Trent Lott’s Missed Opportunities
begin with a confession. Mississippi’s Trent Lott was never one
of my favorite politicians – not that I have many of those, anyway.
He’s no rocket scientist, but he is a Republican and a Southerner,
and occasionally, resentment about matters pertaining to his state
being dictated from outside emerges. So none of the current events
really surprise me that much.
Lott said, referring to the 1948 States’ Rights Party, was, "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."
possible response is that in today’s era of political correctness,
saying something like that was just plain dumb – even if it was
at a birthday gathering honoring the now 100-year-old, wheelchair-bound
Strom. Lott said it on national television, no less. He should have
known how it would be taken, and that it would probably derail his
to say, it’s been another high-tech lynching of an uppity Southerner.
Interestingly, most of the lynching has come not from Democrats
but from his fellow Republicans – very likely due to the shrill
neocon element that now dominates the Republican Party.
tacit cultural Marxism now prevails in our political discourse,
however, and the neocons have reveled in it. Cultural Marxism divides
the world into oppressors and victims. It also divides the political
establishment, at least by implication, into those who help the
victims (the good guys, i.e., Democrats) and those who defend the
oppressors (the bad guys, i.e., Republicans). The former can do
no wrong; the latter are suspect no matter what they do. This explains
how Robert Byrd, a Democrat, could utter the n-word three times,
not to mention other aspects of his – shall we say – shady past,
and you don’t hear a peep, while Lott, a Republican (from the South,
no less!), says something comparatively tame, and might as well
take early retirement.
explains, too, why Republicans excel at just three things: making
promises they don’t keep, expanding the central government, and
throwing their own to the wolves. On the collectivist-individualist
spectrum, the Democrats know where they stand. Most Republicans
(except for super-elites like the Bushies) are clueless. This is
why the country continued drifting leftward during the 1990s even
though Republicans controlled Congress. And why the drift deeper
into statism continues with Republicans controlling Congress and
the White House. And why the neocons are now worse than the affirmative
action hires when it comes to standing in line behind whatever is
politically correct (or sometimes just convenient).
in the process of weaseling and uttering mealy-mouthed apologies,
has passed on what might have been a good opportunity to educate
anyone willing to listen on just what "states’ rights" was about
– beginning with where the concept originated. No, it wasn’t invented
out of thin air by Confederates.
to collectivists and affirmative action hires, "states’ rights"
was not about race. It was written into the late, lamented Bill
of Rights – specifically, the Tenth Amendment, which reads: "The
powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively,
or to the people." A dead letter, of course – but surely of historical
interest for anyone who wants to understand the Framers’ unique
contribution to Western political thought: federalism as originally
conceived. The federal government was the creation of the states;
its purpose was to serve the states. The locus of political control
was to be the states.
was thus to be a decentralized system of government – not the centralized
behemoth the US government gradually became when Americans started
ignoring Thomas Jefferson’s warning about vigilance being the price
of liberty. Today, of course, the term federal government is a misnomer.
The term should be central government – because centralist-minded
politicians stopped heeding the Tenth Amendment long ago. Arguably
it was thrown out when Lincoln forcibly prevented a group of states
from seceding and forming a new republic. A federalist system is,
by definition, a voluntary association. In a voluntary association,
one or more of those associating can pull out. A right of secession
is therefore implied in our founding principles, as a check on centralizing
tendencies the Framers rightly feared.
Lott, of course, has said nothing even close to this. He wouldn’t.
Odds are, he couldn’t articulate it. An explanation of federalism
as our Framers originally conceived it is way too "intellectual"
for the average Republican today. Nor could the boobs now populating
newsrooms and television studios grasp it.
has not even enumerated the "problems" that might well have been
encompassed by his remark. It is true that the "Dixiecrats" led
by Strom Thurmond were segregationists, but in 1948, over 95 percent
of whites believed in segregation and over 90 percent of blacks
believed in segregation. You could say (as Tibor
Machan recently did) that because forced segregation was morally
wrong, the Dixiecrat movement was objectionable in principle and
Lott disqualifies himself for Senate leadership by even associating
himself with it. But in 1948, how much segregation really was forced?
