Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Cotton's plan

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With the amount of recent hand-wringing by the Republican Party, you'd think its members were getting ready to do something. It seems that every week, one or more GOP members of Congress come out with a statement denouncing the words or actions of President Trump or his supporters. They are troubled. They are concerned. They are disappointed. To those casual followers of politics who get their news from headlines and sound bites, these elected officials probably seem to be saying all the right things. Our own U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton has done a bit of that hand-wringing himself, but don't be fooled. His actions, just like the rest of the GOP, speak otherwise.

After the events in Charlottesville, Va., Cotton came out with what appeared on the surface to be a strong statement against racism. He was lauded on both sides for his words. But if you read his statement a little more closely, twice he mentions the rights of "Americans" and "fellow citizens." He may be taking a stand against racism, but his nationalism is on full display. He does mention the "rights of mankind," but he makes it clear that his concern is only for U.S. citizens. This distinction is important, as Cotton, despite his claim to be a member of the United Methodist Church, seems to abandon the tenets of that denomination when it comes to immigration, refugees and caring for America's neighbors.

Indeed, just hours after releasing that statement, Cotton was back touting his efforts to pass the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, also called the "Raise Act," which prioritizes English-speaking, highly skilled immigrants over those who are seeking refuge and reuniting with family members, immigrants who are willing to work low-wage, physically taxing jobs to make a better life for their children. Cotton, by promoting the Raise Act, completely ignores the needs of his home state's agriculture industry. But, as many Arkansans know, and one hopes more will figure out, Cotton represents Cotton. Arkansas is just a tool to propel him to what seems to be his ultimate goal: the White House. He is banking on the far-right to carry him there. It appears he will stand by his man Trump until the ship goes down.

Who knows whether he truly supports Trump or is just waiting to make his move when he figures out which way the wind blows for 2020. Cotton is an opportunist. I'd almost describe him as cunning, but there have been some missteps here and there. His bordering-on-treasonous letter to Iran will likely be seen in a more and more negative light as time passes. Certainly, as the spotlight on him shines brighter and brighter, he will have some explaining to do about his refusal to stand with Arkansas rice farmers and support the opening up of the Cuban rice market. It's not surprising he would go against his constituents; since he came back home to run for office there have been questions and speculation about how much time he really spends in Arkansas and how much he really understands the issues facing the state. But none of that stopped him from visiting Iowa earlier this year for no other explainable reason except to prepare for a run for the White House. He insists he is running for re-election for his Senate seat in 2020, but, like a lot of other observers of politics, I am not so sure.

One thing is certain: Congressional Republicans are getting ready to do something, all right. They are getting ready to keep on standing around and acting concerned while Trump victimizes entire communities. All talk. No action. Impeachment is a pipe dream. The invoking of the 25th Amendment is even more unlikely, and to be honest, probably rightfully so, due to the potential for abuse. The GOP, in concert with right-wing evangelicals, made its choice when it decided that Trump was the party's "imperfect vessel" and that a conservative Supreme Court was worth the well-being and civil rights of everyone except straight white Protestant males. I cannot imagine a shift. They will stay the course in the hopes they pass tax reform for the wealthy, further erode the separation of church and state, kick poor people off of their health care and gain more control of the judiciary. Cotton will continue to issue statements expressing concern when absolutely necessary, but he will also continue to support legislation and policies that appeal to the far right to get the ultimate prize of the presidency. Somebody get the moisturizer because, unless Robert Mueller turns up something that leads to Trump's resignation, it looks like we are in for three more years of hand-wringing.

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