This week, a commission established by Congress announced the completion of a report showing that removing Confederate names from places of honor in the military will cost $62 million, covering everything from changing signage and stationery to the removal of monuments.
This commission recommended that nine major military positions be renamed for women and minorities who are historical figures of great significance to the local communities at these installations. Among these are black army officers who have crossed military racial barriers.
The project now seems to be moving forward. But, in particular, there is hardly anyone left to oppose it.
We forget that now, but Trump tried to make this a major battle in the culture wars, an existential test of whether the nation would succumb to the dark forces of political correctness.
Yet, by doing this, Trump ended up pushing the country into a tough stance – against his position. As long as hardly anyone knew or cared who Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or John Bell Hood were, their names could be honored on military bases. A few names could be dropped here or there without any sense of urgency.
But after Trump forced the issue, he could no longer continue under the radar. And no conservative could offer even a moderately convincing argument as to why American soldiers should train and live on bases named in honor of America’s enemies who fought in support of one of America’s worst evils. history of mankind.
The removal of these names is a long overdue correction of outright obscenity. But Trump appeared to be the last Republican determined to keep Confederate names on bases.
One odd thing about this saga was how it combined Trump’s relentless baiting with his zeal to force the country into entirely unnecessary social and political strife.
Trump has seized on a number of key moments in our recent history in an attempt to do just that. But it likely intensified especially when Trump praised “very good people” on both sides after the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
This collection of neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis and other far-right members were in Charlottesville in part to protest the potential removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.
After an outcry over his remarks, Trump directly condemned anti-black racism. But we learned later that Trump was furious to have to do it and saw it as a show of weakness and capitulation to political correctness: “The biggest mistake I made.
It was as a result of all this that Confederate statues became a weapon for Trump. He clearly believed that a Confederate defense could supercharge his base in his 2020 re-election campaign. And that led him to toe the line against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals.
Many Republicans continued to oppose the removal of Confederate statues. But they often hid behind spurious arguments about “heritage” and “history,” as if we were raising statues not to worship people, but simply to say they were important historical figures. These arguments seemed to grow weaker over time, to the point that even Republicans have largely stopped making them.
Trump, on the other hand, took the conflict the other way, to a place many Republicans didn’t want to go: over an explicit respect for the Confederacy’s military goals by staunchly keeping Confederate names on the bases. On this point, many GOP senators broke with Trump and supported his name change.
In short, Trump forced the entire political system into a culture war that even many in his party did not want. Some surely wanted to keep race-baiting in whistle mode. Trump really wanted it to be explicit.
To be clear, the $62 million needed to begin erasing the deep-rooted celebration of Confederation in the military shows how far we have to go to clean it up. The continued entrenchment of systemic racism — and white nationalism or worse animating some in the GOP and right-wing media — shows that this erasure, while welcome, is not something to be overly welcomed.
But there is no longer any serious argument as to whether this particular radiation should occur. Even Trump must be able to see that his side has lost that argument, with so many institutions — the military, NASCAR — shedding their Confederacy celebrations.
So Trump is unlikely to raise this issue again if he runs for president in 2024. Which means he will have to find another way to stoke racism and foment division. No doubt he is ready for the challenge.