WHITE HOUSE - President Donald Trump is coming down more firmly on one side of the culture war raging in the United States, declaring there will be no renaming of military bases that currently honor leaders of the mid-19th-century Confederacy.
In a Wednesday statement and tweets, the president rejected suggestions that 10 Army bases be renamed, saying that heroes trained at and deployed from “these hallowed grounds, and won two World Wars.”
As a result, “my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.” Trump added that such an action would be tampering with American history.
During a meeting with five African American supporters in the Cabinet Room, the president declined to respond to reporters who asked why the Confederacy needs to be defended.
The president’s remarks on the monikers for the forts came two days after the Department of Defense said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy were “open to a bipartisan discussion on the topic” of removing Confederate names.
“We’ve got to honor what happened there, not rename it,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said when asked by reporters about Trump’s statement. “That’s an absolute nonstarter for the president.”
McEnany expressed indignation that anyone would suggest such installations as Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina (both named for Confederate generals) “were somehow inherently racist.”
Those advocating the changes argue it is no longer tolerable for the forts to retain names of those who helped lead a pro-slavery rebellion against the United States.
The 11 southern Confederate States of America lost the four-year Civil War against the 25 states that remained loyal to the Union. The conflict left about 750,000 soldiers dead, according to historians.
“Where do you draw the line here? I’m told that you can no longer find [the movie] Gone With the Wind on HBO [a TV movie network],” McEnany said.
Noting the country’s founding fathers were slave owners, she also questioned whether the names of such early presidents as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should thus be excised from institutions.
Before departing the podium, McEnany accused former Vice President Joe Biden — Trump’s presumptive opponent in November — of having a history of supporting segregation, “so should we rename the Penn Biden Center?”
The naming issue for Army installations came after the Navy took moves to prohibit the display of Confederate flags and related rebel symbols on its bases and vessels.
In recent weeks across the country, Confederate monuments have been defaced, removed or toppled when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest continuing oppression of African Americans following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd was buried Tuesday in Houston, following a nationally televised funeral.
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who was videoed pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before the man’s death, made his first court appearance Monday since the charges against him were upgraded to second-degree murder.
McEnany did not give direct answers to questions from reporters Wednesday about whether the president believes there is institutional racism in the country.
“There are injustices that we have clearly seen” by law enforcement, such as the Floyd case, she replied, but she said Trump believes “most officers are good” and the media and others should “stop vilifying our officers.”
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, emphasized to a group of reporters at the White House earlier Wednesday that he does not believe there is systemic racism in the United States.
In a videotaped message played at Floyd’s funeral the previous day, Democrat Biden made it clear he has a diametrically opposed view.
“We need to root out systemic racism across our laws and institutions, and we need to make sure black Americans have a real shot to get ahead,” Biden said.
The Democrats are proposing sweeping reform for police departments, while the White House is drafting its own proposals.
The Democrats’ significant proposal to end qualified immunity for police officers is a nonstarter for the Trump administration, McEnany told reporters on Wednesday.