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Trump’s base will not abandon its modern-day Lost Cause

The former president embodies white supremacy. History proves that’s enough to sustain his supporters’ loyalty.

A video shows a rioter on screen at the June 23 hearing held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.JASON ANDREW/NYT

US Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois believes Donald Trump will be disowned by his base.

During a recent CNN appearance Kinzinger said, “I’m going to tell you, I truly believe in my heart in five years, maybe not five but definitely 10, you’re not going to be able to find a single person that admits to supporting or voting for Donald Trump in this country because they’re going to be embarrassed because their kids are going to say, ‘You actually supported Donald Trump?’”

Call it magical thinking. Or ahistorical self-delusion.

Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection incited by Trump, must have forgotten one of the most indelible images of that ghastly day — a man in the US Capitol parading a loser’s seditious flag from a war that theoretically ended 157 years ago.


Trump supporters would no more snub the former president than they would abandon the white supremacist ideas that he embodies.

With a historic 81 million votes Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. But Trump got 74 million votes, 11 million more than he garnered in 2016. That means millions more people heard Trump’s lies, witnessed his racism, and saw him impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and thought, “Yup, I want some of that for four more years.”

Now, even after a second impeachment and an ongoing House investigation revealing Trump’s culpability in the deadly insurrection that defiled the Capitol and wounded our democracy, Republicans have remade themselves in his graven image, their would-be autocrat a half-century in the making. Election deniers who’ve swallowed whole Trump’s Big Lie are vying for seats in the Senate and House, and as governors and secretaries of state who will certify future elections.


Despite not even a scintilla of evidence to the contrary, nearly 70 percent of Republicans do not believe that Biden is the legitimately elected president. More than 60 percent of Republicans say Jan. 6 was not an insurrection, but a “legitimate protest.” Reacting to Trump’s crimes alone is like treating the wound, but not an infection that continues to spread.

Trump’s minions carry their support and what he emboldened not as a millstone, but as a badge of honor. Time won’t change that.

Let history be a solemn guide. Only in America could treasonous white men who tore apart this nation to protect and expand the enslavement of millions of Black people be honored with statues and streets bearing their names. Some Southern states celebrate Jefferson Davis Day in remembrance of the man who championed secession and led the failed Confederacy during the Civil War.

In Alabama and Mississippi, Robert E. Lee Day, the Confederate general and enslaver of Black people, is also observed on Martin Luther King Day as if the state could not stomach one day marked for the reverence of a Black man. (Some other Southern states mark Lee’s Jan. 19 birthdate as a separate holiday.)

On Jan. 6, Kevin Seefried carried the banner of Davis, Lee, and the traitors they represent into the Capitol in defense of not only another traitorous man, but white supremacy itself. Convicted of obstructing an official proceeding, a felony, Seefried wasn’t even the only insurrectionist carrying a Confederate flag that day.


That’s what Kinzinger and probably many others don’t recognize about this fraught American moment. At every Jan. 6 hearing, the elephant in the room is white supremacy. It is simply personified in this era by Trump and those who sought to thwart democracy by overturning the 2020 election first in the courts, then through intimidation, and finally with violence.

Trump’s Big Lie is white supremacy’s modern-day Lost Cause, a sordid legacy that will pass through generations like a poisoned heirloom. Both are steeped in the same belief that anything that challenges white entitlement is illegitimate and must be crushed.

During the Jan. 6 hearings, we often hear of the need to hold Trump responsible for his actions. But these proceedings must also be a referendum on the white supremacist ideas that led insurrectionists to breach the Capitol, chant for Mike Pence’s assassination, and pummel anyone who got in their way. Kinzinger’s predictions notwithstanding, the white rage Trump inflamed and unleashed on that day won’t disappear in five, 10, or even 50 years. The racist grievances he exploits existed before he was born.

In his poem “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist,” Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre writes, “Remember white supremacy is not a shark; it’s the water.” Unless white supremacy is also targeted and held accountable, the undertow of its treacherous waters will drown this nation long after Trump is gone.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.