The Lost Cause: A Pernicious Myth

Lost Cause mythology remains strong, but it needs to be stomped out like the propaganda it is.

The debate over Confederate statutes was once again ignited last Monday after Charlottesville's city council decided to remove two statues dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The decision was partially motivated by the violent arrival of white supremacists at the infamous 'Unite the Right" rally of 2017, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a counterprotester. But with this decision, a clear disconnect has emerged with some right-wing pundits. 

Reacting to the city's decision, The Daily Wire's Cabot Phillips wrote, "Good. I prefer monuments of people who fought for America, not against it." Though many agreed with this perspective, others were not so enthused. 

Elijah Schaffer, a reporter for Glenn Beck's Blaze Media, responded to Phillips, mocking him, but it was the conservative commentator and YouTuber Sydney Watson who revealed the right's fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake with confederate monuments, saying: "Let's retroactively judge history and make changes to our society based on those judgments and then act like we're virtuous."

In most cases, this argument would make sense. Hindsight bias is not an acceptable or valid way to interpret history. However, when there is clear evidence that the artifacts under examination were part of a greater propaganda effort, this argument falls flat on its face. Despite what Watson may want to believe, most confederate statues were not built to commemorate the Civil War. They were made to sell an insidious myth: The Lost Cause.

What is the Lost Cause?

The Lost Cause's success was not immediate. Instead, it developed gradually, with several decades of work by Southern activists and former Confederate soldiers to re-frame the war. Southerners, humiliated by the war and suffering from the destruction of their communities, struggled to explain why they had fought for an institution that no longer existed. Rather than deal with the truth that they fought a war over slavery and led to the destruction of their homes, Confederate veterans and Southern women's groups developed a myth to explain away their pain. If they failed to promote this myth, it would destroy their legacies. As one former Confederate put it: 

"If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History [sic] solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union for our country."

Lost Causers emphasized the Southern perspective of the war, many times downplaying the role of slavery in its eruption. Instead, they emphasized the bravery of the confederate soldiers, the supposed happiness of slaves, and the infamous states' rights argument. Edward Pollard, a former general of the Confederacy, contributed to this lie with his 1866 memoir, The Lost Cause: a new southern history of the Confederates'. Much like his later counterparts, Pollard downplayed slavery, arguing that it was a convenient talking point for the North's sectional animosity. This myth would later find a promotion with the many memorial organizations that popped up over the following decades. 

By the 1880s, numerous memorial organizations developed, peddling numerous ceremonies to commemorate the South and its supposed valor. Finally, in 1894, one of the most infamous Lost Causer organizations was founded: The United Daughters of the Confederacy. Though not compromised of soldiers from the war, this organization had an advantage that Confederate vets didn't: Their sex. Because women's organizing was not considered political, these women, mostly Southern socialites, could lobby local and state governments to erect monuments to the once reviled Confederacy. All while not appearing political. 

The UDC held rallies, memorials, and conventions to promote their propaganda, with local officials endorsing and assisting their efforts. Looking back, it is painfully obvious successful they were. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which maintains a long-term database of Confederate statues across the country, shows a clear pattern. In the early 20th century, the number of Confederate monuments skyrockets, especially during the rise of the KKK. 

The UDC also promoted the KKK as the supposed saviors of the South, writing not one but two books dedicated to the Klan. One of which was specifically designed for children. In her book, The KKK or Invisible Empire, author Laura Martin Rose wrote that the racial violence was the result of Northerners stirring up trouble among the Black populace, saying: "These men hated everything that bore the name "Southern," and at once began to inflame their negroes against their former masters." It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that Rose hoped this book would inspire young Southerners to attack African Americans. 

The UDC's perversion of history

From the very beginning, the UDC sought to glorify the South. The UDC's constitution, which they revised in 1895, stated that the purpose of the organization was to "honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States and record the part taken by Southern women..." It was a duty with which the UDC fought tooth and nail to fulfill. 

The UDC and its allies worked tirelessly to suppress outside perspectives that challenged their narratives, establishing the office of the historian-general in 1905 to suppress textbooks it deemed "unjust to the South." Far from an impartial history of the Civil War, the UDC created a neo-Confederate propaganda machine to hide the truth. In this context, the statues exist, and in this context, they are scrutinized. 