The laws were on the books, but few people, black or white, rejected
had it not been simply beyond him, could have illustrated "all those
problems" easily, just by comparing the world of 1948 to the world
of today. He might have mentioned, for example, that people back
then felt safe leaving their houses and cars unlocked at night –
even in big cities. He might have observed how big city schools
didn’t have metal detectors on their entrances, or bans on gang
insignia out of desperate efforts to reduce the threat of deadly
violence. He might have gone on to say that in 1948 teachers in
government schools didn’t expend more classroom effort maintaining
order than teaching, or attend national conferences devoted to discipline.
Lott might have noted how mind-altering drugs (whether legal like
Ritalin or illegal like LSD and speed) were unknown in 1948. He
might have quietly commented that teen pregnancies were rare even
in "at risk" groups. When out-of-wedlock births did occur, there
was a definite stigma attached. Blacks may have lived in segregated
conditions, but their families stayed together.
it is common knowledge that something like 70 percent of black babies
are born out of wedlock. The percentage of white babies born out
of wedlock has been increasing since the 1960s. It now exceeds the
percentage of black babies born out of wedlock back in 1948.
don’t blame the civil rights movement for this. Causality in society
is never that simple. There were a lot of other factors involved
– among them the undermining of Christian morality through the sex
education introduced in the 1950s following the Kinsey Report. I
believe the covert warfare that philosophical materialists had been
waging against Christianity for several decades already, which began
to bear fruit very slowly in the 1950s and then exploded in our
faces beginning in the 1960s has hurt the country far more than
the civil rights movement. Raising such matters shows how the simplistic
reduction of all such discussions to race, segregation, slavery,
etc., gets us nowhere.
the way, many colleges and universities now have race-specific dorms.
They have race-specific academic programs. Walk into a campus cafeteria.
Whites sit with whites, blacks sit with blacks, Hispanics with Hispanics,
Asians with Asians, and so on. This is applauded by the university
affirmative action hires. Identity-politics is "in."
the real segregationists please stand up?
I think people harp about race, segregation, and slavery because
their heads are too empty to grasp anything important – such as
whether we are going to look at such issues as states’ rights in
the light of the country’s founding document and its philosophical
antecedents. The latter would suggest that problems involving racial
and ethnic diversity be addressed at the local level – not in bureaucracies
hundreds of miles away. Moreover, important if mostly unread books
such as Thomas Sowell’s Preferential
Policies: An International Perspective document in great
detail how policies giving preferences to some groups at the expense
of others inflame tensions between the groups getting government
freebies and the "untouchables" refused them.
real shame is that no one in the original civil rights movement
had the insight and patience to work out a strategy for ending coercive
segregation and promoting the interests of minorities in ways that
(1) preserved individual liberty by not compromising basic property
rights and freedom of association, and (2) protected the best interests
of the minorities themselves, which have surely not been served
by the destruction of the black family. Segregation would have fallen
on its own. Instead, we ended up with an arrangement in which politicians,
federal judges, and bureaucrats dominate education, business, and
even significant aspects of what is left of family life – and amidst
it all the neo-segregationist mindset of identity-politics remains!
Everyone who works for a living – black, white, red or yellow; employer,
employee and independent contractor – subsidizes this insane system
with coercive taxation.
I don’t expect Trent Lott or any other Republican to say this. What
Lott actually said, now that I think of it, was a good bit safer.
He will continue groveling, doing what South Carolina columnist
Bob Whitaker calls the Southern Crawl, required of all "respectable
conservatives." His fellow Republicans will continue trying to out-sensitive
the worst of the sensitivity police.
guess there’s just too much rocket science here for today’s political
establishment, and like I said at the outset, Lott is no rocket
scientist. Nor are the vast majority of his colleagues.
Yates [send him mail]
has a PhD in philosophy and is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow
at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and numerous articles and reviews. His new book In
Defense of Logic will be completed shortly. He is beginning work
on a new book to be entitled The Twilight of Materialism,
and is also at work on a sci-fi novel tentatively entitled Skywatcher’s
© 2002 LewRockwell.com