Lott, Thurmond and Duke: Three Kings Bearing Gifts
Lessons to re-learn from the holiday "festivities"





The interim between Christmas and New Year's Day is a time for reassessment, a lull in life's short march during which we resolve to patch up what has gone wrong, and make more permanent that which has gone right.

Symbols help us in our contemplations. For the evaluative purposes of this essay, we will employ the ancient icons of the Three Kings. Our three kings are definitely not wise, but they do bear gifts. Their names are Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, and David Duke and, without intending to, they have set at our feet the gift of insight, an opportunity to examine the foul effusions of their hearts, and the moral character of those they represent.

David Duke is a former Imperial Wizard; we will get to him and his faithful subjects, later. King Lott is royalty among the white people of Mississippi. They adore him. There's Trent Lott International Airport, Trent Lott High School, in Pascagoula, Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi, and Trent Lott Space Research Center at predominantly Black Jackson State University (the name came with the deal, a tribute to the white folk's King.)

When honors like these are bestowed in such abundance on living persons, it is the result of a general consensus on the worthiness of that individual. Whites run Mississippi, and for them there is nothing in the least controversial or aberrant about Trent Lott. They know him better than anybody else does; they "know his heart." He is one of them, and beloved. Whatever you have to say about Trent Lott, goes for the overwhelming white majority of Mississippi, as well.

When it comes to Strom Thurmond, "Long live the King" is a puny understatement. White South Carolina loves him like a Holy Ghost. They love him because they love their past, and are glad it is still here in the present. Their Strom-love is contagious, having long ago infected the entire Washington press corps. He is the undying symbol of their determination to maintain white rule; whites gasp when he coughs. Normal white South Carolinians have spent one and-a-half of their own lifetimes (although not yet an entire one of his) affirming that Strom Thurmond represents them - always has, always will.

Racists command the votes of white majorities in the Deep South because majorities of white southerners are racists.

The segregated conversation

All this may seem obvious to an African American audience, but self-evident truth has no standing in the United States. It is the job of the corporate press to find a way around the truth. Herculean efforts are required to circumnavigate the mountain of historical and contemporary evidence that the GOP is the self-conscious, swaggering White Man's Party of the South, in every sense and connotation of the term. The nation's media and public relations professionals have run themselves breathless, this holiday season, yet remain bound and determined to maintain the white American illusion.

We referred earlier to the truth as observed by an African American audience. That's because Blacks are not really part of the conversation. While we revel in well-deserved glee at Trent Lott's misery, the subject of the conversation, itself, has been changed. The discussion no longer revolves around racism in the here and now, at the very core of the ruling U.S. party. Instead, corporate media and think tank talkers discuss the prospects for passage of the New Republican agenda, as if that has nothing to do with the pre-Lott downfall agenda. Lott has been discarded from leadership, while the policies he shared in their totality with George Bush, are retained. In addition, the constituency that elected Lott is to be mollified, on the premise that Lott misrepresented them as well as the institutional Republican Party.

All nonsense, of course, but remember - we are not part of this conversation. Instead, the 24-hour news cycle is full of proposals on how to best rinse the Republican Party clean of Trent Lott's persona. This is a quintessentially white conversation, since it has nothing to do with the actual conditions of Black life in America. Ironically, Trent Lott and the "old" (!) Strom Thurmond did speak to those conditions; they demanded maintenance of white dominion over Blacks. The "New Republican Party," conceived, gestated and baptized in the two weeks between Strom Thurmond's birthday party and Trent Lott's resignation announcement, promises to utter no racist words. The conversation on race has ended. Get over it, say the Republicans, the corporate media, and many Democrats - we have.

It is made to appear that Trent Lott's and Strom Thurmond's political supporters, the white majorities in their states and the region, are blameless in the entire matter. The fiction emanates even from the Atlanta studios of CNN, in rebel yelling distance from places where, just last month, fields of Confederate flags greeted the successful Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia.

