No one is running against Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas this year, and that’s a shame. This year, the Senator has proven himself to not only be a man of questionable morals, because that would be too easy. Tom Cotton has proven himself to be a man of no morals at all.
An op-ed run in The New York Times that he penned was so fiercely debated that it caused members of the paper to resign. Now the Senator is in the public eye again, this time for saying, in an interview, that slavery was a “necessary evil.”
Yes, you read that right. A sitting senator, in 2020, in the wake of months of protests responding to police brutality tied to racial inequality, is defending the premise of slavery in the United States. And we are still giving him attention and allowing him to serve in the hallowed halls of our nation on behalf of our citizenry.
When Americans discuss the many layers of racial unrest that plague our country, we often fall back on our history. This was a country built on unjust principles, and so injustice is baked into how our nation was shaped. But we can’t ignore the other side of the coin, which is that elected officials like Tom Cotton — himself a descendant of slaveowners — uphold the platitudes that we wish to move away from. He digs in as we try to climb out of the hole, grasping on to the last fragile remembrances of a dying breed of whiteness.
It’s not hard to see why the United States can’t reconcile who we are with who we aspire to be. We have Tom Cottons introducing legislation in the halls of Congress, even as we take to the streets to protest the very existence of Tom Cottons (and would that his name were a joke, but it isn’t). How can we find our identity, or make up for our own evil, when our own representation stands tall and proud, claiming our bruising past as something we should be proud of?
Which is to say nothing of the fact that people will vote for Tom Cotton in November. I don’t know how many people will line up behind this public racist, but many will, just as many will line up behind the other public racist (you know the one I’m talking about). If you wonder why it’s so difficult to move forward with an America that talks about progress and progressivism and equality, it’s because we keep handing the microphone to the people who keep calling slavery “necessary,” the people who earnestly believe that a country could not have been produced through any other avenue besides on the backs of our Black brothers and sisters.
These people have no vision, and, worse, they see the humans of the past — the ones who did the heavy lifting — as cogs in a machine. A tax dollar matters. An embryo matters. But the life of a Black human being, inscribed in a history book, does not matter, because that human being built something that belongs to Tom Cotton, and Tom Cotton is afraid of losing his foothold in America.
It may be too late, as we crest into August in an election year, to deprive Tom Cotton of the one thing he has: his public power. But there are others like him, rising in this mood of fragile white men, who seek to preserve a moment that never actually existed. And it is certainly not too late to deprive the man he represents — the president — of another four years of this gross negligence, of this reconfiguration of what it means to be an American.
The idea that our principled democracy could only exist but for whites standing on the backs of slaves is a preposterous notion, and to accept it as gospel is to subscribe to the outrageous notion that any of this was ever OK to begin with.
Tom Cotton does not speak for Arkansas, I don’t think, and he definitely does not speak for Americans when he sinks to the lowest common denominator, shredding decency, looking backwards, cowering in his fragility, and demonstrating his toothlessness. He is, at the end, a shattered, small man who is not an American at all. And to move forward into the next phase of the crisis of equality is to recognize that an extinction of archaic philosophy and archaic public figures is the only way to atone for our sins.