Despite claims to the contrary, these statues are not impartial artifacts that help people learn from their past. Rather, they seek to obfuscate the truth and lie to generations of young children, all the while ignoring the suffering of African Americans subjected to this racist mythology. Charlottesville's statue to Lee is no different. It was erected in 1924 and was marked with an inscription that argues Lee fought for "the ideals of Democracy," ignoring how his contribution to the Southern aristocrats' power kept Black men, women, and children in chains. It, too, promotes the state's rights lie. 

Why does it matter?

Despite the pundits' arguments to the contrary, these statues have never been about teaching history. They were, and remain, a symbol of the South's racist and violent past. The fact that white nationalists like Richard Spencer defend them is proof to that effect. Men like Spencer will shout about being replaced by non-whites while 'defending' statues of white heritage because that is what these monuments were intended to inspire. These monuments have always been symbols of the white supremacist domination that made the Confederacy what it was. No amount of historical revision can change that. 

The Double Standards of Jeffrey Toobin's Return

Jeffrey Toobin's recent re-hiring at CNN shows that sexist double standards still retain their power.

In the era of MeToo and supposed “cancel culture,” it is perhaps shocking that Jeffrey Toobin, the former New Yorker contributor who was fired for masturbating on a Zoom call, has returned to CNN. However, the awkward interview that came up with his return indicates the seriousness of Toobin’s firing and recognizes the inherent preference given to men in the public sphere.

The public has always struggled with the proper response to scandals, particularly involving sex. To this day, people are torn over the infamous scandal between Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinski. Lewinski, fate would have it, is also an example of double standards being used against women. That struggle, however, has yet to be addressed properly, with very few changes being made to ensure that it reaches a just conclusion.

While it is one thing to allow someone to return to their job and acknowledge their mistake, such reparative justice must be applied equally. If not, it ceases to be justice and turns into a privileged for an in-group. In the case of Toobin, it appears that it is the latter over the former.

Redemption for Me, but Not for She

While Toobin has been allowed to return his job, albeit awkwardly, others are not so lucky. Katie Hill, the former congresswoman from California, is a perfect example of this. She is the first bisexual woman to be elected to Congress, putting further scruples on her. During her time in Congress, she served on the Armed Services Committee and as the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. Unfortunately, her career ended abruptly after being accused of sexual impropriety with several staffers and after her nude photos were leaked against her will.

At the time, Hill was in the midst of a quarrelsome divorce with her now ex-husband, whom she accused of leaking the photos. The photos were then published on the right-wing website, RedState, which was quickly accused of publishing revenge porn. Later, it was revealed that the managing editor for RedState, Jennifer Van Laar, had job plans with Hill’s political rivals. Van Laar also falsely claimed that Hill had a Nazi tattoo on her body, further revealing her partisan intentions.

Despite her critics providing no evidence of these relationships being forced, Hill was investigated under new house rules and eventually resigned. If Hill were to run again, it is unlikely that this scandal wouldn’t be used against her.

Hill is far from alone. Reporters such as Emily Wilder have also been subject to undue scrutiny that men in the same industry don’t get. A recent hire to the Associated Press, Wilder was fired 16 days after she was brought onto their staff over tweets she had made before her hiring. Wilder, who is Jewish, worked with the pro-Palestinian organization Jewish Voices for Peace, had made multiple comments about the military operations of the Israeli government. The Stanford Republicans then flagged these posts, and right-wing media came out against her.

Men in Power

Then there is the infamous old example of Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinski. Toobin himself complained about the media’s fixation on sex scandals in his book, but he dumped numerous documents detailing the sex scandal to announce the book. Indeed, no scandal quite captures the privileges that men caught in sex scandals receive, like Clinton’s adultery.

Rather than rehash the story about Clinton, it is critical to remember how Clinton’s reputation has rebounded. Despite her being an intern at the time, Lewinski's name was subject to endless scorn that Clinton, a married man, was not. Her boss, Linda Tripp, secretly recorded her private admittance of an affair. Tripp then turned the tapes over to Special Counsel Ken Starr, who used it to attack Clinton, forcing her into the public sphere.

