THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Stanley Crouch
Title: Stanley Crouch …The Real Deal
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And I’ll probably do best in introducing today’s guest by borrowing from a “New Yorker” profile once again of this “Professor of Connection”, as it calls him, noting that “few cultural critics have a vision as eclectic and intriguing”.
The profile goes on: “Stanley Crouch hardly lacks for venues these days to convey what he variously calls “the real deal”, or “what’s actually going down”, or how it really is. In his “Daily News” column and frequent appearances on “Charlie Rose” and on National Public Radio, in essays for the “Los Angeles Times”, “Time” and “The New Republic” Crouch has fashioned for himself a place as one of America’s most outspoken and controversial critics”.
And the “New Yorker” concludes that “after years as an actor, poet, playwright, jazz drummer, professor and essayist, Crouch is a rare figure in a narrowly specialized, intellectual world. He’s an independent thinker, unconstrained by affiliation with any camp, creed or organization”.
And so what I want to talk about with Stanley Crouch today is the way this generally Conservative columnist took out so vigorously in the post-impeach-and -convict-Bill Clinton days against generally Conservative Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. That seemed a little bit of a switch.
CROUCH: Well, actually not. Because I don’t really … as I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself, you know, in any wing … the Right or the Left. In fact, in one … in that “New Yorker” profile, I think I said to the guy, that one or some profile … I said “I consider myself part of the Freeway. That is I don’t particularly care whether the idea comes from the Right or the Left or the Center. If it seems to me to have enough substance to enrich the quality of our lives as Americans. So I don’t particularly care if somebody’s a Democrat or Republican or, you know, whatever their category is. Now in the case of Trent Lott …
HEFFNER: You’re not worried about his enriching our lives?
CROUCH: No. No. In fact I’m highly suspicious of this man and I find him a great danger to his party because I think he’s going to cause them an enormous amount of embarrassment within a month or two or three. That is, his involvement of over ten years with the Council of Conservative Citizens. Which is considered the descendent of the Ku Klux Klan by a number of people. And has published remarkably pro-White, White Supremacist materials. And has presented him as a speaker on a number of occasions. Have gotten … has gotten endorsements from Lott. One of which he gave in 1992 when speaking to them in Greenwood, Mississippi and saying the people in this room have the right principles, the right philosophy, they’re going in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries. Now, who are the people in the Council of Conservative Citizens? Well, one of the main guys is a guy who organized, was one of the original organizers of the White Citizens Council. There are people in there who write articles talking about … in the “Citizens Informer”, their publications … saying that civilization is purely … Western civilization is purely the result of White invention and that its greatest danger is Black destruction and that the roles that have been played by Black and White people in Western civilization are largely set in those two opposing camps. They project a great deal of xenophobic stuff that’s appeared that the White race will be absorbed and America will be turned into, as they say, a “brown glob”. They have elevated Byron de la Beckwith, the assassin of Medgar Evers to a position of a martyr who has been, who was the victim of a hit job by the media. They have celebrated Lester Maddox, you know …
HEFFNER: I know.
CROUCH: … Mr.-I’ll-Get-Your-Black-Tail-Out-Of-My-Restaurant-With-An-Ax-Handle-Lester-Maddox … and so these guys … these are not the kinds of people with whom a Senate Majority Leader should be associated. Nor should they be posing in his office in a photograph with him smiling and knowing them, right. And Gordon Lee Baum, who’s the CEO of the organization, refuses to say that … whether or not Lott is a member of this organization. But his aunt has said of Lott, who claims to have not known what this organization is about, that “of course, he always knew what the philosophy was … being against Blacks. He learned it if no other way from my husband”. So, this was said by his aunt to Judy Pasternak in the “LA Times”. So I think that Lott … that Lott is a guy who represents the way in which the Dixicrats, who became Republicrats have taken over leadership positions in the Republican Party and now represent a great threat to the respect that the party will have. Because I think, you know …
HEFFNER: You know, it’s interesting … you talk about the Dixicrats … you say the Dixicrats were taken over … a part of the Republican Party. How so? How can it be? How could the Republicans permit this to happen? How has it been that you’re one of the few people, one of the few journalists that have taken out after Trent Lott as you have?
