All the right reasons to fight Lindsey Graham
Don’t waste your time thinking about politicians’ inner lives
You can see his eyes glancing over the heads of the detained migrants, his hands in his pockets, his face blank. He is standing outside a squalid human cage near the U.S.-Mexico border, and it is unclear whether he is seeing anything at all.
He is Lindsey Graham, Republican U.S. senator from the state of South Carolina, and we see him alongside Vice President Mike Pence, who maintains the same blank gaze throughout the estimated 90 seconds they spend inside the McAllen Border Station in Texas.
I am not here to attribute motivations to the senator from South Carolina. I don’t care anymore what he is thinking, how he feels, or whether he holds racial animus in his heart of hearts. That’s between him and God.
What I know is that, after visiting those men in a standing-room-only kennel, crying out for a toothbrush and a place to lay their heads, Senator Graham did not call for an end to the atrocity. He hopped on over to twitter dot com and offered some solemn words of solidarity — for the jailers.
“They are heroes and I, for one, truly appreciate their service,” the senator wrote.
Again, I don’t know or care if the senator truly appreciates his national heroes. The important thing is that the senator has chosen to do nothing, or worse than nothing, about the suffering he witnessed firsthand.
He went on to say on television that it would be fine with him if the captive migrants and asylum seekers stayed locked away in those conditions for 400 more days.
While the senator chatted with cable news anchors last Sunday morning, immigrant communities across the U.S. turned into ghost towns. Families were hiding from the threat of ICE raids, which were supposed to begin en masse that day.
Streets were quiet. Churches were empty. In the days before and in the days since, the raids have proven to be indiscriminate, netting documented as well as undocumented immigrants.
It is tempting, watching the news, to indulge in flights of fancy about the back stories and personal struggles of our political ruling class. To read up on Senator Graham’s humble upbringing in a small-town pool hall and wonder how it informs his views on poverty. To ponder how his professed Christianity aligns with his track record of state violence at home and abroad. To speculate on what sort of leverage would make the usually outspoken senator a lapdog to the president. Who doesn’t love a good D.C. soap opera, with its palace intrigues and colorful cast of characters?
I am here to remind you that this is not The West Wing. Do not concern yourself with the senator’s personal struggles, or those of the president. Consider what it will take to tear down the charnelhouse they built, brick by bloodstained brick.
I saw people taking care of their neighbors on Monday morning on the outskirts of Nashville. ICE agents showed up in the Hermitage neighborhood trying to arrest a man, who hid with his son in the family van.
The agents only had an administrative warrant, so they couldn’t forcibly enter the vehicle. Knowing this, a group of neighbors came out to refuel the van while it sat idling in the merciless July sun, passing water and damp towels into the vehicle to keep their neighbors cool. The standoff lasted four hours, according to Nashville’s News Channel 5.
Finally, the neighbors formed a human corridor from the van to the house, allowing the father and son to run inside. The agents left. The neighbors say they’ll do it all again if they have to.
This isn’t a game. The same day in Kansas City, a family was driving to the doctor’s office seeking care for their disabled 7-month-old daughter when ICE agents surrounded their vehicle and ordered the father, Florencio Millan-Vazquez, to get out.
The agents didn’t show a warrant. Millan refused to open the door. After a 20-minute standoff, the agents smashed his window and dragged him out. In a video that his girlfriend streamed live from her phone, you can hear a child whimpering in the backseat.
It is easy enough to dig up the remarks Sen. Graham made about then-candidate Trump on the campaign trail in 2016 (“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot”) and play them back to back with his groveling praise for the president and his policies in 2019. But to what end?
You cannot shame the senator by throwing his words back at him. If he were capable, he would have repented by now.
I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed hypocrisy-dunking from time to time, purely as a release for frustration. Why does it feel so good?
Nick Denton, the founder of the now-defunct gossip blog Gawker, said something in an interview with Playboy that has always stuck with me: “To my mind, the only real modern sin is hypocrisy.”
Even as a hyperbole, that’s nonsense. Sin abounds. When you speak out against the hypocrisy of some politician or another, it’s worth taking a step back and considering why you were frustrated in the first place. The source of your anger lies in material conditions, not inconsistent rhetoric.
Take the example of Graham walking back his critique of Trump as a racist. Does it really matter whether he or the president harbor good intentions deep down inside? What good is consistency in this case?
What matters is that they are harming poor people and communities of color. All of our critiques and all of our actions from here on out should deal with the world as it is, and not with our leaders as we wish them to be.
One of the groups working to liberate detainees at the border is RAICES, which provides legal services to migrant children, families, and refugees. I donated to them for the first time this week. You can pitch in here if you like.
The Immigrant Defense Project has some vital advice to help you protect yourself and your neighbors when ICE raids begin in your community. Their Eyes On ICE page includes multilingual advice on your legal rights and the most effective ways to film an encounter with agents.
Finally, there’s an excellent episode of the podcast Citations Needed about the tiresome and ineffectual nature of hypocrisy takedowns. Listen to it here, and subscribe if you enjoy substantive left-wing critiques of mainstream media.
The picture at the top of the page was taken by Dorothea Lange in May 1942 as the U.S. government rounded up Japanese Americans to place them in concentration camps. The full caption reads: “Oakland, California. Kimiko Kitagaki, young evacuee guarding the family baggage prior to departure by bus in one half hour to Tanforan Assembly Center. Her father was, until evacuation, in the cleaning and dyeing business.”