Charles Blow: ‘The Lost Cause’ Is BackHistorians in the News
tags: Confederacy, culture war, Lost Cause, critical race theory, Ty Seidule
If this phony “debate” over the obscure concept of critical race theory caught you off guard and unaware, you are not alone. But it is apparently part of a Republican political strategy to make race — or more precisely, the denial of American racism — a central (and winning) political issue for Republicans.
As David Siders reported Wednesday in Politico, the mantra “America is not a racist country” is emerging as “an early plank of the 2024 G.O.P. contest.”
As Siders put it:
Top Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, have said publicly they don’t believe America is a racist country. But Republicans are hoping to portray the party as out of step with the thinking of mainstream America. And by attempting to harness lightning-rod issues such as critical race theory and “defund the police,” the G.O.P. is signaling race will again be at the center of the 2024 campaign.
We could go through how Republicans are using a faux campaign against critical race theory to prevent the accurate teaching of history, or how it is unmistakable that America is a racist country and that doesn’t require most individual Americans to be consciously racist, and how “defund the police” is a completely logical proposal that, in most cases, is not about abolition of the police force but the reallocation of funds from the police to social services. But there is no use or need.
This is not a debate about facts, this is a debate about narratives. This is a “Lost Cause” redux. When the South lost the Civil War, revisionists there invented the propaganda narrative of the “Lost Cause,” positing that the fight had been honorable and righteous and not about maintaining slavery but maintaining a superior way of life. In this narrative, slavery had been good and the enslaved treated relatively well, with many of the enslaved happy workers.
As Ty Seidule, a professor emeritus of history at West Point and the Chamberlain fellow and a professor of history at Hamilton College, wrote in “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause,” “The Lost Cause created a flawed memory of the Civil War, a lie that formed the ideological foundation for white supremacy and Jim Crow laws, which used violent terror and de jure segregation to enforce racial control.”
We are in the midst of another Lost Cause moment. Conservatives in this country lost a battle in the racial war after the publication of The 1619 Project by The Times and after the historic protests that engulfed the country and the world in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
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