CROUCH: Well, my feeling … I was telling one of these women producers for one of these news shows on one of the big three networks, I guess now with cable maybe they’re the little three who still can. She was asking me what the big deal was. I said, I’ll tell you what … I said if you really want to zero in on why this story is important pretend Trent Lott was a Black guy and he was either J. C. Watts or John Conyers and instead of being a Congressman, he was a Senator and a Senate Majority Leader. And he had been associated for ten years with a pro-Black, essentially anti-White junior Nation of Islam type organization in which teachings such as White people were invented by a mad scientist 6,000 years ago were the scientific coin of the intellectual realm, as it were. I said I don’t think you’d have very much difficulty figuring out what to do with this story.
HEFFNER: And her response?
CROUCH: She says, “well, I …”, she got kind of flustered then. I said, “You and I are in this business, you know what would happen. If that would happen everybody, either Gephardt or Armey, DeLay, all of those people would constantly be button-holed by the press, “What do you think about this? Does this represent the attitude of the Party? Why is the Party not more outraged? Now that this guy has lied about this and it’s clear that he always knew what these people were, what are you going to do about it? What do you assume that this will do to the racial image of your Party?” All those kind of questions would be asked. I mean … you know, it would be Hymietown all over again, if you will. And I think it should be. And I think it should be. If this were a reversed situation and it were a Black guy and the Black guy was meeting with the Nation of Islam type organization and had been supportive of them and given them endorsements, etc. I think that those kinds of questions, you know, it would be right for those kinds of questions to be raised.
HEFFNER: In fact, in one of your recent columns you say, “part of this is a function of Blacks who did not stand up and indicate that they were willing to be counted, when Farrakan and others spoke as they did”.
CROUCH: Well, that is one of the things I believe. I quite seriously believe that had, had these people not … had not so many of them submitted to the Million Man March and been photographed on the steps with Farrakan and the … his bodyguards … the Fruit of Islam, the FOI…
HEFFNER: You’re talking about Black leadership now…
CROUCH: Yeah. I’m saying well all of those people who were in the Congressional Black Caucus, who were up there in Washington with Louis Farrakan … for them to stand on the soapbox to begin screaming bloody murder about Trent Lott, I think would lead to many gleeful moments for White people in the press who are probably tired of the sanctimoniousness that they get from everybody, Black or White. And they’ll say, “Aha, I understand exactly what you mean, Congressman Rangel. Is that … but is that you standing up there at the Million Man March smiling? What do you think of that? Do you think that there’s any parallel at all between Louis Farrakan and the Council of Conservative Citizens? What do you say?” You know, so, what are these guys to say? I don’t think they can exactly … I don’t think they could have made the move that way. But something else is happening now, which is that a House Resolution 35 is moving. It was put together by two Congressmen in the beginning of February. And it’s a condemnation of the CCC and it’s now in the Judiciary Committee. Henry Hyde told “New York Observer” writer Ron Rosenbaum that he would support it. And Bob Barr…
HEFFNER: Your friend.
CROUCH: Yeah, everybody’s favorite Congressman, who has … who also spoke to the CCC, but upon discovering, so he claimed, what they were, wrote very heated denunciations of them and their racial policies to many places, by the way. Including a letter to me at the “Daily News” in New York City where I’ve been writing my “Lott Must Go” columns. And I responded by saying that given Congressman Barr’s sterling record on racial matters and his great concern that politicians be pure and honest and always tell the truth, that when it’s made clear to him as it most surely is clear that Senator Lott did, in fact, know who these people are. Has in fact been involved with them for a decade, has endorsed them and that he … if, if he … if Mr. Barr must be the only Congressman would surely come forward and ask for Trent Lott to step down.
CROUCH: Well, he hasn’t had his opportunity yet. But I’m sure that we can count on Brother Barr to stand up and be counted when the time comes around.
HEFFNER: Stanley, how much are you willing … to what degree could you accept the notion that people make errors in judgment. I won’t say “mistakes” … errors in judgments, or do the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing over a period of time. And then are confronted with the results, the personal results of doing the wrong thing. Do you accept apologies and changes and repudiation of the past? Do you have it in your heart to do so?
CROUCH: Oh, well, first thing is…
HEFFNER: Have it in your pen … that’s the most important thing.
