In an interview aired on Sunday, Donald Trump again expressed support for symbols honoring the Confederacy, and upheld a previous threat to cut critical funding authorized for the military if officials decide to rename bases that currently commemorate Confederate generals.
In recent weeks, as Trump has tried to shift America’s attention from a worsening pandemic and spiraling economy, he has amplified a bevy of white racial grievance issues. His Sunday remarks are the latest in a string of full-throated appeals he has made to sympathizers of the Confederacy, which sought to secede from the U.S. and uphold legal slavery during the Civil War.
During a Fox News interview, Trump didn’t back away from his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act if officials rename bases. The NDAA is responsible for funding military expenses like pay raises and military operations. In June, a Pentagon official said the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Army are both “open” to renaming the bases.
“I don’t care what the military says,” Trump told host Chris Wallace on Sunday. “I’m supposed to make the decision.”
There are 10 Army bases named after Confederates: Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Rucker in Alabama; Fort Hood in Texas; and Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia.
“Fort Bragg was a big deal. We won two World Wars ― nobody even knows General Bragg ― we won two World Wars,” Trump told Wallace.
Braxton Bragg was a Confederate general who purchased and forced dozens of enslaved people to work on his sugar plantation.
“What are you gonna name it? You’re gonna name it after Al Sharpton?” Trump asked.
Trump’s opposition to renaming these military bases puts him at odds with several members of his own party, including some who have more obvious ties to Confederate sympathizers. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who himself has been photographed with the Confederate flag, has said he is “OK” with renaming the bases honoring Confederate generals.
As the country surpasses 140,00 coronavirus deaths, and the economy is shuddering under the weight of the pandemic, Trump has tried to conjure support for his 2020 campaign by inciting racist angst among white voters. In particular, he has expressed outrage over bans on displaying the Confederate flag.
The Pentagon on Friday effectively banned Confederate flags from being flown or honorably displayed at military institutions. (The ban doesn’t not specifically mention Confederate flags.)
The Confederate flag stood for slavery and racist oppression, not “the South” as a general concept ― a fact made obvious by images of the flag being flown at white supremacist rallies in the American northeast and even at some white supremacist rallies outside of the U.S.
On Sunday, Trump tried to dispute that fact.
“When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism,” Trump said. “They love their flag, it represents the South. They like the South. People right now like the South. I say it’s freedom of many things, but it’s freedom of speech.”