Trent Lott's Faux Pas: What Historians Think
|I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either. -- Trent Lott, December 5, 2002|
- Douglas Brinkley
- Robert Dallek
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Speaking on Fox News 12/9/02
BRINKLEY: Well, there's no need for Trent Lott to resign over it, and he's made an apology, but it was a very wrong-headed thing to say. I mean, the problem is that people don't know their history. And what he's referring to really, Trent Lott, is, Strom Thurmond back in 1948 created the Dixiecrat Party. He broke away from Truman. And the Dixiecrats were a group of people that wanted states' rights forever and also segregation forever. They went out as a platform to say all of the laws of Washington, D.C., and all of the bayonets in the U.S. Army will never force the Negro into the homes, the schools, and the churches of whites in this country. And he ended up winning over a million votes for president, Strom Thurmond. He actually carried the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama. And at that point, Thurmond became the great rallying cry for white supremacists in the South.
BILL O'REILLY: OK. Let me stop you there. Isn't -- it's worse than just being a segregationist, though, for Senator Thurmond, who I have no use for, by the way, at all, none, ever. He was a person who felt blacks -- who feels, I think, blacks are inferior, correct?
BRINKLEY: Absolutely. He has a long career of stating things of that nature.
O'REILLY: All right, now, if Lott is there, and I, you know, I don't think Trent Lott is a malicious man. I mean, I think he was just pandering to the audience. That's what it looked like to me.
BRINKLEY: The problem is, Bill, though, it's not just pandering, which it was that. He does this periodically. You know, he's been pushing in the South to have Jefferson Davis, you know, his citizenship reinstated. He tries -- constantly finds himself in these sort of Confederate fights. In 1992, he visited a Mississippi town which was a White Citizen's Council of states' rights people, and...
O'REILLY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you don't think Trent Lott is a racist, do you?
BRINKLEY: Yes, I do.
O'REILLY: Do you really?
BRINKLEY: Yes, I do. I think there's degrees of it, and I think he may not consider himself one. But I think his career record of seeming to not realize why, as he's not just Trent Lott, he's the Senate majority leader, he represents the Republican Party, and I think most Republicans are aghast at this message. ...the problem is that pragmatic side of him, he drops the ball sometimes because he can't help himself on issues about the Confederacy. You have to realize, when he was Ole Miss back in the '60's, he didn't -- he fought tooth and nail and tooth and claw not to have James Meredith integrate Ole Miss.
ROBERT DALLEK: Speaking on NPR 12/9/02
ROBERT SIEGEL:When US Senator Strom Thurmond was 46 years old, it was 1948. Thurmond was a Democrat and so was the man in the White House, Harry Truman. Thurmond ran against Truman as the candidate of the States' Rights Party and carried four Southern states by campaigning in defense of racial segregation. His best showing was in Mississippi, where he took 87 percent of the popular vote.
DALLEK: ... Truman, in 1947, endorsed a report from the Civil Rights Commission called To Secure These Rights, and it attacked lynching in the South, it attacked the poll tax, which denied African-Americans the right to vote, and in general attacked segregation. And so the right wing in the Democratic Party, these Deep South politicians, including Strom Thurmond and the governor of Mississippi and the governor of Alabama, said, 'Let's break with this Democratic Party. It doesn't represent us fairly anymore, and we're going to set up our own party, the States' Rights Party,' and they were standing for segregation. ...
SIEGEL: Is it fair simply to say that the 1948 campaign was a racist campaign by...
DALLEK: Oh, I think it's very fair to say that because they, in a sense, saw the handwriting on the wall that the federal government was going to begin to move against this apartheid system, which embarrassed the United States before the world, because after all, we were locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union by this point, and the Soviets kept attacking us as a racist society and, of course, in the South it was. So they saw what was coming and they wanted to dig in their heels and fight this tooth and nail.
SIEGEL: It's rare to hear in the modern South any politician, as Trent Lott did in that little birthday congratulations, lamenting the defeat of the Dixiecrats in 1948.
Mr. DALLEK: Yes, yes. After all, Trent Lott is a public figure. He's the majority leader of the United States Senate beginning in January, a Republican spokesman, and for him to have said that, I think is, again, an embarrassment to this country and around the world, because it endorses the old policy of segregation. Didn't he understand that? You know, Trent Lott might have said at this birthday celebration, 'Isn't it marvelous that Strom Thurmond, he grew older and he came to see the need for a change in outlook, and so he broke with his old segregationist past.' But to celebrate him as a segregationist in '48, I'm frankly mystified by this statement.
