Sen. Lamar Alexander, photo by AMSF2011.
I first met Lamar Alexander almost exactly forty years ago, when i was a cub reporter for Memphis magazine, and he was but one year into his first term as Governor of Tennessee. He served one more, then became president of the University of Tennessee, after which he served as Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, before moving on to three terms in the Senate. He is retiring at the end of this year.
If there is a more popular politician in the Volunteer State, I know not who it would be. When I wrote him a note a couple weeks ago, urging him to vote for documents and testimony in the Trump impeachment trial, I reminded him that, while I was a lifelong Democrat, I had voted for "Alexander" more often than not when his name was on the ballot.
It was difficult for me, however, to watch the contortions the Senator went through last week as the impeachment trial was winding down. For a few hours there, it appeared that Alexander was leaning towards voting "yes" for testimony and witnesses. But by Thursday that particular coach had turned into a pumpkin, as word trickled out that Lamar had decided to vote "no" on any kind of evidence.
When Senator Alexander finally released his statement, I was reminded of the wisdom of Solomon. While conceding that Trump's behavior regarding aid to Ukraine was "inappropriate," Alexander cut the baby neatly in half, asserting there was no need to punish the President so late in his first term. "Let the people decide," Alexander pronounced, in effect ending the chances of new evidence being introduced into the Senate trial.
Let the people decide, Lamar said. That thought kept running through my mind while I listened to Trump's bizarre "victory speech" earlier today at the White House. Evidently, only some people will decide. The President launched a celebration of sorts, uplifting his friends and supporters, of course, but demeaning his political enemies, named and unnamed, in a fashion never before seen inside that two-century-old building.
It seemed just the right time to send my senior Senator a follow-up letter, and so, having grown tired of listening to Trump howling at the moon in broad daylight, I did just that:
Dear Senator Alexander:
I do hope you are part and parcel of this disgusting spectacle now going on at the White House. Perhaps you're seated there and watching helplessly, as Donald Trump launches one despicable rant after another, perhaps the single most egotistic and delusional speech ever given by an American president within those walls.
Hang your head in shame, sir, while you're listening...
I have to say that, while typing and watching this speech on television, I can't keep up with the sheer volume of nonsense flowing effortlessly out of this self-centered egomaniac's mouth, each snippet full of equal measures of delusion, distortion and hate.
The bombast echoes off the walls: "If we didn't win, the market would have crashed." "We did nothing wrong!" and "We were treated unbelievably unfairly. It was all bullshit..."
Yes, I guess even "big winners" sometimes need good-old-fashioned profanity to deliver their messages. On and on Trump goes, where he stops nobody surely knows. He is truly a law unto himself.
I do hope you saw the letter I sent you about ten days ago, suggesting that you keep an open mind about whether or not to impeach Mr. Trump. I included this observation: "Our current President seems less a Republican than a South American demagogue."
I don't about you, Senator, but right now I know I am watching a genuine demagogue in action, one born in Queens, not Paraguay. What a great pity for you, for me and for all Americans of good will.
I can't watch anymore, sir, so I'll stop right now, long before he does. I do hope you're there, Senator, with your mouth shut, silently endorsing this madman's rant. You surely deserve to sit through all this claptrap, given that it was your vote, more than anyone else's, that betrayed your state, your Senate and your country.
Kenneth Neill was publisher of Memphis magazine for over 35 years, and founded The Memphis Flyer in 1989.