A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America's DemonsRoundup
tags: Confederacy, Capitol Riot
Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University. Keri Leigh Merritt is a historian, writer, and filmmaker from Atlanta. They are at work on a new Civil War documentary.
The American Capitol has long known violence in its halls. In 1814, the British stormed and burned it. In 1856, southern slaveholding Rep. Preston Brooks nearly beat abolitionist Charles Sumner to death on the Senate floor. During the Cold War, armed Puerto Rican nationalists barraged into the Chamber, shooting five Congressmen while unfurling the Puerto Rican flag.
Over the last four years, many have warned the public about the flagrant threat to democracy that President Donald Trump poses. Wednesday's failed coup proved that "MAGA," or Trumpism, is not over simply because Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Trumpism is far from dead. Instead, it is now their New Lost Cause.
The Lost Cause, also known as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, is America's most successful disinformation campaign. It was an ahistorical theory advocating the erroneous belief that all White southerners valiantly fought for the Confederacy to save true "American" (read: White supremacist) values. It centers on the delusion that slavery, known as "the peculiar institution," was often benign and even welcomed by the enslaved.
This postwar mythology exploded nationally in the late 19th and early 20th century through popular culture vehicles like the films "The Birth of a Nation" and "Gone With the Wind" and White supremacist laced textbooks that argued the American Civil War hinged on the protection of states rights from an aggressive North or federal government -- not the expansion of slavery -- and the promise that the South would rise again.
During Tuesday's Georgia runoff election, the South did rise to meet our historical moment and elected two Democrats, further spurring Trump's New Lost Cause, a dangerous delusion of election fraud spread rampantly by social media algorithms proven to spread disinformation faster than fact, Russian bot farms and far-right media.
But the main perpetrator and beneficiary of the myth is Trump himself, who claimed even before the election took place that it would be stolen through rigged election practices, hacked voter machines and by fraudulent ballots. Much like the perpetrators of the Confederate Lost Cause, the proponents of the New Lost Cause claim to be patriotic defenders of the "real America" or authentic (White) America.
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