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Arrogant Dementia

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan with President George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (left) in the Capitol Rotunda in May 2002. US Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, expressed regret last week that Strom Thurmond did not win the presidency in 1948 when he was the candidate of the segregationist States Rights Party. Thurmond, then the governor of South Carolina, challenged incumbent Democrat Harry S. Truman on a program of Jim Crow racism and opposition to any concessions to the oppressed black population of the South.


Lott made the segregationist remarks at a 100th birthday party for Thurmond, who is retiring from the Senate after 46 years. Lott noted that Mississippi was one of four states carried by Thurmond in 1948. “I want to say this about my state,” he declared. “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.” (White House photo)

Strange things can happen to the brain. In nursing homes where there are seniors suffering from dementia, black nurses often get hit verbally and physically. There are white elderly men and women who can no longer keep their racism under wraps. It’s there – ingrained and inculcated by years of steady cultural propaganda – now free to come out since the editing networks are scrambled. Vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s are the culprits in a nursing home – in the Republican senate it’s a curious breed of arrogance.

Trent’s “misspeak” was not unlike Oscar Wilde’s famous slip during his trial in which he said he never kissed a certain young man because the young man wasn’t handsome enough. Even Wilde’s reputation for stunning witticisms did not rescue him from the drilling accusations that there was more than an ounce of cruel truth to what he said. He was sure he could get away with saying anything since the society rewarded him for the very talent of being able to say anything as long as it had acid, humor and truth.

Trent Lott’s comment had two of the three. (And lest we forget, Trent had a few things to say from the floor of the senate about “homasexuals ” – specifically that they were the same as kleptomaniacs and alcoholics.) Trent was sure he could get away with saying what he said because, like Wilde, the society he came from rewarded him for feeling and voting from that posture. The 2000 election displayed the same racism that Trent was dementedly comfortable with at Strom’s bash. The basic complaint that election 2000 exposed and that Trent pined about was that black American citizens should not decide the future of this country.

“All the problems” that Trent alluded to in his tribute to his mentor was dealt with cunningly in election 2000. The strategy, it seems, was that Black votes should not count or be counted - they need to be blocked – as voters, African Americans need to be discouraged, frightened, misinformed or purged. Indignant Jeb and sincere George are tied to Trent’s words in their gestures and in the very fact of their administrations. The tide against Trent is linked to what we all know and seem resigned to in the present administration. Like a parrot that repeats things overheard, Trent blurted out the truth of the Bush administration, Colin and Condi notwithstanding. Election 2000 made clear that Black votes would not be allowed to determine the future of America.


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At the inauguration for this misbegotten regime signs of protest read in legion numbers “Bush = Racism.” Trent could read that sign and not mind that equation. He just couldn’t help himself form sharing it in a public forum. The backroom – the unconscious slipped out. The Bush-Lott machinery believes that the Democrats force the voting preferences of Black America on to the rest of the country. The lack of outrage at election 2000 and the midterm elections allowed Trent to slip deeper into arrogant dementia. Trent had a spasm of a flashback – a sharp short-term memory loss that gave him permission to wax rhapsodic about a long-term memory of a problem-free America. He also must have reckoned that “if George could choose Henry Kissinger to investigate 9/11 and do it with a straight face I can maybe let this old virus creep out and there’s nothing more than a little closed circuit TV camera here. And anyhow, no one really listens and what are they going do if they hear it. If anyone is thinking about being critical….well - that’s all they ever do is just think about it.”

Trent’s episode of arrogant dementia was not dissimilar to George’s comment shortly after the Florida question was officially and criminally settled – “Things would be a heck of a lot easier if this were a dictatorship – as long as I’m the dictator.” That’s a fine example of arrogant dementia. And nothing happened to him, Trent must have thought. “He says lots of kooky tell-it-like-it-is stuff and all that happens to him is his poll numbers go up.”

What Trent found out and what many of us are consoled to learn is that someone is listening. Kissinger, Lott and Law resigned – all three victims of arrogant dementia. We the people have been resigned to this condition occupying the marble elegance of Washington. We are suddenly feeling the power of not being resigned anymore and as we refuse to be resigned it may be that the leaders that need to resign, will.

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis is a playwright.  Archive of his Common Dreams' articles here. His personal website here.

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