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.


Trump and the Throwback Presidency

Atlanta   Donald Trump’s term is now officially and forever the Throwback Presidency. Not because we can throw him back, but because he is proving that his views on race and ethnicity are more common to those of Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and pre-Civil War presidents and most of our founding fathers who chartered the country.

Taking the long view, as I’m sure many pundits will, we can conclude from our history that the country has survived racist, chauvinist, and jingoist presidents, so we will surely survive Donald Trump’s time in the White House as well. The caveat there being that he doesn’t stumble-bum the country into nuclear war, which is still on the list of things to worry about for most of us.

And, we undoubtedly will survive the huge shame and disgrace of watching him lower the reputation and standing of the United States both here and abroad. There are countries where we will have lost whatever was the last smidgen of our moral authority, since our President unabashedly slurs their nations and their people. The White House at this point doesn’t even bother to apologize to the world and its people, when the President disparages whole countries. After Trump attacked African countries among others during debates on immigration, as being “shithole” countries, his spokesperson rather than apologizing or at least having the courtesy to lie for the president and claim he was misquoted, seemed to defend his racism by saying essentially that he was always for “America first.” What the heck does that mean? Is he saying that being for America first, which, frankly, all presidents are, you are therefore, by definition, a racist and a drum beater for some kind of white-ethnic purity? Wow!

The irony is that I won’t even being able to quote’s Trump’s words directly when I record these notes for radio play because what the President of the United States says in the White House the Federal Communications Commission will not allow to be broadcast over the radio! Most of us will only know of this outrage by reading the newspapers, because broadcasters of all stripes have had to tiptoe around his exact language. Just outrageous!

Having a throwback president who claims he is putting America first, simply means for the coming three years and for many years to follow, as the country tries to repair the damage that Trump is doing to our world standing and national reputation, all of us, both to our own neighbors and as we travel, will have apologize for Trump and the shame he is brought to all of us, and reminisce when the United States at least tried to show leadership in moving the world and all of its people forward, rather than taking us and everyone else back to the caves. We can work out this problem among ourselves, because thanks to President Trump, he is isolating us almost completely into little more than an island landmass between two oceans.