SIEGEL: Thurmond did, in fact, break with his past to some extent.
DALLEK: He did. Yes.
SIEGEL: I mean, he may have broken only after the cause was lost...
SIEGEL: ...but he did break with it.
DALLEK: As George Wallace did. They understood that the political reality had changed, and also, they wanted black votes, which became very important, as we just saw in the election in Louisiana, which probably decided the election on behalf of Mary Landrieu and the Democrats.
NPR: Thurmond's Retirement from the Senate
comments powered by Disqus
Gus Moner - 12/15/2002
Clearly Mr Lott has long held these beliefs, as earlier statements to the same effect attest. His apology is welcome, however, the doubt is about his sincerely held beliefs regarding segregation and the equality of man.
From that, we can raise legitimate issues and doubts regarding his suitability for such an important leadership post.
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/14/2002
If a Disabled Vietnam Wars Veteran was cast out of the Senate by the voters of Georgia by a political aspersion by his Republican "chickenHAWK" opponent for being "unpatriotic"...
If you could provide a direct quote, and the source, that would be much appreciated, as I'm interested in tracking down the source of this claim.
William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/14/2002
Glad to see that Mr. Morgan's views and mine seem to converge on the matter of arms and ius militiae, and it's probably worthwhile (though not in this forum) to explore the meanings of citizenship with respect to civic duty. Finally, I obviously am not so thrilled by the direction the Court has taken under Renquist, and suspect future legal historians will find it a very curious court, indeed. I regard its conservative as corrupt,in the old-fashioned "republican" sense, intellectually superficial and opportunist: Bush v. Gore said it all. It's such a shame an early media call of Florida for Gore ruined O'Connor's dinner party experience!
Edward J. Trout - 12/14/2002
Posit: If a Disabled Vietnam Wars Veteran was cast out of the Senate by the voters of Georgia by a political aspersion by his Republican "chickenHAWK" opponent for being "unpatriotic", then Trent Lott must be cast out for his racially devisive and immoral "flatliner" public comments. Has not Canada set a standard of what accountibility means @ this times for those who state "moronic" reflections?
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/14/2002
Are the Trustees of Columbia among the "appropriate professional processes" that so stir the heart of Bernstein? Is it fair that, rather than conduct a de novo analysis, Columbia piggy-backed on the Emory report? Was Bellesiles afforded counsel at Columbia's expense? Oh, the humanity!! I don't think I'll sleep well tonight knowing such injustice stalks the land.
Thomas Gunn - 12/14/2002
There are many STATE constitutions that have as a feature the individual right to keep and bear arms yet in the same breath make clear that the legislature is not prevented from regulating the carrying of arms concealed about the person.
Isn't that something about Michael Bellesiles losing the Bancroft, with a request to repay the award. I am certainly glad no one jumped to any unfound conclusions. Here's a link:
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/13/2002
From the context of your remarks (concerning Rehnquist, in particular), I took you to mean that the upsurge was post-Warren. Whatever the source of that post-Warren upsurge, racist or not, I don't share your view as to its scale or the range of its malevolent effect. In fact, when the history of this Court is written, I suspect it will say that they rediscovered the 10th Amendment, and federalism, and stopped the unconstitutional and otherwise unchecked accumulation of federal power gathered under the commerce clause. I will agree that certain decisions involving sovereign immunity of states are activist.
The arbitrary label 'collectivist' shares any such arbitrariness with the label 'individualist' -- both were offered as labels for schools of Second Amendment interpretation.
If we are known by our origins, then gun-control types share a similar embarrassment inasmuch as a good bit of early gun-control legislation originated in attempts to disarm blacks.
As for the right to "pack heat" (or "carrying guns"), even as an individualist, I believe, and I suspect most other individualists believe, that there is a distinction between bearing arms and carrying arms -- a distinction to be found in colonial statutes which simultaneously demanded the former, and prohibited the latter. To my mind, the right to bear arms is the ius militiae -- the right and duty, as a full citizen, to serve in the military or be liable to service, perhaps intended at least as a check on select militias.
donald k pickens - 12/13/2002
Surprise. The South has always been on the conservative or states rights side of U.S. history--be it slavery or segregation. As LBJ remarked that when the civil rights legislation was passed the South would become Republican in thought and deed. As for Senator T. he ranked alone side John C. Calhoun as one of America's leading political knaves and Jefferson Davis is just off the chart.He tried after all ro destroy the Republic but what the hell the is "past history." I have been an university professor of history for over forty years and trust me the Republis is in trouble with President W in the White House. But enough of the rant. Keep your fine servicesto the historical profession.
