A Pastoral Response to Tom Cotton’s Hawkish Op-Ed

A Pastoral Response to Tom Cotton’s Hawkish Op-Ed June 3, 2020

I see in the New York Times today Tom Cotton is now training the same hawkish rhetoric he typically reserves for Iran and China onto the American people themselves. I guess this isn’t surprising, as it’s relatively clear from Cotton’s actions that only certain groups of Americans (that is, white Americans) count as truly American.

I’m just going to offer a few brief rebuttals of the arguments Cotton makes in his op-ed. Based on past experience, I’m sure he won’t want to listen to this Christian pastor from Arkansas, but I sure wish he would. It would be amazing to know he actually cares, truly cares, what his constituents have to say.

So…

  1. The evidence is in: escalating through militarized policing simply increases the overall violence. Disproportionate police force is one of the very things that can make a protest less peaceful.
  2. In Tom Cotton’s own state, where I live, one of the groups most involved in rioting are white supremacist organizations. Cotton fails to even mention these groups, thus illustrating his interest in sending in the troops is ideologically partisan. It’s also a kind of fragile hyper-masculine posturing.
  3. Although he’s right that there is not an equivalence between protesting and rioting, Cotton is unwilling to even recognize that the systems he champions with his policies are complicit in the rage emerging in the looting and rioting. Perhaps he needs to read Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred.
  4. Cotton is once again not paying attention to his own constituents. He has a model he could look to here in Fayetteville of a police force that, implementing the best de-escalation strategies, created community space for a completely peaceful protest. His rhetoric of needing to “subdue” protestors is, in addition to being autocratically gross (to be clear, he is calling on the use of the U.S. military against citizens of the United States) it’s also an ineffective strategy. It will produce the opposite result he supposedly seeks.
  5. Finally, the use of military force in this instance will escalate the protests, not quell them, because the protests are no longer only about the murder of George Floyd, but about something much bigger: the disturbing and increasingly autocratic leadership of our nation that does not know how to listen to its own people. And for the prime example of ideologically driven elected officials that fail to listen, we have no better example than Tom Cotton himself.

If Tom Cotton truly wanted to end the looting and rioting, there would be an excellent and very Christian way. He should show up in Little Rock and actually listen to those protesting. And do so together with Black Lives Matter leaders, local officials, and the police. No riot gear. No infantry and bombs at the ready. Just listening ears. If he wants to learn more, I’m sure the police here in Fayetteville would be happy to provide insights.

Once the people are rising up across the nation, as they are right now, it’s the responsibility of leadership to look inside and ask hard questions. Not: How can we subdue them? But rather, What have I done wrong?


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