Axios claimed this morning that Trump aides were “despondent” over his tweet yesterday blaming the old man in Buffalo for the incident with police that landed him in the hospital. “One former aide remarked that it’s tweets like this that make him wonder whether Trump actually wants to get re-elected,” said Jonathan Swan. It’s understandable. Trump sounded like a vicious crank, a guy who’d couldn’t muster an ounce of sympathy for an elderly person who was left untended by the police, unconscious and bleeding, because he said or did something to piss them off.
Basic good politics by the president would have been to say that he was sending his best wishes to the guy for a full recovery. Saying nothing at all would have been fine too; he’s not obliged to comment on every controversy. Instead he stooped to a conspiracy theory to try to exculpate the cop responsible.
If his aides were despondent yesterday at him sabotaging himself, though, wait ’til they see this.
Does this mean the White House has scrapped the “national unity” speech they were allegedly planning? It has to, right? You can’t do a “Hands off the Confederacy” tweetstorm and then turn around and cry crocodile tears over racial divisions.
Lay aside the substance of his points for a second and focus on this: These tweets gain him nothing. He already won all 11 former Confederate states in 2016. At most this’ll help him hold on in places like Texas and Georgia that are trending blue — although it could also provide extra motivation for Democrats there, especially black Democrats, to turn out and beat him. Anyone who’s sufficiently invested in preserving Confederate “heritage” or in “fighting political correctness” was already safely voting for Trump this fall. At best he gave his base a new reason to love him, another example of his inexplicable strategy of working harder to impress voters who already worship him than voters in the middle who are leery of him.
What he cost himself here was some ability to maneuver on race relations in hopes of clawing back some suburban votes from Biden. His staff wants him to give a “unity” speech believing that it might help at the margins with black voters this fall and with upscale whites who dislike Trump’s “divisiveness” and have been trending blue over the past several years. There aren’t a lot of concrete policy options available to Trump to impress those audiences. There’s police reform, sure, but he’s already ruled out ending qualified immunity for cops and will probably reject any bill that requires more than token reforms to policing. Renaming U.S. military bases that are currently named for traitors to the country would have been a small gesture of goodwill in lieu of more significant policy changes, not unlike Nikki Haley agreeing to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina after the Charleston massacre while the left was demanding gun control.
He even got some cover to do it yesterday from David Petraeus, who’s all for renaming bases:
For an organization designed to win wars to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force is sufficiently peculiar, but when we consider the cause for which these officers fought, we begin to penetrate the confusion of Civil War memory. These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention…
Plainly put, Lee, Bragg, and the rest committed treason, however much they may have agonized over it. The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.
As others have said on social media this week, if we’re going to have forts named after Confederates we might as well name a fort after Erwin Rommel too. He has the same credentials: Fought against the United States, killed many Americans, did so on behalf of a regime that persecuted minorities in the most ruthless ways imaginable. There’s one notable difference between Rommel and (most of) the Confederates apart from their places of birth, though: Rommel was a brilliant commander. As Petraeus notes, many of the CSA officers honored with having military installations named after them are among the lesser lights of Confederate leadership. Their names aren’t on the forts because they were superb generals who happened to be Confederates. Their names are on the forts because they were Confederates. Which compounds the disgrace.
Trump doesn’t need to share Petraeus’s view that it’s time to rename the forts. As with the Buffalo incident, he could have opted for shrewd silence about this apart from a vague “we’ll take it under advisement.” Why he chose to weigh in on this, on the side that he did, at this unusual moment is better left to a psychologist to explain than a political analyst. I mean:
Public opinion on race relations and police misconduct has shifted dramatically since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, with Americans significantly more likely to say they believe in systemic racism and side with the wave of protesters who have stormed the streets to demonstrate against police brutality.
Six in 10 white Americans now say racism is “a big problem” in society, an enormous increase from polls taken when Barack Obama was president. More than 2-in-3 say Floyd’s killing reflects broader problems within law enforcement in the United States…
“When it comes to such a dramatic, almost on-the-spot change, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything of this level,” said Scott Finnie, executive director of Eastern Washington University’s race and cultural studies program. “After the Eric Garners, the Trayvon Martins, that have left kind of an impression — this thing left a seismic quake and a crack, not just an impression.”
Want to see what this looks like on the specific subject of Black Lives Matter? Behold:
Even NASCAR’s had it with Confederate symbolism:
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 10, 2020
Option one for Trump was to make a gesture of conciliation towards Americans who are worried about racism by renaming the forts. Option two was to do nothing and keep quiet so as not to gift-wrap a talking point for Democrats that he’s making the problem worse. Option three was to do what he did. How could it have been any other way?
VoteVets posted a useful thread yesterday about the many illustrious Confederate officers with whose names our military bases are decorated. Most are known as bad commanders; as warriors for an evil regime, all are known for poor character. Exit quotation:
The left is engaged in a circular firing squad over Democratic governance in America’s cities and whether we should turn them into communes, and what does the president do? Randomly exhumes Confederate corpses and puts them on a pedestal.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) June 10, 2020