The Thurmondification of American Politics
Printer Friendly Version
E-Mail This Article
Published on Sunday, December 15, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
The Thurmondification of American Politics
by Tony Palmeri
Senator Trent Lott is under fire for suggesting,
at a birthday bash for his mentor Strom Thurmond, that America would have been
better off had Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat campaign for the presidency been victorious.
Lott's comments have been met with the typical round of sanctimonious and self-righteous
posturing from establishment pundits and hypocritical politicians--Democrat
and Republican--expressing dismay at the Senator's insensitivity and shock at
how anyone today could find anything appealing about Thurmond's segregationist
campaign of 1948.
The sanctimonious posturing got me to thinking:
what if Thurmond had won in 1948? What kinds of policies might
have been followed by the federal government since that time? Maybe the following?:
- During the late 1940s and into the mid 1950s, the Federal Government
would have ruined scores of lives and reputations in the name of fighting
communist infiltration of America's sacred institutions. An "Un-American
Activities Committee" would have been formed to try suspected traitors
- The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover would have been allowed to ride roughshod over
the Constitution, also in the name of fighting communism. In the 1970s
it would have been revealed that Hoover's "Counterintelligence Program"
(COINTELPRO), designed "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or
otherwise neutralize" those the Bureau considered "enemies of the
State," frequently targeted innocent citizens whose only crime was to
demand the right to vote or to have a seat at a lunch counter.
- Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy all would
have been assassinated at the high point of the Civil Rights Movement.
- By 2001 Human Rights Groups would report that 111 nations have abolished
the death penalty completely in law or in practice. Yet in that same same
year Amnesty International would report that 90 per cent of all known executions
took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
- In 1968 the Kerner Commission, put in place by President Johnson
after the violent 1967 summer of race riots, would conclude that America had
become two nations, one White and one Black, separate and unequal. In 1998
the Kerner Commission would reconvene and conclude that the problems found
in 1968 had in many ways become worse.
- The Vietnam War would be fought disproportionately by children of
the lower middle class and poor.
- The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, started in 1932 and involving
the federal government's intentional use of black men as guinea pigs, would
continue on until 1972. The government would not apologize for the experiments
until 1997. In 1993 it would be revealed that during the Cold War government
sanctioned experimenters had fed "radioactive oatmeal" to mentally
retarded children in Massachusetts and commited a host of other atrocities.
- The government would have spent trillions of dollars building the
National Security State from 1948-1990, at the same time lamenting the growth
of "entitlement" spending for the population at large.
- As a result of federal laws, union organizing would have been made
more difficult. By 2003 only about 15% of the private sector workforce would
- Aid to Familes With Dependent Children (AFDC), the New Deal commitment
to the poor, would have been repealed.
- In the name of smaller government, a "deregulation" era
would have begun and culminate in taxpayers bailing out the Savings and Loan
Industry. Gradual weakening of supposed corporate watchdogs like the Securities
and Exchange Commission would have led to a situation in which Enron, WorldComm,
and others could cavalierly cook their books for years while the Congress
in a bipartisan way took their cash and looked the other way as pensions were
squandered and CEOs gave themselves golden parachutes.
- By the late 1990s it would be revealed that the U.S. incarcerated
a greater proportion of its population than any countries except Russia and
Rwanda. By the year 2002 we'd have almost 2 million people in prison or jail,
reflecting an incareration rate of about 650 per 100,000 residents, double
the rate of 10 years before. Human rights organizations would show that approximately
one in every 117 males in the United States was in prison.
- The federal government's suggestion as to what to do about contuing
racism in America would be to have a "dialogue" on it.
- By the year 2000, the percentage of black elected officials among
all elected officials would be only 1.7 percent.
- College campuses like the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh would
have had more African American students in 1968 (114 enrolled) than they do
in 2002 (99 enrolled).
- Much of America by 2003 would remain stubbornly resistant to racial integration.
In 2001 the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research
at the State University of New York in Albany would analyze the 2000 census
and conclude that "the average white person in metropolitan America lives
in a neighborhood that is 80% white and only 7% black." A "typical
black individual," they would find, "lives in a neighborhood that
is only 33% white and as much as 51% black. Residential segregation remains
high in cities and suburbs around the country."
So to Trent Lott, sanctimonious pundits, and hypocritical politicians: what
exactly is it that Strom Thurmond would have done in 1948 that did not actually
happen in America since then? The evidence presented above suggests to me that
we have surely had a Thurmondification of politics since 1948. Yes, we have
had a Lott of that, aided and abetted every step of the way by
some of the Senator's most vocal critics.
Tony Palmeri teaches in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org