Confederate General Henry Lewis Benning earned the infamous reputation of being one of the most fanatic defenders of slavery in the South. Justifying the rebellion against his own country, Benning said, “A separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of slavery.” Today, one of the largest military bases in the US, Fort Benning, is named after him. Nine other military installations honor Confederate soldiers who defended white supremacy and slavery.
More than a century and half later, Donald Trump has become the loyal successor of Benning and his racist cause. He has threatened to veto the Pentagon’s budget if the Armed Forces fulfill their intention to erase those shameful names from its bases. Trump also authorized his government to arrest any person who destroys a monument in federal land and punish them with up to 10 years in prison.
His fervor to protect monuments and symbols, however, fades away when it comes to safeguarding our country’s natural heritage. Trump has become a human bulldozer after devastating more national monuments than any other president. His administration has reduced the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by two million acres, including places sacred to at least five Native Tribes, sites of incalculable cultural and archaeological value.
But when it comes to destroying, nothing tops the devastation of his medieval border wall. This gash on our country’s spirit and decency is devastating and blowing up some of the Western Hemisphere’s most breathtaking landscapes, as well as burial and other sacred sites of the Tohono O’odham Nation at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve. The chairman of the Tribe, Ned Norris, Jr., compared this desecration to “building a 30-foot wall along Arlington Cemetery.”
Also incalculable is the damage the wall is inflicting to the border’s wildlife, including the interruption of migratory routes of dozens of species, many of them endangered, and the destruction of hundreds of saguaros, a giant cactus that can live for more than 200 years.
Even so, Trump ordered the acceleration of the wall construction to use it as race bait. To celebrate the construction of 200 miles of barriers, he traveled to Arizona to visit the wall in the middle of a pandemic that so far has killed close to 2,000 people and infected more than 105,000 in that state alone. Pouring salt on the wound, Trump picked Yuma, the birthplace of César Chávez, my community’s civil and labor rights hero, to stamp his name on his racist, anti-immigrant wall.
We, however, are making it very hard for the administration to culminate its nationalistic delusions. Recently, in the case Sierra Club v. Trump, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the president’s attempt to circumvent Congress and transfer $2.5 billion in military pay and pension funds for border wall construction is unlawful. The court also forcefully rejected the administration’s argument that no one can go to court to block the president’s blatant abuse of power.
A country in the midst of the worst pandemic and economic recession in a century, with millions marching in the streets demanding an end to repression against people of color, defines the monumental failure of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC
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