Trump Tempts Voters with Lies and White Power

Donald Trump himself appears to be historically illiterate, but the ideology with which he is tempting his voters has deep roots.

One of history’s most inaccurate films is 2003’s Gods and Generals, written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. The film is about the first years of the American Civil War, and follows Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Maxwell is obsessed with historical details, which means that uniforms, weapons and battles are portrayed with meticulous precision. Many of the script’s lines and events are taken straight from the sources available at the time, like letters, newspaper articles and military reports.

The director was assisted by thousands of so-called ”reenactors,” civilians whose hobby is recreating full-scale historical battles. They often have their own period-correct uniforms and weapons, sometimes even artillery.

But Maxwell’s aim was not to capture history, but to change it. In his script, the Southern states were the heroes. The Civil War was not about slavery, but about the little man who stood up to the power in Washington. It was about the people versus the corrupt elite.

Jackson is, along with Confederate officer Robert E. Lee, portrayed as a sort of Christlike character. Even African Americans are supporters of the South in the film.

Gods and Generals is part of a project that began almost as soon as Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. The project is called ”The Lost Cause” and was started as early as the 1870s, through articles written by former Confederate general Jubal Early.

Donald Trump and Fox News are far from the first to use “alternative facts.” At the heart of the Lost Cause mythology is the belief that the Civil War was fought to preserve the Southern lifestyle, not slavery per se. However, if you go back to the original sources, this is not true. Slavery was the foundation on which the Southern lifestyle depended.

In his key speech delivered when the Southern states claimed independence in 1861, vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, proclaimed that the aim of the new nation was to preserve the power of the white “race.”

“Their cornerstone is resting on the big truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man and that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal state. This, our new government, is the first one in history that is built on the big physiological, philosophical, and moral truth.“

Pretty soon after the defeat, ”The Lost Cause” would inform the retelling of the South’s history. Strong lobbyist organizations such as the Daughters of the Confederacy made sure school textbooks were rewritten and that monuments of Confederate generals were erected.

In modern times, the Confederate flag with its saltire and thirteen white stars has continued to fly over state capitols in the South. It was originally not a national flag, but rather a field sign used by Lee in Northern Virginia, popularized after the war.

The meaning, however, is crystal clear: one star for every state that left the union.

Just as with Gods and Generals, The Lost Cause was about historical revision. Even military bases were named after men like Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood and George Pickett, generals who fought for the retention of slavery and against the United States government.

Plainly speaking – these bases were named after traitors to the nation. And Trump has threatened to veto attempts to change their names.

This spring and summer, when the Black Lives Matter movement demanded the removal of these statues, symbols, and names, it started a confusing debate in Swedish media about the importance of preserving history.

But the past portrayed by the Lost Cause movement is a fairy tale world filled with heroes and symbols of things that, during their time, meant something completely different.

For Trump’s election campaign, the fight against Black Lives Matter has become central. He is calling out the movement as extremists. In Sweden, it is probably only Svenska Dagbladet (a center-right paper) that has fallen for the rhetoric. “They demand the submission of white people,” columnist Ivar Arpi wrote during the summer.

”Yes, Black lives matter, nobody has claimed otherwise,” he continued.

But that is precisely the problem.

Trump himself appears to be historically illiterate, but the ideology he uses to try to lure voters has deep roots in the same recording of history with which Jubal Early was involved. Or Ronald F. Maxwell today.

Alternative facts count. The lives of African Americans do not.

For a Swede, the 1860s can seem like ancient history. But the last person to receive a survivor’s pension after the Civil War, Irene Triplett, died in May this year at a retirement home in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. She was 90 years old and the daughter of Moses ”Mose” Triplett, who fought on both sides during the war. Not such ancient history after all.

The oppression did not stop after slavery was abolished in 1865, by the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In many states, African Americans were prevented from voting and segregation was upheld by law. It would take until 1998 for South Carolina to abolish their ban on mixed-race marriages, and another two years before Alabama did the same.

Ahead of the American presidential election, wounds have begun to bleed again. During the Democratic National Convention this week, Kamala Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican origin, was nominated as vice president. Michelle and Barack Obama delivered fantastic speeches on how the U.S. can unite and become one country again after years of hatred, corruption and division under Trump.

On the evening of Nov. 3, 2008, I was in a dusty field near Manassas in Virginia, a few miles west of Washington D.C., waiting for Barack Obama’s speech. The location of Obama’s final campaign appearance before Election Day was well chosen. The first battle of the American Civil War took place near Manassas back in 1861.

If we can learn one thing from the history of the United States, it is the country’s ability to renew itself, to constantly move forward. The years under Trump might just be a parenthesis, four years with which to scare future generations.

Another America is out there.

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