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Lindsey Graham in Amherst, USA on 07/04/2015 © Andrew Cline / Shutterstock

Is Lindsey Graham Playing the Cheerleader?

Lindsey Graham seems to be telling us that sometimes emergencies are more urgent to talk about than to act on. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.

In the midst of the debate on Donald Trump’s border wall, CNN quotes Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s latest advice to the president: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Emergency: 

1. An unexpected and dangerous situation that requires an immediate response

2. In politics: a pretext with no basis in reality that allows a person with authority to impose solutions that appeal to the politician’s base

Contextual note

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides this definition: “[A]n unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.” Collins offers a more detailed definition: “[A]n unexpected and difficult or dangerous situation, especially an accident, which happens suddenly and which requires quick action to deal with it.”

There is little in the situation at the US-Mexico border that can be considered “unforeseen” or “unexpected.” It would be equally absurd for the US to call it “difficult” or “dangerous,” unless, in a burst of unaccustomed empathy, American authorities were adopting the point of view of desperate refugees. That certainly would be unforeseen and unexpected. As for it’s happening “suddenly,” Trump’s project of building a wall dates from the fatal day in June 2015 when he announced he would be running for president.

CNN’s report seems to indicate that most Democrats and some Republicans have actually consulted their dictionary on the meaning of “emergency.” “Democrats have said the move would not withstand legal scrutiny, and some Republicans have expressed hesitancy about the prospect,” CNN states. The law, after all, does have to respect the meaning of words even if politicians don’t.

So, if no emergency exists to justify mobilizing emergency powers, what can we read into Senator Graham’s intentions? Perhaps Graham provides the key elsewhere in the same article: “I hope it works,” he said, adding that it would “get challenged in court for sure as to whether or not this fits the statutory definition of an emergency.” Apparently, unlike the people he’s addressing or the man he’s advising, Graham has actually taken the trouble to consult a dictionary.

In politics, “hoping” something works means defining your ideological position or affirming your alliances while probably admitting or even expecting that that hope will not be realized. This is where political hypocrisy becomes an easy and often effective game to play. It’s called  “grandstanding,” defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “acting or speaking in a way intended to attract the good opinion of other people who are watching.”

We must then ask the simple question: Who are those “other people who are watching”? The answer, in the case of Graham, can only be Republican voters.

Historical note

For at least the past decade, Lindsey Graham has been playing a deliberately ambiguously iconoclastic role in party politics. Graham, the self-described “wingman” to “maverick” and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, referred to himself at McCain’s funeral as someone who was thrice lucky: “lucky to have been in his presence,”  “lucky enough to have walked in his shadow” and “lucky to have been loved by him.” This self-effacement contrasts strongly to the rhetoric of the man he now admires and appears to be stumping for, Donald Trump, a narcissist who never tires of telling us luck had nothing to do with his success: It was all merit, attributable to the acts of “a very stable genius.”

Recently, Graham has stepped forward on several occasions to laud Trump’s policies and efforts, in particular, vehemently defending Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and now the border wall. Playing the cheerleader, Graham made the bold claim in a commentary on President Trump’s address to the nation to plead for a budget to build the wall: “Everything he said was true.” Nearly every serious journal, including Fair Observer, pointed out how much of what Trump claimed, including his most compelling arguments, was false.

But Graham has equally and prominently played a contrasting role, as Trump’s most vehement critic. In 2016 he pulled no punches, calling the candidate “a ‘kook’, a ‘jackass,’ ‘a race-baiting bigot,’ and ‘the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.’” Just in the last few months, he has brutally lambasted Trump for protecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the Jamal Khashoggi murder and then again for promising to withdraw American troops from Syria.

The pundits find Graham’s sudden loyalty to Trump puzzling and seek explanations. For example: “It seems more likely that Graham’s friendship with Trump has to do with Graham’s re-election in 2020.” Because he has in the past been relatively civil in his relationship with Democrats, The New York Times appears to be discovering only today that Graham, like McCain, is a died-in-the-wool conservative as a vehement proponent of the US militarily-enforced empire The Gray Lady now naively asks, “What Happened to Lindsey Graham? He’s Become a Conservative ‘Rock Star.’”

The Times describes Graham as “a kind of happy-go-lucky independent thinker,” confusing the effects of his grandstanding in different directions as evidence of thinking. Like nearly everyone else in politics, Graham talks rather than thinks or simply thinks about how he will talk, and, more than most, does so with an eye to creating for the media a strong personality branded as a loveable maverick. If he is a thinker at all, what he thinks about, like Trump himself, is mainly his image and being talked about in the media. And, like Trump, he’s pretty good at it.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.