The Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) scandal did more than expose the racist underbelly of the former Senate majority leader and the Republican Party. It also showed the growing importance of the struggle for equality and against racism in the political life of the nation. It also showed that we still need a strong viable and active civil rights movement to fight racism in all its continued manifestations.
Lott publicly longed for the days when another racist senator – Strom Thurmond – ran for president on a vicious segregationist platform in 1948. He made these statements at Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration.
It was significant that no one defended Lott’s “right” to make his statement, which was a tribute to the system of Jim Crow and racial segregation. There is an anti-racist consensus in the country that all public figures had better respect and dare not openly defy.
In the public sphere these views are fortunately no longer considered respectable. That kind of racism is on the defensive in the public life of the nation – thanks to the efforts of the civil rights movement. As the struggle against racism continues, openly racist public figures will eventually become extinct.
However, the hidden racism – the racism by innuendo, through scapegoating and the use of demagoguery – continues to poison the atmosphere.
The main concern of the Republicans who spoke out against Lott was not that racism is wrong and should be condemned, it was that his statements would hurt the GOP’s ability to push its agenda. The racist underbelly is still there and the new GOP Senate Majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has the same record as Lott on civil rights.
In fact the policies of the Bush White House, the Republican majority in the House, Senate and Supreme Court are racist to the core. Their policies are sugar coated with tokenism, democratic sounding phases like school choice, reverse discrimination and fake talk about wanting a color-blind nation, but their ideological essence is a defense of the racist status quo.
Everything the Bush administration is presently pushing – the war in Iraq, “Leave no child behind” education bill, their stand on affirmative action, the repressive PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security, the death penalty, their position on the environment, their opposition to immigrant rights, their stand against abortion rights, on public housing, against the homeless and heatless – will all hit non-white communities with a devastating impact.
So will the social services cuts they are proposing in order to carry out war and implement their new massive tax giveaway to the rich, their opposition to unions, their persecution of immigrants, their refusal to help the unemployed, the impoverished former welfare families, the victims of hunger, the elderly and those enslaved in the nation’s dungeon like prisons; all of this will have horrible consequences in the communities of color. Their new foreign policy doctrine of world conquest cannot be carried out without the “poverty draft,” and eventually the reintroduction of the conscription. None of this can be defeated without a fight against racism.
Former CPUSA Chairman Henry Winston used to say racism is the Achilles heel of U.S. imperialism. There cannot be an effective peace movement in the U.S. that does not fight racism, too.
Global capitalist profits thrive on the super exploitation and suffering of people of color in a special way. Nearly half of the world’s population, mainly non-white peoples, lives on less than $2.00 a day; 40,000 children die every day from preventable disease for lack of access to needed medicines. These and other horrible conditions of life are rooted in the system of global capitalism.
Racism plays a critical role in rationalizing the exploitation and oppression that has brought about mass poverty and deprivation to the world’s peoples of color. Imperialist wars are not possible without the use of racism to cover up and rationalize the heinous war crimes. You cannot fight for world peace and against capitalist globalization-imperialism without fighting racism.
We are living through a very dangerous period. The Bush administration and the Republicans in the Congress are pushing our nation towards constant war. This administration is using McCarthyite and COINTELPRO methods to promote a witch-hunt like repression, especially towards Arab and Muslim peoples. They want to silence all dissent in the name of fighting terrorism. An important part of this is an acceleration of the Bush administration’s racist offensive. That new offensive is directly linked to the push towards war, the terrible state of the economy.
In the name of Homeland Security, under the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has a long history of opposition to racial justice, the racist policies of Bush administration have been escalated.
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond described the situation well when he told the 2002 NAACP convention, “We must understand that when wars are fought to save democracy, the first casualty is usually democracy itself.”
While Lott and the far-right Bush administration want to take us back to a time of legal segregation, our population is moving in another direction. We live in a nation of 281 million people that includes almost every race and nationality and ethnic group on the planet. The U.S. is perhaps the most multiracial country in the world, especially our working class. This is a beautiful feature of the United States. While the right wing considers this a weakness, it is in fact one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
Racial minorities live and work in every region, in every state and in every major city. They are majority working class and generally occupy the lowest paying, most exploitative jobs. Among the national minorities there are large numbers of immigrant workers, the largest groups coming from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
The total non-white population numbers about 81 million today. By the year 2005, the Latino population is projected to reach over 38.1 million. African Americans are projected to reach over 37.6 million. Asian and Pacific islanders will reach 13.2 million. American Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts will reach over 2.6 million. Sometime around the middle of this century the U.S. will become a majority non-white nation. This is not a reason for racial division, conflict and chaos, it a reason to fight to end racism.
