I’ll be the first to admit that the quest to find a good nickname for Donald Trump has been a long one. Ones like “Cheetolini” and the “Orange Menace” and even “whiny little bitch” have all felt good at various moments, like how a cold drink cools you off on a summer day. But a day or two later, they seem to have lost their effectiveness, or their bite.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump seemed to throw outnicknames like “Lyin’ Ted” or “Crooked Hilary” with abandon. They’re cruel, in the way that a bully is cruel to anyone he perceives as being unable to stand up for themselves. Hillary Clinton turned the tables on Trump at one of their debates by suggesting Trump was a puppet of Vladimir Putin, which set him into a furious spell of projection about the term “puppet.”
And Trump’s ever-faithful base continues to follow him—just like Crabbe and Goyle always followed Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books—because his cruelty activates their darker instincts, as well. That’s why every time Trump calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” they will eat it up with a spoon. Polite society doesn’t allow any of them to call her that directly, but once Trump does it they laugh right along at the sight of something that cruel and stupid actually being done by anyone.
So the desire to turn this malevolent impulse around on Trump is very strong. Powerful, to use a word he seems increasingly fond of. Right or wrong is beside the point, in his mind, as long as someone projects power. And he’s the most powerful one of all, at least in that macabre world he has invented for himself.
But the last couple of days have opened up an opportunity to find a good name for Trump that might stick. When the idea of renaming U.S. military bases named for Confederate generals—like Georgia’s Fort Benning and Texas’ Fort Hood—gained momentum with the publication of a piece written by General David Patraeus, Trump quickly shut down this talk via twitter. Commanding us all to “Respect the military” that he never actually got around to serving in, Trump declared that it would be offensive to the HEROES (in all caps, of course) who were trained at these bases.
Which makes not a single bit of sense, at all.
The idea that a soldier who now trains at Fort Hood would care one bit if it was renamed overnight is laughable. But the president’s spokesperson made that exact case today in a press briefing. And with a straight face, too.
But John Bell Hood and Henry Benning and Ambrose Powell Hill and the other Confederate generals have had their names glorified for far too long. Benning, for example, helped to draft Georgia’s secession ordinance after Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election. He even traveled to Virginia to make the case that they, too, should not wait until Lincoln was sworn in before leaving the Union. Virginia denied this request from Benning, but the language that he used is as unapologetically racist as anything I’ve read. In the end, Virginia decided to hold off until after took the oath of office in March of 1861.
President Trump truly seems unaware that Benning and the others took up arms against the United States of America in the 1860s. They commanded troops that fought against and killed Union soldiers. In so doing, they did all they could to perpetuate the practice of holding human beings in captivity forever. I’m glad that they failed, and that Lincoln’s resolve was strong enough to withstand the forces against him.
Maybe these military outposts were named in a spirit of national reconciliation, in the late 19th or early 20th century. Let bygones be bygones. That sort of thing. But the predations that slavery visited upon millions of humans over more than two centuries were overlooked in this bargain. And now is maybe the best moment to revisit this decision that we’ll ever see in this country.
Confederate statues are now being toppled, by mob action in some cases and by official directive in others. Hood himself has had a rough time lately, as two junior high schools in Texas that were once named for him have gone a different way, instead. If two junior high schools can shake off reminders of the Confederacy, why can’t the U.S. military do it, as well?
Enter Donald Trump. This a culture war issue for him. Those that relish the Southern way of life, subjugation of black people and all, will not allow these symbols of their “heritage” to be taken away from them. And Donald Trump, as a lifelong New Yorker, has no affinity for the Southern cause, whatsoever. I promise anyone reading this that Trump has zero interest in this matter, except that he understands that the votes of those that it does matter to will make or break his re-election in five months’ time. So he’ll court their votes by pretending to care about this “affront” to Southern honor.
Call this the Southern Strategy 2.0.
The mythical embodiment of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War was known as “Johnny Reb,” and for Union soldiers it was “Billy Yank.” By throwing in with the Southern cause—with nothing but his own political survival at stake—I propose calling the president “Donny Reb” from this moment forward. Let’s make it clear, as the Lincoln Group has already done, that Trump represents the antithesis of the United States of America, not withstanding the oath he took to uphold its Constitution. It’s now clear that he didn’t mean any of that. He stands for Donald Trump, and nothing more.
And if that means wrapping himself up in the Confederate cause, 150 years after it was defeated by the nation he was elected to lead, then so be it. Because dead Union soldiers don’t vote, but modern-day Confederate wannabes do.