The sheet is off. Donald Trump has decided that he is only president of reactionary white Americans. As a national awakening begins reshaping the nation’s opinions on race, Trump is sending a clear message that he opposes any movement toward addressing the wrongs done to African Americans. Instead, he will try to divide instead of heal the country, using racial animosity as a political strategy. 

More than 155 years after the Confederate army surrendered to Union forces, we are just coming to fully recognize the sins of white supremacy. White southerners rewrote history to glorify the Lost Cause and make heroes of Confederate military and political leaders. In imposing Jim Crow laws, they justified their actions by demonizing African Americans while celebrating slave owners. The monuments that are now coming down were part of a propaganda campaign that included naming military bases after men like Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood.  Talk about fake news.

Former CIA director and retired general David Patraeus recently called for renaming the military bases named for traitors. They were not celebrated for their military genius. They were named simply because they were Confederates. Braxton Bragg, in particular, was a failed general who had to resign from the Confederate army. As Patraeus notes, “Had Bragg, like most of the rebel honorees, not been elevated by the effort to memorialize the ‘Lost Cause’—promoted by organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy as well as by some sympathetic historians—he would probably have been consigned to historical obscurity.”

Despite support from the Pentagon for renaming the bases, Trump declared that he would allow no such thing. In the midst of a transformational moment in American history, Trump is trying desperately to protect the stains of our past. The signal is loud and clear to the racist wing of the GOP that Trump is with them, not the rest of the country. 

Trump reinforced that message when he announced that he would resume his rallies on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The date is also known a Juneteenth and celebrates the end of slavery. It’s an important date for African Americans. Tulsa is the site of a brutal massacre of African Americans that burned the section town known as “Black Wall Street” because of the affluence of the community. Trump and his advisors know exactly what they are doing and the signal they are sending. It’s a dog whistle to his racist base and an intentional slap at African Americans.

With his botched handling of the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse, Trump wants to turn the election into a referendum on race. He’s betting that there are more white voters in the states he needs to win who will vote for keeping the racial status quo than there are voters who want to address problems of lingering racism in our society. It’s right out of the segregationist playbook of the 1950s and 1960s. Trump is the George Wallace of the 21st century.

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