Gary Earl Ross
First Place Editorial 2003 New York State Broadcasters Association
"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 . . ." Senator Trent Lott's recent birthday tribute to retiring Senator Strom Thurmond echoed what he said of the ex-Dixiecrat in 1980: ". . . if we had elected this man thirty years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today."
As a fiction writer, I can't help speculating what the world would be like if Trent Lott's faith in a Thurmond presidency had been shared by the rest of the nation:
Imagine it is 1948. Disenchanted American voters elect strict segregationist Strom Thurmond, who dismantles President Truman's efforts to integrate the military. Congress, mistaking a narrow election victory for a mandate, offers little resistance as segregation slowly becomes the law of the land, edging out other domestic and international priorities.
The United Nations and Israel are never founded. War erupts on the Korean peninsula, and President Thurmond sends troops to stop the spread of communism. Earl Warren and Brown v. the Board of Education never reach the Supreme Court. By 1956 the war has dragged through two Thurmond terms, and Vice President Joe McCarthy wins the White House by a landslide. Anti-war protesters and other communist sympathizers are rounded up and put into re-education centers, called McCarthyvilles.
Instead of enforcing school integration in Little Rock, federal troops are called up in great numbers to stop black Americans from marching for voting rights. Rosa Parks is sentenced to life for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. In 1959, when the few remaining U.S. forces are withdrawn from Korea, the north overruns the south. Korea joins China and the Soviet Union to form the Eastern Socialist Triad.
After President McCarthy's 1963 assassination by a left-wing dissident, the nation takes an even sharper turn right. The McCarthyville program is expanded. Among misfits now imprisoned for re-education are Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lenny Bruce, and Elvis Presley.
In a culture determined to disprove Darwin by sheer obstinacy, government support of science and technology dwindles, except for eugenics, creationism, and research to validate white supremacy. The space program fails to evolve. No John Glenn or Neil Armstrong. No space shuttle, Tang, or cardiac pacemakers. Lasers, microsurgery, and birth control pills are found only in the pages of banned science fiction pulp magazines.
Over the next several decades, the Age of Isolationism, the Eastern Socialist Triad emerges as the only superpower. But the U.S., a once great nation whose misguided efforts to stifle its own evolution were all too successful, still has a few primitive weapons of mass destruction. By 2002, Soviet President Vladimir Zhiranovsky leads an international coalition to force U.S. President Dan Quayle to disarm or face regime change. Meanwhile, John Kerry, junior senator from Massachusetts, says a few words at a retirement party for 85-year-old Senator John F. Kennedy: "If we had elected this man forty years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today."