What Trump Shares With the ‘Lost Cause’ of the ConfederacyRoundup
tags: Confederacy, Lost Cause, Capitol Riot
Karen L. Cox is professor of history the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of the forthcoming book No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice.
Wednesday morning, President Trump urged a crowd of supporters who showed up in Washington, D.C., to “walk down to the Capitol” and protest the certification of the election taking place nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue. A few hours later, he stood in the White House Rose Garden to deliver a different message after members of this same group — who carried flags bearing his name — stormed the Capitol, brawled with Capitol Police and breached both chambers of Congress. Mr. Trump repeated false claims about election fraud but told them: “You have to go home now. We have to have peace.”
As the Trump presidency comes to a close after a sound defeat, and after four years of having led a movement that many agree has undermined our Constitution and the nation itself, it is difficult not to see the parallels between his lost cause and the failed cause of the Confederacy in 1865. As individuals carried the flag of the Confederacy, the flag of rebellion against the United States, into the Capitol, it was a moment not lost on historians — and a moment of dire concern for most Americans.
Mr. Trump’s feeble message to his stalwarts about going home and keeping the peace was similar in tone to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s admonitions in the aftermath of defeat. “I think it wiser,” he wrote, “not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”
Lee was referring to the creation of monuments, but he was essentially telling those who admired him to “go home” and keep the peace. Yet by the time he made those comments in 1869, the myth of the Lost Cause and its justifications for Confederate defeat were in full flower. And it was Lee — not President Jefferson Davis, whom many white Southerners blamed for their loss — that helped to personify the narrative of a just cause. He was a leader who had not failed the white South; rather, he had been failed by others. He was also the man they believed best represented the values of their cause.
Mr. Trump’s lost cause mirrors that of Lee’s. His dedicated followers do not see him as having failed them, but as a man who was failed by others. Mr. Trump best represents their values — even those of white supremacy — and the cause he represents is their cause, too. Just as Lee helped lead and sustain the Confederacy over four years, Mr. Trump has also been a sort of general — in a campaign of disinformation.
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