Trump is defending Confederate monuments as his GOP allies compare anti-racism protesters to the Confederacy

  • President Donald Trump's defense of Confederate monuments conflicts with recent GOP rhetoric on anti-racism protesters in the US. 
  • Sen. Tom Cotton and White House senior adviser Stephen Miller in recent days have both likened protesters to secessionists. 
  • Meanwhile, Trump continues to push against efforts to rename military bases named after Confederate generals, including an openness to reconsider by military leaders.
  • The dissonance is emblematic of the Trump administration's struggle to respond to ongoing protests against racism and police brutality as the president's approval rating slumps.
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There's a high degree of dissonance between President Donald Trump's insistence on defending Confederate monuments and recent GOP messaging on ongoing anti-racism protests across the US. 

Trump has repeatedly made clear he opposes removing Confederate monuments and is obstinate that US military bases named after Confederate generals should not be renamed, essentially contending that doing so would be erasing history and insulting to the soldiers who trained at the bases. 

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas over the past few days began comparing protesters demonstrating against racism and police brutality to the Confederate troops who fired the first shots in the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Cotton referred to the protesters, who have largely demonstrated peacefully, as "insurrectionists."

Similarly, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller in a Thursday appearance on Fox News said that the recent unrest in Portland, where the Trump administration has deployed federal agents, is a sign that Democrats are "returning to their roots" as the "party of secession."

Such rhetoric appears designed to paint opposition to the Trump administration and its agenda as traitorous and anti-American, even as civil liberties groups like the ACLU have condemned the deployment of federal agents to cities like Portland as unconstitutional. 

 

While it's true that at the time of the Civil War the Democratic party was filled with pro-Slavery Southerners, both major US political parties have undergone massive shifts in ideology since that era — particularly during the 1960s when Democrats embraced the Civil Rights Movement and the GOP began morphing into a far more right-wing, conservative entity. 

The current Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in US history. The overwhelming majority of racial and ethnic nonwhite members in the full 116th Congress are Democrats (90%), while just 10% are members of the GOP. There is only one Black Republican in the House (Rep. Will Hurd of Texas), and just one Black Republican in the Senate, (Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina). 

But this has not stopped modern-day Republicans from seeking to paint the Democratic party as deeply rooted in racism while many in the GOP, which is overwhelmingly represented by white males in Congress, simultaneously decry the Black Lives Matter movement.

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas on Thursday introduced a resolution that would ban the Democratic Party and other groups who historically "supported slavery or the Confederacy." 

Both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate passed versions of an annual defense bill this week — with veto-proof majorities in both chambers — that included plans to rename bases honoring Confederate figures. Trump had threatened to veto the bill if it included provisions to rename the military installations, and these votes marked a major public blow to the president.

The House and Senate will now negotiate a compromise between their versions of the bill before sending it to Trump's desk. Given both versions of the legislation included provisions to rename bases named for Confederates, it appears likely a final draft will as well. 

Trump on Friday tweeted that the Republican leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, assured him lawmakers will not force the military to change the names of the bases named for Confederate figures.

"I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!)," Trump tweeted. "Like me, Jim is not a believer in 'Cancel Culture.'"

Inhofe's office confirmed to the Washington Post that the senator spoke with Trump, but did not elaborate. 

The lack of harmony between Trump and the GOP in its messaging over US history, the Confederacy, and racism is emblematic of the Trump administration's struggle to offer a cogent answer to the racial strife across the country and nationwide calls for police reform. Polling shows the vast majority of Americans want to see reform to law enforcement and most voters, including white Americans, now see racism as pervasive in the US. 

Trump's poll numbers have plummeted in recent months with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across the country, and as Americans have flooded the streets to speak out against racism and police brutality. 

With his polling numbers in the gutter and reelection campaign in dire shape, Trump has portrayed major American cities as consumed by violence and chaos, which local leaders have said is at odds with reality and a naked effort by the president to distract from his own failures and rapidly dwindling approval. 

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