Though Clinton was found not guilty, Lewinski’s name was tarnished. There are numerous jokes about Lewinski and t-shirts that make sexual comments at her expense, especially when they insult Hillary Clinton. It seems that misogyny is a self-maintaining parasite.

What Happens Now?

While there is not much that can be done, it is important to acknowledge what CNN contributes to. They took a man who overtly engaged in sexual misconduct for all of his colleagues to see and gave him his job back. Meanwhile, numerous women in the public eye have been scrutinized to a ridiculous degree, with many of them being targets of victim-blaming and propaganda efforts by their rivals. If there is to be an honest conversation about double standards in public, then there needs to be a recognition that reparative justice is not being applied equally. We live in a country where men get second chances and women don’t.

What Happens to Joe Manchin?

The controversial senator from West Virginia's path is uncertain, but one thing is for certain: He will have plenty of enemies either way

Several months into Joe Biden's presidency, there are already signs of stagnation for Biden's plans. Two members of the Democrat-controlled Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, and Joe Manchin refuse to support critical parts of the party's legislative strategy. They argue that bipartisanship is the only way forward, making it difficult for the Democratic party to take the initiative against Republican opposition. There is perhaps no stateman more symbolic of this position than Joe Manchin. 

Manchin is the Senator for West Virginia and was the 34th Governor of the state. He's been described by The Atlantic's Clare Foran as "the most conservative and Trump-friendly Democrat" in the Senate. During his career, Manchin voted with the Trump administration a little over half of the time. In other words, Manchin is a fish out of water.

Recently, Manchin has ensured an almost uniform backlash from within his party after publishing an Op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In this now infamous Op-ed, Manchin argues that: "...that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy..." 

Aside from the misrepresentation of the act or the undue faith in Republican-appointed judges' respect for the Civil Rights Act, Manchin has set himself up for infamy, both in the present and in history. By opposing the For the People's Act, Manchin has put himself in direct opposition to the Democratic Party and put himself against the people's will. 

What matters now is how that Manchin is facing a simple but all-concerning question: Where does he go from here? Manchin's path is far from certain. Though he has remained steadfast in his opposition to abolishing the filibuster, his recent decision has set a new tone for his political future. 

Some have turned to call him a 'DINO' or 'Democrat in Name Only.' Others, however, have seen an opportunity to advance their partisan agenda. Once a former advisor and ally to Trump, Steve Bannon has proposed that a 'major effort' could convince Manchin to switch parties on his podcast, The War Room. While largely symbolic, the fact that Bannon finds any comfort in Manchin's politics speaks volumes. 

Still, it is unlikely that Manchin will switch parties. Switching partisan allegiances would undermine his reputation and render his word worthless. It is one thing to be a conservative Democrat. It is another to flip from Democrat to Republican just because it is convenient. Joe Manchin is not Strom Thurmond.

He is, however, a man under pressure. Though Manchin has won re-election multiple times throughout his career as a senator, his recent election shows that his grip on power is slipping. In a state that voted for Donald Trump by 69 percent in 2020, Manchin is increasingly facing pressure to get with the political position of his base. West Virginia has been shifting to the right for years, which is sure to pressure Manchin. And that pressure is not going to go away in 2024. 

Despite Manchin's strong opposition to abolishing the filibuster and refusing to vote in favor of the For the People Act, Manchin is not a man in power. His electoral chances in 2024 are slim, considering he barely managed to hold onto his seat in 2019, with only 49.5 percent of the vote. In other words, Manchin has a choice to make.

He could oppose the Democratic position on the filibuster and other proposals even though his prospects for an additional term are faltering, or he could change course. So far, he is still willing to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, giving some hope to Democrats and voting rights advocates. But as his support continues to decline in West Virginia, that does not seem likely. What is more likely, and appears to be unfolding as I write, is that Manchin will strive to maintain the bipartisan fantasy he's sought so firmly at the detriment of his party. 

Whatever the case, Manchin's future will be an interesting thing to watch.

Loading more posts…