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Trump, Deplorables and the Lie of the 'Noble Cause'

A racist cartoon printed in 1863 in response to the emancipation of slaves by the U.S. government. (NYPL Digital Gallery / Wikimedia)

In the early 1900s, long after slaveholders in the South failed in their attempt to destroy the United States, there was a movement to rewrite the history of the Civil War, to change the national story about what had caused it, as well as the aborted aftermath historians call Reconstruction. This concerted effort involved the raising of statues to celebrate generals who fought to destroy what Lincoln called a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of this movement to reframe the Confederacy and the aftermath of its defeat by the Union was the histrionic American movie “Birth of a Nation.” But the lie of the “noble cause” and the genteel South was spread throughout textbooks and memorialized by the names put on elementary schools, public parks and public roads. The movie and the various statues of traitorous soldiers served to justify the rise of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws enshrining white privilege in both the North and the South.

Monuments speak to us across time. They tell stories in stone across generations. This is why the names of schools and the statues of the honored dead are worth fighting about. The lie of the noble cause is the history the American right wing seeks to preserve and protect and bring to our attention. This is the history behind the statue of Robert E. Lee now disgracing the liberal college town of Charlottesville, Va.

There is nothing new about a 20-year-old white boy driving a long distance from Ohio to participate with his fellow Americans in a violent, hate-spewing, white supremacist/neo-Nazi/KKK rally. This is an old American sport.

We should not be surprised. Anyone who has spent time in the right-wing echo chamber—watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh or reading the books of Ann Coulter or the righteous outrage on Breitbart’s internet junkyard—knows what drove this young Midwestern boy to violence. President Trump is correct that racist violence began before his presidency and that of Barack Obama. The roots of the peculiar disease of American racism run deep and wide.

However, as a candidate, Trump tapped into these roots during his campaign rallies. The racism, the women-hating, the Mexican and Muslim bashing, the whole smorgasbord of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a “basket of deplorables” was on vivid, frightening display. Young, angry white males today use the word “Trump” as a rallying cry, a verbal bludgeon against women, people of color and non-Christians. Have you not heard it? “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

During the campaign, Trump encouraged violence. Have we already forgotten his response when a black protester was attacked at one of his rallies: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.” And during the campaign, Trump winked approval of David Duke and the KKK’s endorsement.

But, again, Trump did not create this. He only took advantage of the resentment of some whites confused by the loss of easy, well-paying jobs to robots and Wall Street greed.

There is nothing new in blaming “others.” Nor is there anything new in attacking what Spiro Agnew called effete intellectuals and “nattering nabobs of negativism.” The poor-little-me victimhood takes place, even while the so-called victims take advantage of all the media they control (Alex Jones, “Fox and Friends,” Sean Hannity and more) to reach the solid base of the very vocal “silent” minority of whites. The white victims point and pout and whine about the despised other. “Make American Great Again!”

President Trump continued the winks and nods to this basket of victims with his Cabinet appointments, his encouragement of police to get rough on those “others” they arrest, his attack on Mexican and Muslim immigrants and the attacks on voting. The sly challenges from the Trump administration to affirmative action in college admissions fit perfectly with the right-wing narrative of white victimhood. “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Nothing new here.

The vast right-wing media (I Heart Radio, Sinclair, The Washington Times, the New York Post, the Christian Broadcasting Network, Laura Ingraham and others) continue to feed the big broad tree of Americanism and violence at its roots. Even as the so-called mainstream media are taking lumps from a petulant president, CNN and other “mainstream” news sources are increasing audience share and revenue with all Trump, all the time.

Trump is simply taking advantage. If a good woman protesting white fascism is killed by an angry white boy from Ohio, so be it.

But make no mistake: Trump and the media he loves and the media he loves to hate are not the only ones taking advantage of racism and white victimhood. So is Paul Ryan and his radical colleagues in the House of Representatives, and so is Mitch McConnell and his fellow senators. The radical right agenda is being implemented at the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission and the Supreme Court.

Friends, let us mourn the death of Heather Heyer and honor her by keeping our eyes on the prize. The midterm elections are coming soon. The only way to push this hate-filled minority of American whiners back under their rocks is to wake up and vote their leaders out of office.

Mark Lloyd is a clinical professor of communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He is a lawyer, a public policy advocate and an Emmy award-winning journalist, as well as the former associate general counsel at the Federal Communications Commission. He is co-editor of “The Communication Crisis in America, And How to Fix It.”

Mark Lloyd

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