William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/13/2002
To offset growing right-wing judicial activism with a questionable, and in my view historically foreshortened, assessment of the Warren Court is poor logic, and also the "Nyah-nyah! You did it, too!" kind of schoolyard argument conservatives use these days, as also is the use of arbitrary labels such as "collectivist." I write "historically foreshortened" because it neglects the history of the state as well as federal courts from the end of Reconstruction down to the New Deal.
I am no fan of Tribe, or Dershowitz, who would have us all submit to the Ashcroftian Discipline to "fight terror," God help us, and on the gun-totin' issue I think--and can argue formally--that they--and Van Alstyne-are wrong, from the standpoints of both US caselaw and even the alleged 18th century British origins of the notion we all can pack heat (the idea of a fowling piece in every London slum tenement would've horrified Whigs and Tories alike--and duelling, with either sword or pistol, could get you hanged; so much for armed honor).
All you rugged individualist, gun-lovin' guys out there might take a more sober view if you recalled that the first big militia callup was to repress the Whiskey Rebellion--resistance in defense of liberty was never part of the bargain. Armed defense of order and property--here and in Britain--always was. Last time a volunteer militia formed here in St. Louis, it was middle-class types out to put down a general strike (whose black participants aroused special alarm), and afterwards they paraded annually in white sheets to tell the city's workers who ran the show. The romance of the gun-won West is just that: carrying guns was for thugs--dime novels, Hollywood, and Zane Grey notwithstanding.
Mr. Morgan is right about the proper use of the term "Stars and Bars." However, since I never met a trucker or Southern legislator who knew the difference and the colloquialism has infected most of us, I used it in that sense. As penance, I will avoid for a minute or two looking at the portrait of Robert E. Lee, fronted by toy charging Confederate soldiers, one of whom is bearing that sad ensign, next to my computer, and renew my vow never to join the Sons of the Confederacy or whatever it's called. On the other hand, I stand by my claim that future historians will indeed trace the ascendancy of conservatism in the US--and especially in this instance the Second Amendment absolutist crusade--from the Goldwater campaign of '64 and its overt playing of the race card to get them Bubbas in Dixie to vote Republican and protect their white supremacy. From states rahts to property rahts has not been a big step. If our current right-wing legal minds could get away with it, we'd be taken back to pre-Lochner days--and that would be real judicial activism!
Thomas Gallatin - 12/13/2002
Not to excuse the gross ignorance of history referenced by Robert Harbison, and the dumbed-down secondary schools in America which contribute thereto, but the winner in last month's national elections, by a landslide, was the party of Non-voters. Maybe if we can take corrupting big money out of political campaigns (other democracies have done rather better in that respect, and, after all, even millions of Republicans supported John McCain in 2000), and loosen the stranglehold of the two-party duopoly (e.g. through instant run-off elections) more Americans will find in their interest to become informed about and involved with their country's past, present, and future.
Robert Harbison - 12/13/2002
I would REALLY like to believe that the American people would not be so snowed by the GOP rhetoric, but the last elections prove otherwise.
Wasn't it just last month that the reports came out that an unconscionable number of High School seniors couldn't place the CENTURY of the Civil War or the decade of either World War?
The American public will continue to elect whoever they are told to elect.
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/13/2002
There is much in Mr. Leckie's angry screed I would agree with, but among those things I don't, are some that provoke response.
Leckie speaks of the upsurge of right-wing judicial activism. Perhaps so. But one is compelled to ask: compared to what? Prof. L. Powe of University of Texas, a self-confessed liberal, demonstrated in his study of the Warren Court that its "activism" (disregard for precedent) is unparalleled in US history. Hodding Carter, Jr., was occasioned to assert that the Dems had gotten used to the idea that the Supreme Court would give them what they couldn't win at the ballot box. Similarly, Prof. Dershowitz has said that liberals like him were taught in law school that liberals would always own the Supreme Court -- that whatever else happened, the Court "belongs to us".
Also, the idea that the legal thinking behind the "gun-toting mythology" got its boost from reaction fueled by racism, flies in the face that of the fact that the most respected constitutional authorities among those supporting an individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment are such liberals as Sanford Levinson, Laurence Tribe, and William Van Alstyne. It must be a great blow to the self-image of the collectivists as morally superior beings that the leading voices of this interpretation aren't toe-sucking, inbred, redneck, peckerwood racists.
