Just days after defense officials effectively banned the Confederate battle flag from all installations, President Donald Trump defended the symbol as not racist and repeated his plans to veto any legislation requiring the military to rename bases honoring Confederate leaders.
“I’m against that, and you know what, most other people are,” Trump said of the base name changing issue during an interview with Fox News which aired on Sunday.
“Fort Bragg is a big deal. We won two World Wars, nobody even knows General (Braxton) Bragg [the Confederate leader for whom the base is named] … Go to the community, say how do you like the idea of renaming Fort Bragg, and then what are we going to name it? We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton? What are you going to name it?”
“We won two World Wars, beautiful World Wars that were vicious and horrible, and we won them out of Fort Bragg, we won them out of all of these forts and now they want to throw those names away.”
Trump’s latest comments come amid growing controversy over symbols of the Confederacy within the military.
This week, both the House and Senate are expected to pass separate legislation forcing military leaders to re-examine and potentially change the names of at least 10 Army bases honoring Confederate leaders, as well as other buildings and sites throughout the armed services.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued new guidance for allowable flags at Defense Department facilities, not explicitly banning the Confederate battle flag but effectively prohibiting its display. The House is also considering legislation to specifically ban it.
In his interview Sunday, Trump lamented “cancel culture” and dismissed concerns that many Americans associate the Confederate flag with support for slavery and discrimination.
“When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism,” he said. “They love their flag. It represents the South, they like the South.”
When asked if he would veto legislation related to the Confederate symbols ban, Trump said he is considering it. But he rejected the idea that blocking legislation like the annual defense authorization bill — which contains language for the annual military pay raise and hundreds of other budget policy provisions — would be harmful to the troops.
“They’ll get their pay raise,” he said. “I got soldiers the biggest pay raises in the history of our military. I got soldiers brand new equipment, brand new jets, brand new rockets. I did more for the military than any president has ever done before me.”
This year’s military pay raise was 3.1 percent, the highest for troops in a decade. However, from 2003 to 2020, the military saw annual salary increases greater than that five times.
Next year’s pay raise — set at 3 percent by the annual calculation of private-sector wage increases, and already backed by the president and both parties in Congress — could go into effect even if Trump vetoes the annual defense authorization bill.
But lawmakers prefer to codify the number each year, as a sign of support for the troops and to prevent possible administration changes.
In the interview, Trump also compared the Confederate battle flag to symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that both should be protected as free speech.
“We can’t cancel our whole history,” he said. “We can’t forget that the north and the south fought. We have to remember that, otherwise we’ll end up fighting again.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.