Politics

The Potency of Trump’s ‘Lost Cause’ Mythmaking

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” rather than 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 over 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.

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