Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
Successful politicians may have to speak with discretion, but Trent Lott meets a new standard. Lott, a former Mississippi senator, befriended white supremacist groups, condemned homosexuality, and praised segregationist policies, all while holding office. But Trent Lott doesn’t hate people who aren’t white, heterosexual, and Christian; he’s just morally opposed to them.
Lott was born on October 9, 1941, in Grenada, Mississippi and raised by working class parents with “no-nonsense values.” He attended the University of Mississippi, serving as the president of Sigma Nu fraternity and asserting his robust heterosexuality as a varsity cheerleader.
It was during this time that Lott formed his down-home ideals. In the early 1960s, when northeast chapters of Sigma Nu considered admitting black members, Lott passionately led the fight against integration. As president of the Ole Miss intra-fraternity council, he was successful in keeping the organization “streamlined.”
Lott graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and went on to earn his law degree in 1967. After briefly working at a law firm in his home state, he took a job on Capitol Hill, becoming administrative assistant to Dixiecrat Congressman Bill Colmer. He remained there until the congressman’s retirement in 1972.
Lott jumped straight to taking his boss’ job. He ran as a Republican endorsed by Colmer, and Lott was elected to represent Mississippi’s fifth district. He went on to be reelected seven more times, and served as minority whip for his last four terms.
In 1988, Lott continued his journey to the top of the food chain, becoming a member of the U.S. Senate and eventually Senate majority leader. But he never forgot to fight the good fight.
Most notably, he led the battle to impeach President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but Lott maintained an equally ardent stance on other hot-button issues. His stellar record includes opposition to: (1) safe-sex education; (2) factoring global warming into federal project planning; and (3) extending federal hate crime law to include sexual orientation. Initiatives he has voted in support of include: limiting death penalty appeals, banning federally funded affirmative action hiring, and loosening restrictions on cell phone wiretapping.
A master of the Washington game, Lott’s key campaign contributors were tobacco companies, lawyers, and lobbyists. But despite his powerful friends, Lott has not been untouched by controversy.
On December 5, 2002, at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, Lott commended Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign, saying, “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.”
The only catch is that Strom Thurmond ran for president on a segregationist platform. Lott quickly denied that his comments were race-related and issued an apology, but the damage had already been done. Even a painfully awkward appearance on BET could not resurrect the Senator’s bruised public image.
As a result, Lott stepped down from his position as majority leader. He did, however, continue to serve in the Senate until December 2007, when he mysteriously gave up his seat with five years still left in his term. Some speculate Lott’s resignation was in response to a new bill which would have forced him to wait two years to begin lobbying.
Lott is now living on the straight and narrow. He currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife Patricia, where he is working as a lobbyist and learning how to be a “man of the people.”
In His Own Words
“Racial discrimination does not always violate public policy.”
–on Bob Jones University’s former ban on interracial dating (1981)
“Look at the costs involved in the Martin Luther King holiday and that fact that we have not done it for a lot of other people that were more deserving. I just think it was basically wrong.”
–on voting against making MLK Day a national holiday (1984)
“The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let’s take it in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries!”
–addressing the Council of Concerned Citizens; a white supremacist organization (1992)
‘‘Others have a sex addiction or are kleptomaniacs. There are all kinds of problems and addictions and difficulties and experiences of this kind that are wrong.”
–on Homosexuality (1998)
“I accept the fact that I made a terrible mistake…I’ve apologized for it. I’ve asked for forgiveness, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
–On his comments about Strom Thurmond (2002)
“Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.”
–on the Iraq War (2006)
“Now one of the ways I keep those goats in the fence is I electrified them. Once they got popped a couple of times they quit trying to jump it.”
–an analogy on border control (2007)
“I like being a happy warrior.”
The Real Distractions of Trent Lott by Kendall Clark [Counter Punch]
Trent Lott’s “Uptown Klan” by John Nichols [The Nation]
The Revival of Trent Lott by Massimo Calabresi [Time]
Laura Perez is the Publications Intern at Campus Progress and a senior at Howard University.