And lastly, I don't know when was the last time I saw a Stars and Bars displayed, or claimed for a simple heritage symbolism. The Stars And Bars was the first national flag of the Confederacy, and it was abandoned because (among many things) it was too similar to the US flag, and caused confusion on the battlefield. The basic design, but not the dimensions, of what we know today as the Confederate Flag (though it was never the national flag of the Confederacy) dates to late 1861 and the efforts of Gens. Johnston and Beauregard. I was square in shape, and became the battle flag for the Confederate Army of the Potomac. It was later incorporated into the corner the second and third national flags of the Confederacy. What we know today as the Confederate Flag (the rectangular version) was never the national flag of the Confederacy, or even the national battle standard of the Confederacy. I was only, from 1863 onwards, the battle standard of the Western Armies of the Confederacy.
Thomas Gallatin - 12/12/2002
From statements and actions in Washington recently, it almost seems as if there is an assumption that the American people are totally ignorant of their own history, and that therefore the politicians can make up whatever fiction suits their particular short term purposes, and the news media and the public will swallow the sound-bite baloney without a gulp.
Nobody will remember, they think, that Donald Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam in the 1980s, they'll just blindly trust that he knows what he's doing this time. And, no-one remembers that most Democrats in Congress voted AGAINST the first George Bush when he ASKED (without presuming he didn't need to) for authorization to go after Saddam WITH (not in defiance of) the United Nations, so let's just talk about how cool it will be see all our new toys in action again so soon after ridding Afghanistan of its warlords and drug dealers. No Republican voter in Mississippi, that great powerhouse of education and knowledge, will have a clue that more American combatants were killed (in the South U.S.) at the hands of the first Republican president than in almost every other American war combined. No hiker or fisherman will ever discover that Teddy Roosevelt fought to PROTECT the nation's forests from the raping and pillaging of lumber companies (and would be appalled at the Bush Adminstrations's sellout to those and many other corporate abusers of public tax dollars).
Every once in a while though, the politicians mess up: they open their mouths to spout ignorant platitudes and somebody DOES remember.
William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/12/2002
As usual, the Right comes screeching in with irrelvancies and indignation, rather than reason. To compare Bellesiles with Lott is downright playground stuff.
Whether our "conservatives" like it or not, the GOP was transformed by Nixon's Southern strategy, Reagan Democrats were recruited by exploiting the sentiments George Wallace found in the North in '64, and the initial impetus to the rise of the Christian Right came with the reaction to integration and the rise of Christian schools in the South--pro-life activism has been a "free rider" on that. Our current Neanderthal Chief Justice began his career as an arch-segregationist, and it could--and in the future will--be argued that the upsurge of right-wing judicial activism and the legal thinking behind it, including, by the way, gun-totin' mythology and property-rights absolutism, got their boost from reaction fueled by racism.
What's ironic about all this is that since the 1870s "conservative" legal thought has deconstructed old-fashioned notions of property, racial progress has been enhanced by the demands of mass consumer marketing by corporations led by GOP contributors, the GOP's suburban consituency would not exist without federal defense and transportation policy, and Lott himself has really been the Senator from the Pascagoula, MS shipyards; most Sunbelt conservatives in the suburbs, from Cobb County, GA to Orange County, CA would still be sitting on one-holers with a corncob in one hand and, well, something else in the other without the New Deal.
All of which is to suggest that conventional "conservative" and coded-racist sentiment--the Confederate Stars and Bars represent "heritage" only?--has been and is electorally manipulated false consciousness. Or to put it impolitely, farcical.
Watching Lott celebrate the career of the grinning corpsicle that is now Strom Thurmond, who hails from Edgefield, County, SC--perhaps one of the most violent districts of an Old South whose contemporary legacies are moss-backed white irrationality and defense of a Romance of what was gun-totin' thuggery (Strom's daddy shot an unarmed drunk to death) and the exaggerated honor of the inner city street, another irony!--anyway, watching Lott celebrate that awful reactionary betrayed Southern Republicanism for what it really is. Lott then was the caricature that caught it perfectly. Even more telling is the (as of now) utter failure of the GOP Senate majority to say a word; I thought real "conservative" stalwarts were men of courage and honor!
Regi Frection - 12/12/2002
I think Mr. Lott's words have clearly uncovered his thoughts. The remarks made on December 5th were inappropriate. I his intent was to recognize Mr. Thurmond's lengthy career and valuable contribution to this country, he would have focused on the positive things that Mr. Thurmond did. Instead he opened old wounds. He affirmed the injustices of the past and sanctioned Mr. Thurmond's immoral and devicive values expressed in 1948. Why praise that which does not reflect your own values?
I think Mr. Lott is out of the closet.
