President Joe Biden and his top officials are once again showing that they won’t hesitate to throw out the terrible, often last-minute, appointees Donald Trump tried to seed throughout the government. This time, the effort is to de-Trumpify a panel tasked with stripping Confederate names off of military bases and other property.
Congress only overrode one Trump veto during his four years in the White House—after Trump vetoed a defense bill to protect the names of military bases honoring Confederate traitors to the United States. The veto override passed the defense bill putting into place a three-year process to strip Confederate names off of bases, buildings, streets, ships, aircraft, and more, with an eight-member panel doing the work involved. But Trump, of course, tried to stack that panel with his people at the last minute. Now, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has replaced them with more diverse members with more respect for history.
Under the law, congressional leaders would appoint half of the panel and the Defense Department the other half. Austin’s four appointees, Axios reports, include Michelle Howard, a retired admiral who is not only the highest-ranking woman in U.S. Navy history but also the highest-ranking Black person in Navy history; Ty Seidule, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general who has written a combined memoir and history of “lost cause” mythology, including how Confederate names got attached to U.S. bases during the 20th century; Robert Neller, a retired Marine Corps general; and Kori Schake, a former Defense Department official and current director of Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
“The Confederates killed more U.S. Army soldiers than anybody else in our history,” Seidule has said. “I don’t like our enemies. I like Americans.” So he’s probably going to be more assiduous about figuring out what military names need to be changed than Trump’s White House liaison to the Defense Department would have been.
Seidule is not the only military leader to come to that conclusion. “[T]hose officers turned their back on their oath,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley told the House Armed Services Committee of the Confederate generals whose names still identify some bases. “It was an act of treason, at the time, against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the US Constitution.”
Trump, of course, was insistent on continuing to honor those traitors, with his White House issuing a statement calling the push to rename bases “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do no meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.” Never mind that they left the United States to fight against it in defense of slavery, which is not exactly a recent addition to the list of what doesn’t meet the standard of conduct.
Some of the things that need to be renamed will be a really easy call. Fort Bragg and Fort Benning and Camp Beauregard and Fort Hood are all obvious. But the commission will need to go beyond the obvious and develop criteria to identify the full range of military property and equipment with Confederate names, including at least two Navy ships and a range of buildings and more. The commission will then solicit community input and recommend procedures for selecting new names.
And it will have to do all of that without half of its members being Trumpists. So sad.