CROUCH: [Laughter] Well, let’s put it like this. Any American who is not naive and any American who recognizes that our very social contract itself provides opportunities for us to redeem ourselves through new laws, through the striking down of old laws, that we discover were ill-intended or based on bad information, or just the result of prejudice. That means that we, you know, we have to be prepared for people to change, and I would suggest that if we thought that human beings were incapable of changing then we would all be far more gloomier than some of us already are. Because the history of the United States, the better side of it, is about people having the strength to change, and the willingness as Cheryl Mills said … eventually as part of Clinton’s defense team … in the impeachment trial … and so, since we have a guy like Lyndon Johnson who at one time was a segregationist and also was the most significant executive of civil rights legislation since Abraham Lincoln … there are many precedents. But in this particular case, I think that there’s something very … see, I would be very suspicious of a guy who in 1997 had … was standing next to a man who had organized some of the Whites … been one of the original organizers of the White Citizens Council.
HEFFNER: But, you know…
CROUCH: And then … and then, who, who repeatedly lied about the fact that he didn’t know what they were. See if he had come … in other words, let’s take the prototypical Republican Bill Clinton position … had he only told the truth on January 17th, the country wouldn’t have been dragged through this mess.
HEFFNER: Yes, but … wait a minute…
HEFFNER: … you don’t need to take one position that you reject to put it up against another position that you reject. You don’t embrace that notion “if only he had told us the truth”.
CROUCH: Oh, no, but what I’m saying is this … I think that the problem that Republicans are going to have fundamentally is that, that for a year their major argument was that an office is demeaned, its significance is radically reduced, the public confidence is vitiated by a person in position who lies about extraordinarily important matters. Now personally I think that the Clinton case was a sex scandal that was turned into a political scandal for obvious reasons. Here, however, with Trent Lott, I think this actually is a real political scandal. And it’s a scandal … it’s a scandal because in our time a politician … of the third most powerful politician in the United States should not be connected to and have willingly been connected to for ten years these kinds of people.
HEFFNER: So redemption, as far as you’re concerned, only goes so far.
CROUCH: Well, I mean … you mean him just jumping up and saying “Sorry, folks, I made a bad mistake for the last ten years and now….”
HEFFNER: I’m posing the possibility.
CROUCH: Well, I don’t … well, he would have to do something other than apologize, I would suggest. He’d have to have some … he’d have to be … he would have to have some course of action, and I can’t actually imagine one at this particular time, given what I saw when I read those, those “Citizens Informer” issues. See, when I looked at that publication, which is so repulsively bigoted … right … and, and found that this guy ran a column in their … in that publication. And that he spoke to these people. See there’s something very … I have a big problem with that. Now, as you well know, I mean you followed my material … I have … you know, I attacked all of those Black people who supported the Million Man March, too. I mean I didn’t…
CROUCH; … I don’t … you know, I thought that that was repulsive. And I think that any Black public official of high station who had been closely connected to Louis Farrakan and had advocated that lunatic line of thought that he had by saying something parallel … saying he had another version of the people in this room have the right principles, the right philosophy, they’re going in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries should, should pay the cost.
HEFFNER: Well, now wait a minute … you have let up, haven’t you, on those who did not do the right thing as far as you were concerned about Farrakan. I’m talking about Black politicians.
CROUCH: Oh, well, what do you mean … have let up on them … I never let up on them for Louis Farrakan … ever.
HEFFNER: Well you, you certainly have picked times … as in the question of Trent Lott in which you say, “look the trouble there is the same trouble that we had with Farrakan…
HEFFNER: But you’ve been waging a campaign against Trent Lott, the likes of which I’ve never seen.
CROUCH: Oh, but yeah, but that was because…
HEFFNER: And you have to smile when I say that.
CROUCH: No, but that’s because … no, that’s because Louis Farrakan wasn’t around in any position long enough for me to write that many columns about him connected to any issue. But every time Louis Farrakan has come forward and every time any kind of racist position taken by anybody that attempts to insert itself, particularly into a position of respectability, which is what Farrakan has been fighting to try to do for, for many years now. He’s been trying to do the same thing that these people in the CCC has been trying to do, which is just posit themselves as another conservative group.
HEFFNER: Okay, but what I’m really talking about … and then I’ll drop it, I promise … is the fact…
CROUCH: No, we can keep talking about it because I have more to say…
HEFFNER: Oh, I know we could, but I want to, I want to … well, wait a minute, you have more to say … more to say about the pursuit of Trent Lott.
CROUCH: Well, for one thing … look … you take a guy like Armstrong Williams.
