Going viral: U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s unintentionally honest but brutal remark about slavery in defending his attack on the First Amendment with proposed legislation to punish schools that teach from the New York Times’ 1619 Project on slavery.
Cotton objects to the project’s depiction of a country mired from the beginning in, and still bearing the scars of, slavery. He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one of his friendly forums:
“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”
The view is being universally derided, except by Donald Trump, who retweeted Cotton’s defense of his stupid remark. When they say it isn’t about racism ….
Here, after all, was evil so necessary it lasted legally in what became the U.S. for 246 years and then continued de facto by another name for almost another century, through World War II. For this continuation of the “necessary evil,” see the Pulitizer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon, a former Arkansas journalist. World War II didn’t end oppression of black people either, you may recall.
I’m surprised Cotton hasn’t gone searching for schools that dare to teach from Blackmon’s book. Weren’t laborers toiling without recompense in the 1930s just part of the Founding Fathers’ brilliant plan for the “ultimate extinction” of slavery?
The hits were many.
Tom Cotton refuses to believe that the United States is “a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable,” his words—yet in an interview, he unmistakably agrees with those Founders who said slavery was “a necessary evil.” How does that work? https://t.co/983NSIvXEz
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) July 26, 2020
Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project, said on Friday that Cotton’s bill “speaks to the power of journalism more than anything I’ve ever done in my career”.
On Sunday, she tweeted: “If chattel slavery – heritable, generational, permanent, race-based slavery where it was legal to rape, torture, and sell human beings for profit – were a ‘necessary evil’ as Tom Cotton says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end.
“Imagine thinking a non-divisive curriculum is one that tells black children the buying and selling of their ancestors, the rape, torture, and forced labor of their ancestors for PROFIT, was just a ‘necessary evil’ for the creation of the ‘noblest’ country the world has ever seen.
“So, was slavery foundational to the Union on which it was built, or nah? You heard it from Tom Cotton himself.”
Cotton responded: “More lies from the debunked 1619 Project. Describing the views of the Founders and how they put the evil institution on a path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln, is not endorsing or justifying slavery. No surprise that the 1619 Project can’t get facts right.”
Huffington Post did an article on Cotton’s “shocking” interview and his “twisted history.”
Many historians weighed in. For example:
Contra Sen. Cotton, slavery was neither a “necessary” evil nor destined for “ultimate extinction.” Slavery was a choice defended or accepted by most white Americans for generations, and it expanded dramatically between the Revolution and the Civil War.https://t.co/bVew9JKS0k
— Joshua D. Rothman (@rothmanistan) July 26, 2020
And for a local view, we have Wendell Griffen, the Little Rock Baptist preacher and judge, who wrote on his blog that Cotton’s view of the “necessary evil” was “flawed logic and flawed ethics.”
It is flawed logic because morally competent people can choose good rather than evil. A decision to act in evil ways is not logically “necessary” if people have the power to act in ways that are not evil.
Cotton’s flawed logic is also ethically (morally) wrong. Kidnapping, trafficking, enslaving, selling, purchasing, raping, maiming, and stealing the lives and labor of Africans were deliberate evils committed based on greed, not need. Slavery was, at bottom, a commercial venture undertaken by Southern planters (of cotton, tobacco, and other cash crops) and Northern ship owners whose capitalist self-interest was a driving reason for seeking independence from King George.
Africans were kidnapped, enslaved, transported across oceans, held hostage, bought, and sold by white men whose highest principle was greed, not need. The white Founding Fathers knew this was so. Perhaps that explains why they deleted a 168 word passage from the draft of the Declaration of Independence prepared by Thomas Jefferson that blamed King George for perpetuating the slave trade
Tom Cotton’s flawed logic and flawed sense of history exposes how lies about American “exceptionalism” and virtue have been told, sold, and repeated in American public education to prevent students from knowing inconvenient truths.
Just spell Cotton’s name right. He’s basking in the attention, which spreads the word to the racists he’s cultivating for his 2024 run for president.
An unnecessary evil is continuing to have Cotton in the Senate. But he ratfucked his only Democratic opponent, Josh Mahony, with oppo research, so that Mahony exited the race after filing closed, leaving only a Libertarian on the ballot in opposition. An independent is trying to qualify but faces an uphill court fight.
It still as easy as ABC: Anybody but Cotton.
Some Republicans get it, too. Such as those backing The Lincoln Project to defeat Donald Trump and the senators who support him.
Makkke America Great Again https://t.co/SVihgclqMs
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) July 27, 2020
Right-wingers are trying to defend Cotton, using his lame defense that HE didn’t say slavery was a necessary evil, only that he was quoting the founders TO SILENCE TEACHING ABOUT SLAVERY.
Of course it is possible to attribute beliefs to the Founders without endorsing them. However Cotton has previously praised the beliefs of the Founders in unstinting terms. His previous attacks on the 1619 Project defended the “noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded.” His bill proclaimed, “The self-evident truths set forth by that Declaration are the fundamental principles upon which America was founded.” It is a little hard to square these statements with Cotton’s current stance that he is not fully onboard with the Founders.
Cotton’s mistake was to go beyond merely trolling the 1619 Project to offer his own historical analysis, which led him into explaining the decisions of the Founders and thereby to justify their acceptance of slavery. His analysis is woefully incorrect. The Constitution did not place slavery “on the course to its ultimate extinction.” In the decades after the founding, slavery exploded in size.
The Constitution did not establish any process that would allow slavery to be ended peacefully. That is why it took a Civil War.