After the conclusion of the American Civil War, racist southern Democrats – eager to show that they could, in good faith, be trusted to rejoin the Union and compete as a political party – invented a reason for their rebellion: It was states’ rights that they’d fought for, rather than racial supremacy and slavery.

Northern moderate Republicans, eager to allow their Southern brethren to smoothly re-enter the Union, allowed them to gloss over the true basis for their rebellion, treason and insurrection. They let the white Southern view become the national view, hastening the end of Reconstruction and preventing the United States from becoming a true multiracial democracy for more than a century.

That failure of governance and morality has handicapped our nation for generations, felt still today by all Americans.

The so-called “Lost Cause” theory of the Civil War was actually aptly named because it never really existed in reality. Southerners didn’t fight for some abstract political theory; they fought to preserve slavery. Every single Southern state that seceded cited the possible abolition of slavery in its secession resolution. The preservation of slavery was the one principle that united the Confederacy. A few northern Republicans – correctly labeled radicals at the time – fought this whitewashing of history, as did Black Americans, but it wasn’t enough to move past the overwhelming national consensus against facing reality.

Today, Republicans in Washington are – for the most part – approaching the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol exactly the same way: by assigning it motives that didn’t exist, or pretending it never even happened at all. Fortunately, today there is no national consensus to rewrite history, as there has been so often in this country’s past: Instead, many Americans want the insurrectionists held responsible for their attack.

That’s why it was such a disappointment to see most Republicans oppose a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the assault; that would have led to some true accountability for the ringleaders of the attack. By opposing that commission, Republicans handed Nancy Pelosi the perfect reason to run her own investigation through the House of Representatives. That’s a shame, as it was a chance for the GOP to re-establish its support for the rule of law and its existence as a political force that stands for something other than supporting Donald Trump.


Democrats lost their own opportunity to make the investigation truly bipartisan, though, by rejecting Kevin McCarthy’s appointments to the House select committee. While it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want some of Trump’s most vociferous supporters to be part of the process, it gave McCarthy the perfect excuse to withdraw the rest of his appointments. It’s clear that he was looking for any reason to avoid facing the truth about Jan. 6, but Pelosi fumbled by giving him a fairly legitimate one.

Ordinarily, committee assignments, while ultimately blessed by the Speaker of the House, are made by the leadership of one’s own party. Pelosi completely upended that procedural norm by making her own Republican appointments. It was a rare unforced political miscalculation from Pelosi: She would have been far better off to seat whomever McCarthy appointed. If they had ended up on the committee, they couldn’t have actually done much to procedurally obstruct its work as members of the minority party. Instead, the most damage they could have done was to their own reputation – and, by extension, to McCarthy’s and the Republican Party as a whole. It would have been good for the entire country to see what ridiculous lengths some of Trump’s supporters will go to defend him.

We can see that here in Maine to a disturbing degree, both locally and at the statewide level. When Sen. Susan Collins became one of the few Republicans in all of Congress to support both convicting Trump and a bipartisan commission investigating the attack, grassroots Republicans were furious. While their quixotic attempt to censure her thankfully failed in the state committee, it’s succeeded in several county committees.

Those supporting these efforts are not only turning their backs on the constitutional order and the rule of law, they’re embracing a foolhardy strategy that helps elect Democrats. When you define conservatism in terms of fealty to Donald Trump, you end up enabling the liberal agenda that you claim to thoroughly despise – and that’s the worst kind of hypocrisy. These people are embracing a narrative that deserves to end up on the ash heaps of history; it’s up to reasonable Republicans to make sure they don’t take all of American conservatism down with them.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: