February 6, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Biden connected the dots – Trump’s Big Lie is new Lost Cause
He opened space to discuss the role of intimidation and threats of violence in Trump’s continued dominance of the Republican Party.
In Monday’s edition, I talked about the confederacy of the mind and spirit that constitutes a subnation that its inhabitants consider to be sovereign in all but name. It’s led by Donald Trump in a strategic alliance with Russia’s leader against America, democracy, liberal values and the international order.
In the months during which I have been thinking about that, I never expected it to be mirrored by the president or his reelection campaign. But then I came across a piece by Joseph Patrick Kelly of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. After reading it, I came to realize that – motherogod! – Joe Biden seems to be thinking along similar lines!
In a speech delivered for the third anniversary of the J6 insurrection, the president expressly linked Trump to the Confederate States of America. Moreover, he linked the two big lies that define them.
The first lie: Erasing slavery as the root cause of the Civil War. The second: Erasing democracy as the root cause of Trump’s defeat.
In both are a minority’s desire to dominate and control a majority, even if that means betraying the Constitution and the union. As I said, “if it cannot dominate through democratic and constitutional means, it reserves the right to abandon democracy and resort to violence.”
In both lies are a minority’s desire to dominate and control a majority, even if that means betraying the Constitution and the union.
“During his speech at Mother Emanuel church – and again during other campaign stops before the Feb. 3 Democratic Party primary in South Carolina – Biden acknowledged that he is not only running against the GOP front-runner Donald Trump but also against a ‘second lost cause’ myth,” Professor Kelly wrote in a piece for The Conversation.
“Biden called out Trump for his ‘big lie’ about the 2020 election Trump has repeatedly claimed was ‘rigged’ against him,” Professor Kelly wrote. “He criticized those who he said are attempting to ‘steal history’ again and spin the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as ‘a peaceful protest.’”
Professor Kelly added: “At its core, Biden warned, Trump’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ is a resurrection of southern-style white nationalism and the age-old disregard for equal rights.” Kelly ranked Biden’s among the greatest speeches by US leaders, including Lincoln’s “House Divided” and Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speeches.
I said that Biden seems to be thinking along similar lines, but that gives me too much credit. Calling Trump’s Big Lie a Lost Cause 2 is just brilliant. I wish I had thought of it. It also opens space for discussing what has not gotten enough attention, namely the role of intimidation and threats of violence in Trump’s continued dominance of the GOP.
The First Lost Cause Myth – about slavery not causing the Civil War – went like this: Southern elites said it had nothing to do with it and groups like the Ku Klux Klan enforced the lie through violence. With enough time and enough terrorism (and enough desire to forget), slavery was virtually erased from the minds of white southerners. (This pattern – lies followed by violence – is clear in Professor Kelly’s piece.)
The Second Lost Cause Myth – about Trump winning the 2020 election, or conversely, Biden cheating – works similarly. He lies about not losing, the lie is amplified by the rightwing media apparatus, and anyone in the Republican Party who dares speak truthfully in the face of the lie is met with threats of violence. (That these vigilantes are not as organized as the Klan is beside the point. They’re still vigilantes, and unlike Klansmen who wore white hoods, they’re hiding in plain sight.)
Just before Biden’s speech, Vox published a report by Zack Beauchamp on how intimidation and threats of violence have pushed Republican members of the Congress and state officials to get behind Trump, despite his appearing to be a depleted figure after the J6 insurrection. What began with chants of “Hang Mike Pence” has continued through the intervening years to culminate in his presumptive nomination.
“Never before has it been more important for Republican officials to stand up for the integrity of the American electoral system,” Beauchamp wrote. “But they haven’t faced this level of threat in their political lives — in fact, no currently living elected official has.”
This is not to suggest that the Republicans are victims. As Beauchamp reported, they are uniquely vulnerable to intimidation and threats of violence because they established a policy context in which intimation and threats of violence can be used against them. When a Democrat goes to a party function, they do not encounter other Democrats legally carrying semiautomatic rifles. A Republican, on the other hand, does. Someone calling you out for telling the truth about the big lie is one thing. When he’s slinging an AR-15 over his shoulder, it’s another.
At any rate, even if a Republican lawmaker felt the sudden urge to reenter respectable democratic society, as some in the Congress seem to feel, intimidation and threats of violence might nip that urge in the bud. “Violence and threats against elected leaders are suppressing the emergence of a pro-democracy faction of the GOP,” wrote Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert on political violence. (Beauchamp cited her work).
You could say, as I have, that the Republicans are reneging on their demand for border security (in exchange for aid to Ukraine), because they don’t really care about the problem, only whether the problem can be exploited to seize enough power to dominate and control.
But you could also say that they are afraid to cross Donald Trump, who has already declared that the bipartisan Senate bill a “betrayal” of his movement. (You could also say that these same Republicans have, as a matter of political convenience, convinced themselves that the Big Lie was true on account of Trump seeming to be unstoppable anyway.)
If the bill were brought to a vote in the House and the Senate, it would probably pass. A majority wants it. The problem is a minority doing everything it can to dominate and control what the majority wants. It’s the nature of the Lost Cause, and why it has been, in the end, a loser.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.