Matt Norman - 12/12/2002
Jeff Davis did have his citizenship restored during the Carter Admin. and Robert Penn Warren wrote a lengthy article in the New Yorker about it that was subsequently published as a book: "Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back"
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/12/2002
did Ralph catch you hugging your gun? Or is that remark just boilerplate perjorative? (warning: a rhetorical question).
Thomas Gunn - 12/12/2002
Ralph, Ralph, Ralph,
Now how did I know you'd have a different set of rules when the bull gettin' gored was to your liking? I just love your justification, all the things Lott's not and Bellesiles is. I guess some folks are just a little more equal than others, particularly when the PC is considered.
Make no mistake, Ralph, I'm not defending what Lott said, I don't even know what he meant for sure. The current focus is certainly on the 'dixicrats' desires for segregation, but that belies the underlying 'states rights platform' that was the basis.
I also see your point in judging the actions and beliefs of the past with our modern interpretations. Seems fair to me. Lots of past hero's end up not so heroic when viewed under the harsh spot of enlightend beliefs.
Actually though, Ralph I don't want to debate this with you b/c I don't have an emotional connection to Lott or his aledged beliefs. Like I said, I'm a cynic and think Lott should go, but then I thought Michael should go too silly me.
I also honestly believe that you do not see the similarities between what you claim was done to Bellesiles and what you are doing to Lott.
BTW the MLK quote was, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will and he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land." Moses may have been the inspiration.
Ralph E. Luker - 12/11/2002
Thomas, Thomas, Thomas,
How could I have known in advance and predicted that my gun-hugging admirers would say "Why the rush to judgment on Lott when you dragged your feet on Bellesiles?"?
Lott is an elected "leader" in an elected body of our representatives. They can remove him from leadership even with no stated reason. He doesn't have tenure as Majority Leader, as Republican Leader, or Minority Leader. He has a six year contract with the voters of Mississippi.
At most, Bellesiles's offenses were said to have extended over six or seven years. Lott's offenses began with his service as administrative assistant to Mississippi Congressman William Colmer in 1968. His offenses are imprudent political behavior and remarks over a period of 34 years. Imprudent because this administration does not want the nation to believe that behind the face of an elephant is a dixiecrat jackass.
Richard Henry Morgan - 12/11/2002
Read the article, Thomas, and Ralph attributes a remark MLK Jr. Isn't that perilous venture?
james dickinson - 12/11/2002
OK, let's shed some light on the "accuracy of the reports on Lott." From the Wall Street Journal article by James Taranto for 12-11-02, "Lott's claim that he merely made a 'poor choice of words' is highly implausible. . . . both the New York Times and the Washington Post note that in November 1980 the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger reported that Lott said nearly the same thing at a campaign rally for Ronald Reagan, at which Thurmond also appeared. 'You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today,' Lott declared in 1980" "In National Review Online, the New York Post's Robert George notes . . . 'In a 1984 speech to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Biloxi, Miss., Lott declared: 'The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican platform.' In 1998, it was revealed that Lott had spoken several times to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a 'racialist,' neo-white supremacist organization. . . . he had written a regular column for the CCC's 'Citizen's Informer' publication over the course of several years. . . . Lott's uncle popped up to say that his nephew well knew what the CCC was about. Just ten years ago, Lott praised the CCC's philosophy. A year before all this came to light, Lott hosted the CCC in Washington."
Let "his Congressional peers . . . review his fate." Then, (politically, and not like those who opposed the anti-lynching bill in 1948) hang him.
Thomas Gunn - 12/11/2002
I don't think we need wait on the process here Ralph. We can dispense with Lott right here right now, he's not Michael Bellesiles after all.
BTW good picture!
I think Lott needs to go too (I'm a cynic) but I don't want to rush to judgement, or filet him in the press. There is a procedure to be followed. His Congressional peers need to review his fate. Note that I am unaware of the accuracy of the reports on Lott. I don't KNOW what he meant when he said what he said. These questions need to be addressed but is this the proper forum for it? Rest assured the experts will arrive at an equitable finding in a few years, and barring that the voters will speak at his next election cycle.
Lewis Bateman - 12/11/2002
Senate Republicans must replace Lott as majority leader. He is an embarrassment. Even Strom Thurmond might agree as he has reinvented himself. In fact, one third of Thurmond's staff was African American and some 40 percent of the African American mayors in SC endorsed him for re-election.
Bush needs to take care of the Lott problem or his effort to appeal to minorities will rightly be seen as a sham.
Stu Burns - 12/10/2002
Perhaps I am reading this interview wrong, but wasn't Davis' citizenship reinstated in the 1970s?