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Lost Causes, from the Confederacy to Trump

ColumnNovember 12, 2020
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

President Donald Trump has embarked on a lost cause akin to that embraced by Southerners after the Confederacy was crushed. That historical “Lost Cause” falsely posited that the U.S. Civil War was fought not to defend slavery, but, rather, to preserve states’ rights and their cherished Southern way of life. That was a lie. The Confederates were soundly defeated, surrendering unconditionally at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. But the institutions they fought to protect — white supremacy and the brutal oppression of African Americans — continued, shrouded in the false narrative of the Lost Cause. Trump and Trumpism are its new embodiment, a Lost Cause embraced by over 70 million voters in this past election.

Trump refuses to concede to former Vice President Joe Biden, filing lawsuits challenging Biden’s decisive electoral college lead, and despite losing to Biden in the popular vote by more than 5 million votes (and still counting). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, publicly promises a “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Trump fired his defense secretary and others deemed insufficiently loyal, and is packing the Pentagon with “yes men,” like racist Islamophobe Anthony Tata, who called President Obama a “secret Muslim,” a “Manchurian Candidate” and a “terrorist leader.”

Lost amidst the chaos is this simple, inarguable fact: Mass movements drove the historic voter turnout that won the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “It is the organizers … who have been organizing Black communities around issues that impact us, that mobilized those voters for the Biden-Harris win,” Bree Newsome Bass, a North Carolina-based artist and antiracist activist said this week on the Democracy Now! news hour. She has little patience for the bipartisan direction being signaled by the Biden transition team:

“The Democratic leadership is simultaneously making the claim that we need to reach across the aisle, to engage in bipartisanship with the party that is not acknowledging the election results; the party that just tried to prevent us from having a free and fair election; the party that engaged in rampant voter suppression, disenfranchisement and intimidation, particularly in communities of color; the party that is completely opposed to the idea of our existence; the party that is essentially advocating a form of genocide through medical neglect that has been ravaging our communities.”

In the wake of the 2015 killings of eight African American parishioners and their pastor at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church, Bree Newsome took a brave, defiant stand against systemic racism. The killer was a proud white supremacist who had posted photos of himself with the Confederate Battle Flag — a racist emblem that still flew on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. In the global outpouring of anger and grief following the massacre, Newsome scaled the Capitol’s 30-foot flagpole as police looked on from below, and took down the Confederate flag.

After unhooking the flag, Newsome yelled, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” She was arrested and taken to jail. While the authorities quickly replaced the flag, within two weeks the state legislature voted to remove it permanently.

Following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, the global movement against racism and police brutality exploded. Millions of people, across racial, class and generational lines, took to the streets. One consistent demand was to “defund the police,” a phrase denounced by several Democratic congressmembers on a post-election conference call who claimed it hurt reelection prospects for Democrats in swing districts.

“We need to understand what ‘defund the police’ means,” professor Eddie Glaude, chair of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies, said on Democracy Now! “Budget your values … Why are you spending 60, 70% of your municipal budgets on policing, when you have education, social services and the like?” He continued, “The reckoning that we find ourselves in involves whether or not we’re going to fundamentally embrace the idea that we are a multiracial democracy.”

The earliest documented use of the phrase “Lost Cause,” rebranding the Confederacy as a struggle for Southern culture and state’s rights, was in 1866. The Lost Cause myth propelled more than a century and a half of violence and racism, lynchings, cross burnings, Jim Crow laws, police brutality and the mass incarceration of people of color.

Trump, for the moment, remains president, with immense executive power and an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, all managed by a circle of sycophants eager to do his bidding. If law, tradition and the popular vote prevail over the next two months, Trump will leave, or be removed from office, on January 20, 2021. Trumpism, however, will remain after he is gone, a new incarnation of the old Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

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