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Lindsey Graham's abusive relationship with his own personal demon...
Let it sink in. At a rally in his home state, near his hometown, South Carolina’s senior Senator was booed on the eve of the July 4th gathering he helped organize for his good friend Donald Trump.
As the crowd booed, his good friend, the insurrectionist, twice-impeached, multi-indicted, former president, and terminal lout threw him to the wolves:
"We're going to love him. He's half and half. When we need those liberal votes, we need him. We know the good ones. We know the bad ones too,"
— Donald Trump, July 3. 2023
Before we laugh, and even before we enjoy Graham’s some would say well-deserved humiliation, we might take a moment to ponder the hold Trump has on not just the mob who show up to adore him, but on Graham, who before (and for a brief moment after) he found himself caught in Trump’s orbit seemed fairly reasonable. The disapproving crowd in Pickens County this week is a tale of a slow but steady degradation that is Trump’s calling card. The master degrader loves to torture his prey before kicking it to the curb— see Michael Cohen, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, et.al. The crowd was reported to be fifty-thousand strong was simply responding as a MAGAphone amplifying dear leader’s less than subtle warning to others in the state, like Nikki Haley and Tim Scott. If he is willing to emasculate a friend and supporter, what does he have in store for those with the temerity to challenge him for what has become in his mind his birthright?
First They came...
Graham’s plight is made worse by the bargain he has made. He is in so deep now, that his choices are limited to suffering the embarrassment with a smile of resignation. I am constantly reminded that this behavior has historical paradigms that have been well-chronicled in prose and poetry. I am reminded— and have used the example in previous diaries as have others here— of Maurice Ogden’s reflection on McCarthyism and the holocaust in the 1951 poem “The Hangman.” Perhaps a more salient reference, however, is the poem “First They Came...” which surely inspired Ogden’s work written by German theologian, Martin Niemöller. My point is that Niemöller, like Graham, was once a supporter of Adolf Hitler who ended up in Hitler’s camps as a prisoner for having the audacity of criticizing Hitler’s treatment of Jews who converted to Lutheranism in a policy statement called “The Aryan Paragraph.” It is left to debate the depths of commitment Niemöller had for the plight of Jews in Germany in the period leading up to the Holocaust. In “First They Came...” written post-war Niemöller seems to have had an epiphany of sorts:
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Martin Niemoller, “First They Came...”, 1946
My hesitation to embrace Niemöller's own conversion resides in the final line of his poem, which suggests a similar self-centered insight I detect in Graham’s position after Monday night’s booing in Pickens. Will Graham ever admit his contribution to the position he finds himself in? Is it any different, for example, than what he would have expected had he taken a stance against Trump at any of the moments in his relationship with Trump that had allowed some honest introspection?
There were many of these moments, and Graham made several public if half-hearted, statements indicating that he knew better. But the siren's call back to Trump was too enticing-- or frightening. Remember, presidential-candidate Graham's dark forecast of a Trump Republican endorsement in 2015, or his histrionic rejection of Trump's behavior after the J6 insurrection? Each was followed by a soulful period of self-loathing sycophancy that led to the Pickens degradation. Graham may have finally come to realize that Trump and his followers are never satisfied with simple bootlicking, they required worship. Niemöller's experience after the war was similar:
Hitler persecutes Jews and Christians alike. There isn't a single Nazi leader in the country today who has not cut himself off from the Christian faith. The so-called 'German Christians' are just heathen, who see in Hitler the Messiah; they have made him their 'Jesus Christ'."
The Graham conundrum
Niemöller's realization was in my opinion too little, too late, as he himself admitted in the same article, after being asked how he could have fallen for Hitler’s lies:
"I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me… Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: 'There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany'."
"I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time--that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler's assurance satisfied me at the time...
"I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me." (emphases mine)
To reinsert Ogden’s “The Hangman” poem into the discussion, Ogden’s villain mirrors the casual indifference of a Donald Trump on the stump trashing his knee-bent knave for a few shits and giggles. Trump has reserved for himself the moral abyss to respond to a victim of his cruelty that he never promised a better end, as a misanthrope, he can argue he has always been true to himself-- all traits he shares with Ogden’s Hangman:
Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye, “Lied to you…tricked you?” He said “Not I…
for I answered straight and told you true. The scaffold was raised for none but you.”
“For who has served more faithfully? With your coward’s hope.” said He,
“And where are the others that might have stood side by your side, in the common good?”
Silly Lindsey really thought that he was different from the others, that he somehow could “stand in the common good” while still standing with Trump. Alas, he may one day find the courage to admit the callowness and narcissism, perhaps a tinge of naivete, that allowed him to believe he was different— that he could somehow survive the whirlwind engulfing not just him, but democracy and the rule of law. Like Niemöller’s late realization of his own “mistake,” will Graham will ever admit his own? Has it dawned on him after hearing the crowd’s disapproval and awaiting Trump’s admonishment of their bad behavior that he had been had?
Graham’s “friend” words uttered after the chorus of boos were best viewed as further demeaning Graham as they incited more boos and more derision. The man for whom “love” is a four-letter word skewered Graham with it:
“You know, you can make mistakes on occasion. Even Lindsey down here, Senator Lindsey Graham. We love Senator Graham...”
The betrayal was quick. Graham had pledged his fealty and had it thrown back in his face. Alas, in Trump’s world, as Graham is learning in lessons too public to be ignored, no deed-- good or ill-- goes unpunished, no betrayal goes unrewarded.