“Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.”
— Ben Sasse, US Senator from Nebraska
The Lamar in the above statement is Lamar Alexander, Senator from Tennessee. Known to Senate fanboys as Mitch McConnell’s “best friend” in the Senate, Alexander is also recognizable for his playfully risqué sweater-vests and for making comments that Lindsay Graham, in a flustered fit of pique, recently summarized as “express(ing) the sentiments of the country as a whole as well as any single Senator possibly could,” adding that Lamar “rightly rejected the arguments” of those “who hate Trump and wish to take the voters choice away in an unfounded manner.”
So given that Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us — let’s put on our spelunking helmets and dig through what he had to say after choosing not to vote to call additional witnesses in the Trump impeachment:
“The Senate reflects the country, and the country is as divided as it has been for a long time. For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”
1: “The Senate reflects the country” — A quaint notion but hardly accurate. The Senate represents the country (disproportionately so, for Wyoming has as much Senatorial representation as California), but it does not reflect it. To wit: the current Senate contains only 3 African Americans, 4 Hispanics, 2 Asian Americans, 0 Native Americans and 26 women. Since the Senate consists of 100 members, those numbers are easily converted into percentages, and anyone with eyes can see that those %’s are clearly disproportionate to the country.
2: “the country is as divided as it has been for a long time.” — It’s true we’re a divided nation, but that’s nothing new; in fact division seems to be a precondition for functional democracy (we could argue the point, divisively of course). However, the relevance of the country’s dividedness to the question of Trump’s manipulations of Ukraine is — well, a little unclear. It’s a lot like getting pulled over for speeding and telling the cop that Sometimes flowers die.
(For what it’s worth, a Quinnipiac poll released this past Tuesday found 75% of Americans wanted witnesses called. When was the last time you saw 75% of Americans agree on anything political, and how does such a number merit the term “divided”??)
3: “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it…” — If, like me, you were one of those fools who thought that the issue under debate was calling relevant witnesses to substantiate or disprove various arguments, clearly you were wrong. As Lamar shows, the issue is tearing up ballots. Without focusing too much on this skill, which Republicans honed back in 2000, some other questions come quickly to mind, such as: Which ballots? Who’s doing the tearing up? And if you take the time to tear up ballots, why would you then need to say that President Trump couldn’t be on the ballots (that you tore up)?
Alexander indicates that it’s the Senate doing the tearing up, but all I saw from them this past week was a lot of elementary-school level fidgeting and grousing. (Although honestly I’d love to see Ted Cruz gleefully destroying ballots, or really doing anything gleefully.)
4: “… the country probably wouldn’t accept that.” — What a fun little word that Probably is. So slippery servile and evasive, like (insert Republican Senator name: Rubio, Cruz, Graham, etc.) attempting to transform themselves from Never-Trumpers to Always-Have-Been-&-Always-Will-Be-Trumpers. A reasonable person might wonder, Probably as defined by whom, and arrived at after which considerations? But then nothing says I’ve (Probably) got my finger on the country’s pulse! quite like a burgundy sweater vest.
Further, Would is a highly conditional and speculative tense, susceptible to the same criticisms mentioned above re: Probably. Although it’s important to note that sometimes conditionals can be reified into greater certitude; if you’re looking for an example, try this one: 75% of us would like to have additional witnesses called.
As the “accept that” presumably refers back to tearing up ballots, let me refer you back to point #3 and inquire, once again, Who the hell is tearing up ballots?!
5: “It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.” Say what you will about Lamar, he saves his best for last.
First, he’s right — this impeachment process has been a raging dumpster fire. But how does not calling witnesses temper the flames? Wouldn’t any choice — to call or not to call, as a conflicted Danish prince might wonder about such a scenario — be like bombing this situation with a B52 full of napalm? If any choice will be gasoline on the fire, then how does making this specific choice avoid pouring gasoline on the fire? It’s cloudy logic of this sort that casts rain clouds over Lamar’s fiery defense.
(Also: now would be a good time to refer back to the poll mentioned above: if 75% of us want witnesses called, then wouldn’t calling witnesses — and appealing to 75% of us — reduce the cultural blazes?)
The more interesting way to analyze the value of this argument is to look closely at its embers, which basically seem to be saying that the Senate shouldn’t add fuel to complicated cultural fires. This is a challenging position to hold, especially when you consider that the Senate is — sadly — the kiln where this cultural fire is blazing. Further, if we suggest that the Senate isn’t to get involved in complicated issues, then other than looking sexy in those slinky sweater vests, what are Senators actually supposed to do??
But let’s take Lamar at face value — after all, he speaks for lots and lots of us. Let’s apply this approach to other “cultural fires” that have burned throughout our history. Since Alexander is from Tennessee, let’s apply this to the civil rights movement, as much of its relevant history occurred in Alexander’s home state:
Dear MLK et al — We know that you want equal rights for blacks in America, but as drafting legislation to give you those rights would pour gasoline on cultural fires…
Well, you get the point…
A few closing thoughts, all of which can be summed up in the words of Lord Acton: “My liberalism admits to everyone the right to his own opinion and imposes on me the duty of teaching him what is best.”
- The depressing portion of this essay is that legislators like Lamar are theoretically the cream of our collective American crops.
- The insulting portion of this essay is that those very same legislators believe that garbage thinking of this sort is acceptable — not simply for them to think, but to offer as justification and defense of their choices.
- The terrifying portion of this essay is that millions of Americans are nodding their heads along with Lamar, Lindsay, Ben, Mitch and the boys.
- The maddening portion of this essay is that every single one of those head-nodding votes count the same as mine.