes whose reintegration into the American mainstream was key to national reconciliation, to be prioritized above any proactive efforts to ensure that recently emancipated Black people weren’t swiftly relegated to new forms of bondage.
And so, partly as a reminder of who was still in charge, states, municipalities, and private entities across the South and elsewhere erected monuments to the soldiers who fought to keep Black Americans in chains mere decades earlier. The continued existence of these monuments is regularly and euphemistically rationalized through appeals to heritage, tradition, and historical preservation. But whenever extreme events provoke public reckonings, there’s little ambiguity as to their true meaning. From the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds in South Carolina after Dylann Roof murdered nine Black parishioners at a Charleston church in 2015, to the rallying of Klansmen and other white supremacists around a statue of Robert E. Lee in a Charlottesville park in 2017, even supporters of these symbols tend to recognize that their use as emblems and sites of racist violence is not coincidental. That said, their often destructive removal during recent protests has rallied increasingly vocal elements on the far right in their defense. The president, perhaps recognizing that these people are an integral part of his base, has opted to join them.
Trump has not stopped, even as the political benefits grow increasingly difficult to parse. His ideological commitment to white supremacy has always been inextricable from his ideological commitment to himself, his own enrichment, and the feeding of his ego, but he is no longer facing the will of voters; perhaps this is further indication that his proposal of a 2024 run isn’t a totally empty threat. Perhaps he sees doubling down on divisive positions as a way to prolong the adulation he’s enjoyed for so long. In any case, there was a time not long ago when it became glaringly obvious that Trump needed to expand his base of support if he wanted to win in 2020 — and that he wasn’t doing nearly enough to accomplish that. Possibly operating under the assumption that the president might want to, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump at the first presidential debate if he would condemn white supremacist violence. It was a mistake. Trump struck a mocking tone, delivered a grudging, half-assed condemnation, and shifted the blame to leftists for the recent clashes. But beyond the unseriousness with which the president responded, the question had already been answered ad nauseam throughout his tenure. There was nothing new to learn by raising it again. If anything, it was an opportunity for Trump to lie again. His resistance to a defense-spending bill that doesn’t venerate white supremacists is further confirmation. He may have been voted out in November and is scheduled to leave the White House in January, but the time in between looks like more of the same.