We were all so busy taking delight in the announcement last week of Trump’s indictment on 37 felony charges involving his theft and mishandling of national security documents that we missed Ron DeSantis, running for the Republican Party’s nomination as its presidential candidate in the 2024 election, promising that should he be elected president, he will reverse the renaming of the North Carolina army post formerly known as Fort Bragg to Fort Liberty. DeSantis told the North Carolina Republican Party Convention last Friday that Fort Bragg. previously named after the worst general in the Confederate army during the entire Civil War, “is an iconic name and an iconic base, and we’re not going to let political correctness run amok in North Carolina.”
Why am I bothering to stop and take note of this little burp of a comment from a twerp of a candidate? Because of what it tells us about where we have ended up as a country after eight years of Donald Trump polluting the life of our politics. The Daily Beast called DeSantis’ promise “red meat.” DeSantis is saying that he will reverse the base re-naming because he knows that his promise will appeal to the broad base of the Republican Party who are racist first, and everything else second. Trump, of course, opposed re-naming the army posts when a commission named by Congress announced last year that the posts would be renamed.
The racists were out there among us before Donald Trump came along, but it was Trump who made them and their racism a major part of our national political conversation, part of the normal give and take of the race for the presidency in 2023. But if you stop and think it over, it’s as if Trump and his mini-me DeSantis are giving voice to the people who screamed at the Black teenage girls who became known as the Little Rock Nine when they attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. If DeSantis wants to talk about iconic, he should have a look the iconic symbol of racial hatred in this photograph:
The attempt of racists to prevent the integration of that high school was so dangerous that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to send active duty soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to protect the students. This was after Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus three weeks earlier had deployed the Arkansas National Guard to stand, armed with rifles, in a line to prevent the Black students from entering the school. Eisenhower, in an attempt to defuse the situation, summoned Faubus to the Oval Office to warn him not to defy the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision. Faubus refused, and Eisenhower sent in the 101st and had to nationalize the command of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent Faubus from using them to block the school entrance again, which might have sparked an armed confrontation between the state National Guard and the regular army soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division.
The confrontation at Little Rock Central High School was part of what led to the passage and signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that followed eight years later. What became known as “massive resistance” prevented most schools in the deep south from being integrated until 1968, and racial tensions simmered for years afterward. But by the 1970’s and 1980’s, such violent resistance to the integration of the races, even in the deep south, had become unthinkable in what we might call polite society, and at least hidden elsewhere.
Why am I now reaching back 66 years for this example? Because the forces that tried to prevent integration in 1957 represent the same racism DeSantis appealed to last week with his promise to rename Fort Liberty after a slave-owning incompetent Confederate general who lost nearly every battle his forces engaged in. They aren’t called by what we might call their proper name, racists, anymore. Now they’re simply known as the Republican base, which we have nicknamed MAGAs, after the Trump followers who still wear his “Make America Great Again” hats and the rest of his trashy merchandise. That DeSantis could so casually make his appeal to these forces, out in the open, at the state convention of one of our two national political parties no less, tells us all we need to know about where we are as a country in 2023. This kind of stuff in the Republican Party has become so ubiquitous, it hardly draws attention anymore.
With Republicans announcing campaigns for the presidency practically every day, it has become the season of diagnosing the nation’s ills by counting the ways Donald Trump has weakened what we might call our internal national security by trashing norms and threatening critical institutions like the judicial system and now even law and order itself. The latest pundit to plumb the depths of our national malady was New York Times editorialist Thomas Friedman yesterday in his 2/3rds of a page jeremiad, “Trump Thrives in a Broken System. He’ll Get Us There Soon.”
As if he hasn’t already.
But let’s leave that aside for the moment. Friedman identifies two ways Trump has done his damage: first he has redefined leadership “at least in the GOP” as a willingness to “win at any cost—to the country, to the Constitution and the example we set for our children and our allies.” Second, he sees Trump as one who “discredits the rules of the game that would restrain him and his limitless appetite for power for power’s sake.” Friedman says Trump has put “tremendous stress on our judicial system and our democracy itself.”
As we used to say in junior high school when someone lamely stated the obvious, no duh.
This kind of cataloging of the steps we’ve taken to come to recognize Trump’s ethical and moral hollow center doesn’t get us anywhere we haven’t been already. People were onto this way back in 2015 when the first stories came out about Trump not paying his bills and telling his contractors and other “little guys” to sue him if they wanted their money.
To understand what has happened to this country, we need look only to the one big thing Trump did that overshadows everything else. He opened the proverbial Pandora’s box and allowed a poison to infect our politics in a way that we haven’t seen since the days of Little Rock Central High School and Bloody Sunday in Selma and the killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.
Trump’s racist Pandora’s box isn’t responsible for all of the 74 million Americans who turned out to vote for him in the last election. They are not all racists, but every single one of them was willing to give their vote to someone who is. The rot has spread so deeply through the Republican Party that it has become okay with them to raise your kids to believe the garbage that Trump and DeSantis and the rest of them are pushing. How do we know this? Because they’ve institutionalized it by supporting groups like Moms for Liberty who are taking over school boards and banning books and passing laws that restrict the way our racial history can be taught in a country that was born of the original sin of slavery. If it’s up to them, and in too many places it already is, they will bury our history so deeply, the crime of slavery that caused the Civil War will be six feet under.
Now the Republican Party, as a party, is defending the insurrection on January 6, 2021 as if it was, in the words of a Republican congressman, “just another tourist day at the Capitol.” The latest litmus test among Republicans is making the pledge that they will pardon the criminals convicted of crimes on January 6, and pardon Trump himself if by some ungoldly miracle one of them manages to make it to the White House.
The question at this point must be asked: what will it take? Would it take Trump, in his own infamous framing of this madness, shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue—committing murder in public—before some sense of sanity returns to Republican politics?
I think we know the answer to that question. Not only would the base support him, their so-called leaders would advocate pardoning him…or Trump, with their support, would pardon himself.
That’s the one big thing Trump did. He sent the nation down the path where one of our two political parties is not only willing but eager to cheer on the kind of racism DeSantis advocated last week with his promise to reverse the renaming of Fort Bragg to once again celebrate and honor a slave-owning Confederate general.
That’s where we’ve ended up: It isn’t just Trump who is willing to break norms and commit crimes in pursuit of power. It’s the whole Republican Party. They’ve turned the Trump corner, and for them, there is no coming back.
Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.