CROUCH: Who is a hard-core, if you will, conservative Black Republican. When he found this stuff out, he was outraged. He wrote a letter … he wrote not a letter, he wrote an article in the “Washington Times” attacking the Republican Party, the Congressional Black Caucus, religious leaders for not coming out against this organization and not up-braiding this guy for being connected with it. He wants to know. Now he has raised a very important question here … Armstrong Williams has. Are we to say then that adultery is a question of greater morality … is an issue of more moral significance to us than racism in a country that has, that has suffered so greatly due to racist policy. I think that is a profound question to be raised. And for a man like him to raise that among Republicans and for Peggy Noonan to be extraordinarily upset about this herself. And for Faye Anderson who’s a Black Republican who runs an … who’s President of an organization called the Douglass Policy Institute to actually come forward and say that this, this is yet another example of why Black Republicans have so many problems within the party and why the party itself does not appeal to people outside of, of certain kinds of White people. In fact, Peggy Noonan has said that this sort of thing is the thing that underlines the idea that the Republican Party is just … is a closed Christian club. Closed Christian Club. Closed White Christian Club, you know. And so this is not … so this issue actually, I think is symbolic to a lot of people of more than just Lott himself, but of the difficulty that the Republican Party has forging, forging forward. And that is moving to a position where it actually can seem as though it is a party that has the interests of the people of the United States, you know, at its…at heart, rather than just trying to figure out which power groups, and which voting blocks will get you in power a certain time.
HEFFNER: Stanley, then let me ask you … we have just a few minutes left … I’ve got to ask this … does any of this surprise you?
CROUCH: Does it surprise me?
HEFFNER: Yeah, any of the business about Trent Lott or anything that you’ve been writing about. Does it surprise you…
CROUCH: I must…
HEFFNER: You don’t like it … but does it surprise you?
CROUCH: I must say quite frankly…
CROUCH: I was surprised.
HEFFNER: How naive can you be?
CROUCH: No, no, no. I was surprised primarily because of this. (Pauses) We have seen … I mean you and I have seen this … I mean, you know, as Falstaff says to Henry the Fifth: “we’ve heard the chimes at midnight”. I mean we have seen enormous changes on the parts of White Southerners. In their politics, in the way they live, in the way they respond to Black people on and off campuses, campuses that used to be, you know, places of unrest and great physical danger are now places where Black athletes are welcome, etc. We’ve see a lot of things take place in this country over the last 40 years that would not automatically make one assume that because somebody is from Mississippi, or from Alabama, or from Georgia, or has a big Southern accent, that he or she is automatically a person who thinks a certain kind of a way. And … so I was, I was surprised that he would … quite frankly I was really surprised that he would be so closely aligned with an organization like this. Some very really primitive kind of race-baiting types. I was actually startled.
HEFFNER: And if you were to go through the list, and to do a Larry Flynt kind of non-sexual summary of the attitudes of a great many people, would you … do you think you’d have reason to be surprised?
CROUCH: A great many people who are Southerners? Or a great many people who are Republicans? Or just a great many people?
HEFFNER: A great many people … I’m afraid that’s my question.
CROUCH: I would be surprised if they were … if they held the ideas that the people in the Council of Conservative Citizens hold.
HEFFNER: Okay, that’s extreme.
CROUCH: Right. But this is the thing … I mean, this is the era of Michael Jordan, we do have to remember this. This is the era in which, as I pointed out in “Always In Pursuit of Something”. You know a White girl in the suburbs can have a picture of Michael Jordan on her bedroom wall and not create a miniature war in her household.
HEFFNER: But why do you think that because something good has taken place that everything bad is not still around.
CROUCH: Oh, well it’s not a matter of everything bad not still being around, Richard, it’s the question of what the proportions are. See, I would suggest that the proportions of racism, the proportions of xenophobia had greatly reduced themselves … or have been greatly reduced over the last 40 years. True there definitely are racists still out there. And there are people who harbor all of the most crude ideas about people unlike themselves. But I think that….. just the fact that the majority of the Black Mayors in this country are not elected by a majority Black electorates says something about how greatly the country has changed.
HEFFNER: Well, whoever thought that I was going to say to Stanley Crouch, you’re so naive. But I’m going to say that and then say, “Thank you very much for joining me today because we’re at the end of the program”.
CROUCH: [Laughter] Okay, all right.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, New York 10150
Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.
N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.