Springfield News-Sun

The potency of Trump’s ‘Lost Cause’ mythmaking

- Charles M. Blow Charles M. Blow writes for The New York Times.

At an Ohio rally this month, Donald Trump saluted the insurrecti­onists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, calling them “unbelievab­le patriots” and referring to those who’ve been locked up for their involvemen­t on that terrible day as “hostages.”

This was a continuati­on of Trump’s “Lost Cause” mythmaking that began during his successful presidenti­al campaign in 2016 and was ramped up in service of his efforts to remain in power despite his 2020 loss and the deadly riot that those efforts stoked.

More than 1,200 people have been charged related to Jan. 6. And though it shouldn’t have to be said, let’s be clear: Those who’ve been tried, convicted and imprisoned for storming the Capitol aren’t hostages, they’re criminals. But Lost Cause narratives aren’t about truth. They’re about negating the truth.

Which is what happened when the Lost

Cause mythology was constructe­d after the Civil

War. The cause of the war was framed as “Northern aggression” not slavery. A lore about happy slaves and benevolent enslavers proliferat­ed. The narrative valorized those who seceded from and fought against the United States.

And it has survived to some degree for more than 150 years, tucked into the cracks of our body politic. It still surfaces in ways that may seem remote from the

Confederat­e Lost Cause myth, but that definitely promote it.

It manifested itself last year when Florida changed its African American history standards to say that the enslaved “in some instances” benefited from their enslavemen­t, and in Nikki Haley’s hesitance on the campaign trail to state the obvious, that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

It manifested itself in the infamous torchlight march in Charlottes­ville, Virginia, and in the bitter resistance to removing Confederat­e monuments.

Trump has his own version of the Lost Cause, one that’s not completely untethered from the old one, but one that’s miniaturiz­ed, personal and petty. The Confederat­e Lost Cause narrative came after enormous loss: Hundreds of thousands had died, the South was decimated and its economy was hobbled. Trump’s Lost Cause, on the other hand, is about his inability to accept losing to Joe Biden.

Trump’s version grows out of a more recent vintage of the Lost Cause narrative, one that has been around at least since George Wallace’s first presidenti­al campaign in the 1960s. One in which a sense of displaceme­nt and dispossess­ion is driven by a lost cultural advantage.

David Goldfield, a historian at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and the author of “Still Fighting the Civil War:

The American South and Southern History,” told me that many of Trump’s supporters feel that they’ve lost something similar to what white Southerner­s felt they had lost after the

Civil War: “They were no longer relevant. They were no longer listened to. And on top of that, there were lots of other voices that were in play in public that were not there before.”

Trump invokes his Lost Cause in combinatio­n with another false telling, one of unpreceden­ted happiness and unity — in which all the glory belongs to him. As he told a crowd on Super Tuesday, “African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, women, men, people with diplomas from the best schools in the world and people that didn’t graduate from high school, every single group was doing better than ever before.” He continued, “Our country was coming together.”

What he ignores is that his presidency began with the Women’s March, the day after his inaugurati­on, and ended not long after the 2020 summer of protests, driven by outrage over the murder of George Floyd. Trump didn’t bring the country together; he tore it further apart.

Unlike previous Lost Cause appeals, Trump’s has the advantage of a modern communicat­ions environmen­t: 24-hour cable news, an internet replete with partisan news sites and social media.

And Trump’s appeal is getting a do-over, a chance not to simply recast history but to win the actual contest and convert an electoral loss into an victory.

In this election, disciples of the MAGA movement not only have an opportunit­y to enshrine Trump’s fallacies. MAGA also might rise again.

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