The Difference between Senators Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton

Rally for Haiti on the 8th anniversary of the earthquake in Miami, Fl.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

New Orleans   President Trump seems determined to remind the American people and the world that he is a chauvinist and racist, and his recent vulgar and boorish behavior in a White House conference on trying to sort out a deal that includes a government shutdown and a path forward on immigration and the Dreamers is just the most recent example. Trump is by now a known commodity, so we should sadly expect this from him, even as we continue to demand more. We need to worry more about the Trump effect and what it is doing to any semblance of character and dignity in American politics, and there is no better example than the reports that emerge from other witnesses to the Trump tirades and what they reveal.

We could make a point about the fact that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, long an outspoken advocate for the rights of immigrants broke the code of silence on the meeting, and revealed Trump’s comments to the president’s embarrassment, though it seems not his shame. We won’t do that because he’s a Democrat and some might tune out the message as partisanship. We’re talking about character and dignity as bedrock national principles, so let’s look at two southern senators who were in the room with the President in order to see this more clearly.

Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton are both Republican Senators and both are from the South, Graham from South Carolina and Cotton from Arkansas. Both are ambitious. Graham had a brief run for President, losing in the early primaries. Cotton is widely touted as a wannabe future candidate. Graham has reportedly mended his fences with Trump and become a valued adviser and interpreter for the President, especially on immigration. Cotton has been the subject of numerous media reports that he is the “Trump whisperer” offering a sounding board for the President and hugely influential.

Reports now emerging from the meeting are giving a clearer picture. It turns out that Graham rebutted and chided the President after his racist remarks, correctly saying that “America is an idea not a people.” His comments were reported by others, including Durbin. They were lengthy, well understood and widely heard, just as the President’s remarks were. Cotton on the other hand when asked, claimed that he heard nothing. How is that possible? Was he in another room? Had he left to take a call or visit the washroom? Or, is he just “playing politics” and trying to protect the President and his own policy positions and access to Trump. He has not offered an alibi that I have heard, and likely believes his “see no evil, hear no evil” answer serves as his “no comment” on the whole affair. Several other Republican Senators who were not at the meeting were clear that the President needed to apologize to the American people and other countries that he disparaged. Cotton, continuing to dishonor himself and his state, says no such thing.

Plutarch, centuries ago wrote “a small thing…often makes a greater revelation of character than battles where thousands die.” The one thing that Americans and the world are going to takeaway from the Trump presidency and its horrific escapades is that character is hugely important in the leadership and stewardship of a country and its highest offices. It trumps party, politics, and short term transactional policy points.

A country song has the lines, “if you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for nothing at all.” Senator Tom Cotton has now proven that he has insufficient character to be in public life and stands for nothing at all aside from his own petty ambition. Trump has proven conclusively that such vacuity disqualifies you for any office and Graham has established that character is a minimum standard for public leadership, no matter what your position.

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Hating Immigrants is the Wild Card in the Electoral Deck

immigration_2280507bNew Orleans   Wow! It must have suddenly become hate-on-an-immigrant day and Hallmark didn’t prepare any condolence cards for the rest of us. In one day the lives of immigrant millions of families were cast into limbo with the split, no-decision 4-4 polling of the Supreme Court and the 52-48 so-called Brexit vote for Great Britain to leave the European Union. President Obama called the Supreme Court split decision, “heartbreaking,” and said the upcoming election would determine “what kind of people we are.”

Meanwhile the United Kingdom showed what kind of people they were, and it was a bit brutish and left little doubt that immigration and the attendant freedom of mobility within the European Union was the wedge issue driving them out of the EU. As reported in the Times,

With net migration to Britain of 330,000 people in 2015, more than half of them from the European Union, Mr. Cameron had no effective response to how he could limit the influx. And there was no question that while the immigrants contributed more to the economy and to tax receipts than they cost, parts of Britain felt that its national identity was under assault and that the influx was putting substantial pressure on schools, health care and housing.

The campaign run by one of the loudest proponents of leaving, the U.K. Independence Party, flirted with xenophobia, nativism and what some of its critics considered racism. But the official, more mainstream Leave campaign also invoked immigration as an issue, and its slogan, “Take control,” resonated with voters who feel that the government is failing to regulate the inflow of people from Europe and beyond.

Prime Minister David Cameron will pay for the misjudgment and shortsightedness in calling the vote and the rejection at the polls with his job, offering his resignation after a couple of month’s transition to sort out the mess. There is pulling of hair and rending of clothes throughout Europe in trying to understand the “turning point,” the vote represents, but it is hard to see it as anything other than backwards. Scotland which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, is likely to press again for independence from the United Kingdom given this debacle.

Meanwhile in the United States the same mess is brewing. Trump of course said, “good for them,” joining the nativist on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaker Ryan who is becoming expert at the convoluted logic of politics claimed the no-decision was somehow a rejection by the Supreme Court of Obama’s executive authority around immigration, knowing that all of this awaits the appointment of a tie-breaking Justice in the hands of the next President. The Republicans once again proved how quickly tragedy can be converted into farce.

But what about the people, the immigrants themselves? The five million or more who were living on the bubble of this decision who were parents of citizens or children raised here, all of whom were hoping for some security and a path to the future? Advocates promised to mobilize, voter registration efforts were highlighted, but in the meantime, the “kind of people we are” will be the kind of people who break up families and deport record numbers of people from the United States, because our politics lacks both a heart and a backbone willing to make hard political decisions even when they are so clearly morally correct.

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