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VOL. 46 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2022

Southerners are conditioned to believe ‘Big Lie’

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The claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election but was cheated out of it is, as his former attorney general Bill Barr inelegantly but accurately put it, bulls***.

They don’t call it the Big Lie for nothing.

We’ve been seeing the lie dismantled, bit by bit, over the past couple of weeks in the proceedings of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Yet it’s clear that millions of people still believe the lie, and no amount of evidence will change their minds.

I’m dismayed by their gullibility but not surprised, especially when it comes to my fellow Southerners. That’s because we in the South have been conditioned much of our lives to believe in another load of BS: the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

As described by the American Battlefield Trust, a preservation group, that evergreen myth consists of six tenets. I paraphrase them lightly:

• First and foremost, secession had little or nothing to do with slavery. Southerners seceded over states’ rights and to throw off the shackles of a tyrannical government.

• Slavery was benign; submissive, happy and faithful slaves were better off in the system.

• The Confederacy was defeated only because it was outnumbered in both men and resources.

• Confederate soldiers were heroic, gallant and saintly. (Yankees, on the other hand…)

• Robert E. Lee was the ultimate Christian soldier and gentleman.

• Southern women – pure, saintly and white – steadfastly supported the cause.

White Southern honor demanded such a … whitewashing. White Southern folklore reinforced it. White (and black) Southern textbooks codified it. I’m willing to bet there are people reading this now who still accept and defend every bit of that myth.

It’s no stretch to add the Big Lie to their belief system.

I’ve also no doubt that some people professing to believe the Big Lie – perhaps even Trump himself – actually know it’s BS. They’re just…lying.

Stuart Stevens, a longtime and very successful Republican campaign consultant and strategist, knows a thing or two about that sort of political posturing. I spoke to him in 2017 about his choice of party.

“I was drawn to a Republican Party that would stand up to Russia,” he told me, “be the aspirational party that immigrants would want to join, where character counted and decency was more important than any one issue.”

To say that he became disillusioned is an understatement. Though he’d never worked for anyone I would ever vote for, by the time we talked he was saying and posting things that I found easy to agree with. He poked fun at Fox News. Defended Hillary and Obama on some things.

He acknowledged climate change science and the impact of gun violence. Increasingly alarmed with his party’s Trumpward drift, in 2020 he wrote a book looking back on his career and the party he had served. Among his Takes:

“How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held. In the end, the Republican Party rallied behind Donald Trump because if that was the deal needed to regain power, what was the problem? Because it had always been about power.”

The name of the book: “It Was All a Lie.”

It’s tempting to go a step further in my argument and point out another contributor to the inability of some people to sort fact from fiction. It’s a book that employs fables, parables and metaphors to tell essential truths. But it unfortunately has led to some people believing in, among other things, an actual Garden of Eden, a global flood, an Earth that can pause the spinning on its axis and a universe that dates back only 6,000 or so years.

But I’d probably better not mention that.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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