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Unless you've fought in a war for this country, then you should shut up about President Trump's tariffs that might cost you a buck or two on a toaster.

Or a few hundred thousand dollars on commodity prices. Or a chunk of your retirement fund on the stock market.

At least that's what I inferred from U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton's remark the other day on CBS This Morning.

Here is what the junior senator said when he went on the program to tout a new book he has out, only to be diverted quickly by the interviewer to the news of the day, which was tariffs: "There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans. I grant you that. But I would also say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas, that our fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make."

Well, all right, then. We can stipulate, surely, that giving one's life in combat for the country is a sacrifice exceeding that of a farmer selling less of his crop and for a lower price, or that of a consumer paying more for a product.

But we can also wonder what one has to do with the other, except to a politician who can't seem to open his mouth without invoking military heroism and his own service.

In another interview quoted recently by Politico, Cotton said infantrymen such as himself qualify themselves for public service with "mission focus, leadership, boys under fire, discipline, teamwork."

I'd always thought that those who serve militarily in combat fight less for self-aggrandizement than for the kinds of freedoms by which a smart-aleck could write for a newspaper and tell off bellicose and braggadocious politicians.

A smart-aleck writer could dare to complain about economically destructive tariffs and the threat they pose to Americans' livelihoods, even if that smart-aleck commentator, like the current American president, never served.

I'm understanding why Cotton has emerged as the Senate's least-liked member according to a published report from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. The column offered the perfectly plausible postulate that our state's junior senator has become even more unpleasant than Ted Cruz.

Cotton was on CBS on Monday to tout the book Sacred Duty.

It's about ... the military.

It extols the "Old Guard" detail that escorts funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Cotton did service on the detail, along with service in Iran and Afghanistan that he might have mentioned a time or two.

President Trump tweets that Cotton's book is great, suggesting that he has now read a book, or, more possibly, that he still hasn't read one but is simply scratching Cotton's back in exchange for Cotton's scratching his by saying his tariffs are nothing compared to getting shot in war.

I guess this is Cotton's Rule: If Arkansas farmers suffer a little financial setback from tariffs and want to make a few extra bucks, then maybe they could enlist in the military, take some incoming fire, write a book, and then sit back to wait for a promotional boost from their megalomaniacal president, but only after going on television to say supportive and defending things about him.

Writing an online post for Esquire, the inimitable Charles Pierce warns that Trumpism won't end with Trump and that Cotton--"a complete product of the wingnut welfare candidate manufacturing plant"--has "breeder reactor" ambition within him, and hangs there as an ominous successor.

Pierce writes that Cotton is essentially saying to his state's farmers, "You're all going broke because the president* is a dunce, but that's OK because you're not being machine-gunned at Passchendaele."

The point is that Cotton insists on fashioning all issues in a noble self-referential military context when, in fact, the real nobility of the military context is that it should be compartmentalized unto itself as an essential defense service that is not self-referential but stoic in its heroic preservation of the right of debate and dissent for all citizens on all issues.

Let me show you how that compartmentalization can work: I thank and admire and applaud Cotton for his military service. But I neither thank nor admire nor applaud him for his political service.

Of that political service, columnist Milbank elaborated on Cotton's "least-liked senator" ascension by writing, "Colleagues and staff on the Hill report that he can be as nasty privately as he is publicly, as uncivil to Republicans as he is to Democrats."

Yet Cotton bows consistently before the asserted bone spurs of a president who never served.

It's a small price for a presidential book blurb, I suppose.

"On sale today, make it big," the president tweeted of Cotton's book.

Book sales spiked by a president's tweets to millions ... you can see how that might make a farmer's complaints about tariffs seem trivial.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 05/16/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: The Cotton Rule

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