“Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or to keep one.” — Robert E. Lee
One can only imagine the shame that someone like Robert E. Lee must have felt. It isn’t so much that he or anyone else necessarily internalized that they were on the wrong side of history. Such a thing is always subjective in the moment. They have always said that to the victor go the spoils. One of those spoils is the story in the history books themselves.
One might imagine many in the GOP feeling the same thing these days. They are still putting up a battle to keep from convicting the ex president in the Senate. Part of that is due to the real desire to move on. A bigger part of that is due to what such a trial would reveal. If you reveal the evil in him and his administration then that somehow reaches out to all of those that supported him.
The “his” in this case is Joe Biden. Many of us watched his inaugural address. I don’t seem to remember him calling anyone out by name. He didn’t even mention a particular party or group. However, he did allude to white supremacists, racists, and people who didn’t tell the truth. Maybe I misinterpreted it. Maybe I’ve slept since then. I’m fairly certain Rand Paul’s name never came up.
The specter of Lee is an interesting one. I originally got the idea for quotes at the beginning of posts from a historical novel that used the same trick. Good writers borrow from other good writers after all. In the case of the novel, all of the quotes were fictional. They were obviously designed to make you chuckle if you knew anything about history. The Lee quote above is real and also makes you chuckle some when you consider the source.
The civil war is the only major historical event I can think of where the losers have been allowed to dominate the history of it. There are a number of high schools named after Lee. There are a number of statues of Lee throughout the United States. When else do we honor traitors? Are there a bevy of Benedict Arnold statues around I don’t know about?
The trick following the civil war is the same as it is now. Ironically, we are in the position we are now because we didn’t necessarily get that one completely right. When we allowed the history to be written by the losers we allowed them to shape the narrative of U.S. history for the next 100 years or so. I actually encountered a guy online that called it the war of northern aggression. This despite the fact that the south fired the first shots at Fort Sumter. This obviously bleeds into that whole opinions should be based on facts discussion we had last time.
The trick was how to bring the rebels back into the fold. Once you’ve lost you either get slaughtered (proverbially or literally) or you get assimilated. How does assimilation work? How can someone reenter the union and feel included and yet understand that what they did was terribly wrong? The challenge then is the same as the challenge now. They felt included, but that second part never really happened.
Part of that was due to the blame shifting that was allowed to happen. A war over slavery turned into a war over states rights or worse (a war of northern aggression). The struggle of assimilation turned into a blame game where slavery was shifted into Jim Crow. The north was either unable or unwilling to stop this from happening.
Now, the battle is not regional. Sure, the south seems to be stereotypically filled with backwoods hicks and racists that were on board with Trump. Yet, it would be a mistake to characterize this situation that way. You could even couch it as coastal elites versus the heartland. Again, that would be a mistake. The fault lines are really on a much more micro level.
Being a Trump backer is not the same thing as rooting for Ohio State in football. The sting of defeat for the dedicated fan is not the same as the sting of defeat for someone that put their political allegiance behind the outgoing president. The sycophant must come to grips with what exactly they were supporting and why. Watching him exposed in a Senate trial and court is only a matter of time. His exposure is your exposure. There is no getting around that now.
In the meantime, we might be wise to consider what Mr. Lee said and not necessarily what he did. As our parents used to say, “when you lie down with dogs you are bound to get fleas.” If you support a racist and white supremacist then it is fair to assume you are. If you lie and cheat to help someone that lies and cheats then it is fair to call you a liar and a cheater. Fair is fair after all.