History is written by the victors, but it doesn’t stop the losers from writing their own.
In fact, the losers may persuade enough people over time to make their history the dominant narrative.
Soon after the Civil War, Southern sympathizers claimed the Confederate cause was a noble effort to preserve a genteel way of life. They claimed that slavery was not as brutal as abolitionists charged. They claimed that post-war Reconstruction, led by “Radical” Republicans such as Lancaster Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, was a vengeful attempt to redistribute economic and political power to Blacks who weren’t ready for the responsibility.
This account was taken up by historians, filmmaker D.W. Griffith (director of the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation”) and author Margaret Mitchell (“Gone With the Wind”), at the same time as Southern whites reclaimed control of state governments, imposed Jim Crow laws on African Americans, and unleashed vigilante groups upon Black citizens.
The Southern “Lost Cause” served as the ideology justifying a century of racism and repression, enabling the South to “win” the Civil War, according to contemporary historian Heather Cox Richardson.
Another losers’ crusade to rewrite history is currently underway.
This time, it is Republicans and their allies in the media who are promoting the myth that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election.
Furthermore, Trump supporters claim the insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was a peaceful protest gone awry.
I hesitate to cite the GOP pack of lies for fear that some readers might believe them, much as many TV viewers in the 1970s saw the racist ignoramus Archie Bunker of the sitcom “All in the Family” as a working-class hero.
Nonetheless, in the months since the assault on the Capitol, Republican members of Congress wrongly suggested that antifa and leftist radicals stormed the barricades, not right-wing extremists such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
Moreover, Republicans assert President Trump did nothing to incite the riot. Rather, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., somehow was deemed responsible for the failure of U.S. Capitol Police to maintain order. Finally, they argue that Democrats have blown the event out of proportion, and the subsequent fencing and National Guard presence surrounding the Capitol are nothing but political theater.
Multiple investigations, reports and judicial rulings have disproved all of these claims. However, if GOP leaders intended to fool their supporters into adopting a counter-narrative, they have succeeded.
Around one-half of Republicans believe the Capitol siege was largely a nonviolent protest or was the product of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a Reuters/Ipsos poll found earlier this month.
In addition, 60% of Republicans believe Trump’s bogus declaration that the election was “stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud.
Frankly, none of the antics of the Ted Cruzes, Josh Hawleys and Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the GOP have anything to do with getting to the bottom of the assault on the Capitol. In fact, the opposite is true.
Republicans have constructed countless obstacles to the creation of an independent commission to investigate — along the lines of the 9/11 Commission — the 1/6 assault.
Instead, the allegations of Democratic election-rigging in 2020 have been concocted to justify Republican election-rigging efforts for the 2022 and 2024 national elections.
As the Brennan Center for Justice has reported, more than 360 bills designed to restrict voting access have been introduced in 47 states, including Pennsylvania. The most notorious of these, thus far, is a recently enacted Georgia law aimed at suppressing African American turnout.
Georgia, of course, was the state that was not only carried narrowly by President Joe Biden, but also elected two Democratic senators who gave control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats.
The fact of the matter is President Biden is steamrolling the opposition, and Republicans are scared.
Rather than present alternatives to the president’s popular initiatives for COVID-19 relief and infrastructure improvement, the GOP has offered diversions aimed at inflaming the culture war, such as constraining transgender athletes, boycotting Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola (apple pie is next), and protecting Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.
Keeping the conservative outrage machine going generates political contributions and cable news ratings, especially as the 45th president recedes from public view.
Speaking of the former guy, it’s possible that Republican politicians are playing a cynical game, saying things to placate Trump while secretly hoping to capture his supporters.
Also, congressional Republicans could be sincere in believing that the seriousness of 1/6/21 does not rise to the level of 9/11/01, and in one sense they are right. The Capitol riot did not result in the killing of 3,000 innocent Americans.
On the other hand, if the forthcoming trials of the more than 300 alleged infiltrators of the Capitol building produce evidence of a coordinated effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election — as many observers expect — we cannot ignore an attempted murder of American democracy.
Maybe in mythical baseball we could rewrite “Casey at the Bat” to have Mighty Casey hit the game-winning home run.
But not after 160 million fans — the same number as those who voted in the election — saw him swing and miss.
E. Fletcher McClellan is a professor of political science at Elizabethtown College. Twitter: @mcclelef.