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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Supporting Grassroots Struggles over Immigration

New Orleans   In the wake of the Trump-Ryan debacle of play-pretend healthcare reform, the Republican gunfighters of the circular firing squad are now talking tax reform, debt ceilings, and other intricate problems that will confuse the living bejesus out of the American people. Oh, and of course in the current mess it is easy to forget the other mess that is still front-and-center since the inauguration, but is now framed in “bans,” “extreme vetting,” dropping foreign student applications, canceled school trips to the US from Canada and other countries for fear of border problems, reduction and stalled business investment in Mexico, and all manner of very personal trauma and uncertainty in communities all around the country, and of course the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” Yes, we’re talking about immigration. For all of us keeping score, let’s remember that the healthcare disaster is the second major domestic policy disaster of this new administration, because immigration is at heart a local, not a foreign policy issue.

Talking to Mireya Reith, the founder and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, recently on Wade’s World, was a constant reminder, if anyone needed one, that the fight for immigration reform and the life decisions that teeter on every twitch and tweet from the White House are daily dilemmas at the grassroots level of millions and millions in the United States now. Reith is based in Walmart and Tyson country in northwestern Arkansas, but with seven support and information centers around Arkansas in places like McGeehee, DeQueen, and Fort Smith, not to mention Little Rock, it’s hard to get more grassroots than her operation.

Reith worked heroically in the interview to keep her remarks positive, but it was a medal winning effort, because the stories were rending. For every school district she mentioned that was stepping up to support children afraid to go to school, the list was obscuring the silence from many more as well as from the state, not to mention her story of some teachers telling children in their classrooms right after the election that they needed to leave the country and do so now. Whole families are retreating into the shadows now all over the country, and Reith and the United Community Coalition know their names in their communities.

That part of her job is hard, but perhaps not as thankless as her reports of having recently been in Washington talking to her local and state Congressional delegation about the continued need for immigration reform and the human faces of these issues in the community. Once again Reith was relentlessly positive about the reception she received, including from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has been touted as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the early days of the administration. Cotton, whose raw ambition and extreme conservativism has him on many short lists on the right as a comer nationally, is also the architect of one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate. Not satisfied with drumbeating about undocumented immigration, his proposal is to reduce even legal immigration more than half and more than even the Administration is proposing.

Only eight years ago the fight was to get real immigration reform on President Obama’s agenda in the first hundred days, which we lost. Now the fight is almost to keep so-called immigration reform off of the agenda for the first two hundred days of this Congress, when most believe is the only time the legislative window is open before mid-term elections make most anything impossible to pass. We have to hope that Reith’s work and that of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and other grassroots pro-immigrant groups around the country are successful in saving America’s reputation and principles as an open and welcoming country to all, and we have to support their work as much as possible in these chaotic and dark times.

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