Lott – who was, no doubt, drunk with the success of the Republican’s recent electoral showing – did not misspeak, as he claimed, but spoke from the heart at Thurmond’s farewell party. Most importantly and despite all denials, what he said was not out of step with the basic policies of his party and the current occupant in the White House. Lott thought he could utter those infamous words and get away with it. But, he created big problems for the entire Republican, right-wing establishment.
The question is why was this whole situation such a big problem for the Republicans?
First of all, the Republicans cannot maintain their dominant position in the Congress and in most State and local offices if the true racist nature of their program and many of their top personalities are exposed. They go to great lengths to disguise the racism because if it is exposed, they cannot win.
The current number of Blacks and Latinos in top positions in the administration is part of perpetuating the myth that they are anti-racist. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are part of an administration with a racist program. They are not fighting that program, they are advocating it. In light of Lott it should be clear to the doubters that Harry Belafonte was right in his criticism of Powell.
In this administration Black and Brown faces in high places are just a façade used to hide racism.
Despite the Lott debacle, they have not reversed their positions on any of these issues. They have reintroduced the nomination of a known racist – Charles Pickering – for the 5th Circuit Court.
Their world outlook does not embrace the idea of racial and class equality. Their policies are based on defense of capitalism above everything else. And racism is part of the lifeblood of U.S. capitalism. For them, racial and class justice are obstacles to capitalist maximum profits and do not compute. Their claims of morality and Christian piety ring hollow in light of their real policies on race.
In November 2004 Bush faces a big re-election battle – a battle he lost last time by 500,000 votes and stole in Florida, with the Supreme Court help, largely by racism.
The problem the Republicans have is that they can’t hold their electoral coalition together if it is tainted with open racism. They need every vote they can get. The reality is that the solid extreme ultra-right ideological block of voters they have is not enough to win the presidency. Many of the mostly white voters whose votes they must win across the country will not vote Republican if the GOP is tainted with open racism. These voters like the conservative economic policies, but do not want to be stained with the political stigma of supporting racism. The Republicans must therefore appear to be for racial inclusion.
Those Republicans who don’t agree with Lott and promoting the racist status quo should break ranks or go down in defeat. Those Democrats who equivocate on equality deserve rejection as well. The issues of war, racism and the economy could defeat the Republicans in 2004.
The Democrats better take heed, because if the Democratic Leadership Council line prevails in 2004, and they do not offer an alternative on race, war and the economy, they will not win back the Congress and the White House.
Those independents that know what’s at stake should reject sectarian tactics in the coming election and join the broad left and center forces fighting to prevent racism and war from consuming our nation and the world. The Republicans can be defeated.
Immediately, the Pickering nomination and any others of his political stripe should be defeated, and Lott should be censured and removed from the Senate alltogether. A new movement is developing in support of affirmative action, which is now before the Supreme Court. All those who believe in racial equality, justice and reparations need to become active on this issue.
In order to hold on to the White House and their majority position in Congress the Republicans must come off as supporting racial equality. If they come off as openly racist, they will face even a greater number of anti-racist voters. If they are exposed for what they are Black, Latino, Asian and Native American voters along with great numbers of white voters will be even more motivated to vote against them. That would spell sure defeat.
In short, racism threatened the whole Republican program, because there is a lot of concern in the country about racial justice.
As we approach the holiday of the great Rev. Martin Luther King, we must remember that the struggle for peace and justice – a struggle King led – is far from being over. We must still struggle for a brighter, more peaceful future. The economic racism that is holding back our nation’s development must be done away with. We are not going back to Jim Crow/Apartheid. U.S. population trends are moving in the other direction.
The civil rights movement is not passé, it’s the views of Lott that are. To defeat them we need a stronger, more active, multi-racial, civil rights and peace movement today. To bring that brighter day, organized labor has a major role to play in helping to build greater unity of Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White in the struggle for peace, equality and justice.
That’s the response to the Trent Lott scandal that we need to have.
Jarvis Tyner is the executive vice chairman of the Communist Party
and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org