There has been no national discussion of race, merely an amelioration of temporary white embarrassment at Trent Lott's words.

A question of semantics

We have learned - or re-learned - that no assault on Black people is sufficient reason for white institutions to make substantive alterations in their political behavior. And we are quickly being reminded that it is uncivil for African Americans to bring up the subject, once the one-way conversation has been closed, or re-directed.

White backsliding is already evident, as signaled by the Washington Post, one of the arbiters of the national consensus. In the paper's December 22 edition, Lott's birthday remarks were described as a "gaffe," typical of the corporate media's treatment of the event. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a gaffe is a "clumsy social error; a faux pas," "a breach of sensibility and good taste," or "a blatant mistake or misjudgment."

In other words, Lott embarrassed the Republican Party and polite white society in general. His conduct was like that of a drunken uncle, acting the fool in mixed company. The implicit solution: next time, it would be best to make sure he's not invited.

The entire episode is being trivialized out of existence - like American racism, itself.

For a glimpse of what the GOP is really talking about - the conversation within the general white conversation -one must listen as the racists communicate directly to one another, rather than with winks, nods and euphemisms. In a December 18 column, just before Lott swallowed the potion, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Abigail Thernstrom explained why she and her Hard Right colleagues wanted Lott dumped:

"Read between the lines: he will now take his cues from the Democrats and their allies like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Thus, the original tragedy - remarks that certainly sounded racist at Strom Thurmond's birthday bash - is compounded by his new posture as groveler-in-chief of the Republican Party. At a time when fighting racial inequality requires a willingness to challenge the mainstream civil rights establishment, Mr. Lott's party will no longer be able to stand tall."

Thernstrom and her husband, Stephen, earn millions as anti-affirmative action intellectual gurus. Lott had to go in order to maintain the momentum of the GOP's assault on affirmative action and civil rights leadership. These are the conversations that made Trent Lott disappear from Republican leadership. Blacks barely had a chance to put their two cents in before Lott was undone - the entire purpose behind the hasty, covert White House maneuverings against their champion of... it seems like, yesterday.

The excellent Buzzflash news analysts had been reporting since December 12 that White House hit man Karl Rove had put out the contract on Lott. And we told you on the 19th why Bush chose a Philadelphia faith-based initiatives gathering to publicly pull the rug from under the Mississippian's feet. (See "Trent Lott Furor Threatens Faith-based Bribery Scheme.) Lott was generating the kind of talk that is hazardous to the GOP agenda. The conversation had to be squashed, and quickly, before Black America found its voice. Will we lose it again, now that Lott has been sacrificed, even as the Republicans steamroll on?

See, hear, remember no evil

Bush and his crowd are waging war against human memory. Only by erasing memory can they hope to remake themselves instantaneously, by proclamation, without changing their actual agenda one iota. African Americans do not have the luxury of forgetfulness, since the abominations of the past continue in the present, without pause, as facts of daily life. Trent Lott's white majority didn't go anywhere. Mississippi is still Mississippi. The Republicans are still the White Man's Party. In the southern GOP heartland, under present conditions of relative quietude among a Black population that does not threaten disruption of business as usual, it is against Republican interests to be otherwise. Their goal is to fracture the Black vote, not win it over.

We are told that the Dixiecrat presidential campaign of 1948, celebrated by Trent Lott as the apex of Strom Thurmond's glory, should be consigned to the archives of history. In fact, if Lott hadn't kept bringing it up, the Dixiecrat revolt would have slipped from most memories, gathering dust. However, the Right demands that recent history also be expunged. Living truths are the most dangerous of all.

On last Sunday's Chris Mathews FOX gabfest, Weekly Standard writer Tucker Carlson put on a display of dementia, demanding proof of the existence of a racist GOP voter base. "I'd like to see the poll numbers that show there is a huge number of racists out there," said the bow-tied young Carlson. Nobody took him up on it.

