As the nation grapples with racial injustice, President Trump and the White House are mounting an impassioned defense against removing Confederate generals’ names from important military bases.
Their reasoning, though, leaves something to be desired.
In tweets early Wednesday afternoon, Trump argued against changing the names of bases like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood and Fort Benning — all of which are named after Confederate generals. In doing so, though, he referenced the United States’s history of winning.
It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a…
…Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a … history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump said, adding: “Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
Those bases themselves might be part of a great American heritage of winning, but the men they are named after were not part of such a tradition. All three of them were Confederate generals who, after all, lost the Civil War.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in remarks at a briefing shortly after Trump’s tweets, was undeterred. She argued that removing the names would be a disservice to the men and women who trained at these bases before being deployed overseas.
“You know, Fort Bragg, for example — it’s one of the largest military installations, it’s home to tens of thousands of brave American soldiers,” McEnany said before naming the units that have trained there, including the first black parachute battalion in World War II.
McEnany added: “We must recognize the sacrifices made by these men and women, some of whom saw Fort Bragg for the last time before they went overseas. … We’ve got to honor what has happened there, not rename it. So that is an absolute nonstarter for the president.”
Fox News’s John Roberts quickly noted that Gen. David Petraeus, who is one of the most significant figures to come through Fort Bragg before being deployed, is among those who are pushing for removing the names of Confederate generals’ names from the bases. Petraeus had written an op-ed for the Atlantic that made such a case, which appeared to have drawn Trump’s tweets before the briefing.
McEnany stood her ground.
“Fort Bragg is known for the heroes within it, that train there, that deployed from there,” McEnany said. “And it’s an insult to say to the men and women who left there, the last thing they saw on American soil before going overseas and in some cases losing their lives, to tell them that what they left was inherently a racist institution because of a name. That’s unacceptable to the president, and rightfully so.”
But making that case also suggests a name change somehow mitigates all of that. Are Fort Bragg or Fort Benning really great because of the names they carry, or because of the people who lead them and the soldiers they produce? Do people who come from these bases really believe that changing their names would somehow diminish their important experiences there or the preparation they went through?
McEnany at first stopped short of citing those who died after leaving these bases, but then when pressed by Roberts, she looped them in too. She said it would be an “insult” to soldiers who in some cases died “to tell them that what they left was inherently a racist institution because of a name.” But would they agree? Many mainstream institutions have commemorated Confederate history, some of which have been renamed or seen the Confederate flag removed from them. Were those institutions forever viewed as inherently racist?
Cites and states across the country in recent years have removed Confederate statutes, for instance, as well as taken Confederate names off of schools, streets, parks and holidays. NASCAR on Wednesday afternoon announced it would ban Confederate flags at its events.
Trump as president has consistently opposed removing Confederate symbols, but he took a somewhat different view of a similar issue in 2015. When South Carolina under then-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) ordered the removal of the Confederate flag that flew over the statehouse, Trump agreed with the decision.
“I would take it down, yes,” Trump said in June 2015 at his first news conference following the declaration of his presidential candidacy. “I think they should put it in the museum [and] respect whatever it is you have to respect, because it was a point in time.”
By the same logic used Wednesday, though, that would be an insult to South Carolina, which Trump has hailed as being so successful. How might people who came up in it feel about their state being labeled as inherently racist because of the flag?
Trump in his tweets on Wednesday afternoon declared that “our history as the greatest nation will not be tampered with,” but there was a time very recently in which he was very comfortable with doing just that in the name of moving forward.
What’s notable about the White House’s defense of the bases’ names is that they aren’t at all trying to argue that bases should be named for Confederate generals. They’re instead suggesting the change would be counterproductive — or even a slippery slope toward canceling other historical figures who didn’t fight in a war to preserve slavery.
But the thrust of this debate is unmistakable, and the reasons provided for preserving this kind of history have been overrun before — including, at one time, with the approval of Trump himself.
The most important news stories of the day, curated by Post editors and delivered every morning.