Yet the most definitive poll of all was taken only 12 years ago, in 1990, when David Duke - yes, the third King of our essay, bearing gifts of historical value - won 60% of the white vote in his race for U.S. Senator from Louisiana. Astoundingly, the youngish ex-Nazi and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan won seven out of every ten white male votes.

There could be no doubt about the meaning of the contest. Everyone in Louisiana knew who David Duke was. With just three years in the state legislature, Duke had not been in office long enough to have built schools or delivered loads of contracts. He wasn't part of the political network, with a briefcase full of favors to cash in. His only claim to fame was that he hated Black people, and that was more than enough for an overwhelming majority of white males and most of their sisters, wives and daughters. The Black vote spared the polite white South from an embarrassment far bigger than the one occasioned by Trent Lott's words. Duke's campaign was as close to a laboratory-type measurement of Deep South white racism as can be imagined - there were no convenient variables to explain away the abject racism of the white electoral majority.

Duke's youngest supporters are barely 30 today. Nothing much has happened in a little over a decade that would have shaken their racist worldviews from previous moorings. There has been no social/political earthquake. If anything, the ascension of George Bush has probably emboldened the racists of Louisiana. That seemed to be the effect Bush had on Trent Lott.

There is no data to indicate that non-voting whites in Louisiana are less racist than the voting kind. And there is nothing so strange about Louisiana to set it dramatically apart from Mississippi or Alabama or, for that matter, the native white populations in any of the Deep South states.

Yes, Tucker Carlson, "there is a huge number of racists out there."

This is the base vote of the White Man's Party. The relative liberalism of Dixie's suburban "swing voters" is over-rated - Duke won his state legislature seat from a New Orleans suburb.

Resolved: to act like a human being

In this vicious political environment, Blacks must also accept some responsibility for Trent Lott's behavior. We have fraternized with the enemy, respecting his lies as if they have some claim on our notions of civility. He has taken civility for acquiescence. We have suppressed righteous anger under circumstances in which anger is the best proof of our humanity. Our enemies have interpreted forbearance as servility. We have relied solely on the vote, when simple math dictates that we must commit to direct and unrelenting actions outside of electoral politics, as well. Our foes believe that we have no other options. We have hobbled our gifts of language, fearing to be labeled "harsh," "strident," or "abrasive." It is assumed that we are meek.

Resolve to behave as full citizens in the New Year. Bush fears that kind of African American. Make it a loud 2003. It is our civic responsibility, our duty as human beings, and our only protection. 40 million is a big number, and we have always proven to be stronger than our numbers. Never forget that.


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Issue Number 22
December26, 2002



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Other commentaries in this issue:

Commentary 2
Hip Hop and the Hard Right: Media-made illusions of power by BC Co-publisher Glen Ford

Faith-based path to the jailhouse - Anti-war Lite, and Hard-core - Trojan Horse TV

George Bush Blacked-out, Africa must wait - U.S. seized Iraq corporate client list - Rich man’s "strike" in Venezuela

African Venezuelans fear new U.S. coup against President Chavez - Written by Professor Alejandro Correa of Barlovento, Venezuela with assistance from Willie Thompson, Professor emeritus City College of San Francisco

Commentaries in Issue 21 December 19, 2002:

Commentary 1
Trent Lott Furor Threatens Faith-based Bribery Scheme Program to woo Black clergy at heart of turmoil

Commentary 2
Anti-War Hard Core and Anti-War Lite
Privilege, comfort and fear cause schisms

Black Rightwing Forum’s "media whores"... Lott uproar should have come sooner... Harvard graduates troubled by commentary... Bush-Cheney "pirates" are treasonous

Trent Lott’s racist momma... Preachers on the take... Poor insufficiently taxed... Non-existent benefits abolished

Strom Thurmond’s Black Daughter - Common knowledge about a "special relationship"
By Ken Cummins

Guest Commentary
By Dr. David Graham Du Bois

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.