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We endured a little Christmastime dust-up in the state's right-wing political paradise.

It arose from the age-old philosophical debate about whether to be nice or selfish, practical or exploitative, expansive or afraid.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the rascal, did something practical, reasonable, measured, largely routine and thoroughly decent.

It is his occasional custom. He'll go that way a time or two a year. It typically gives a demagogue or two loitering on his right flank an opportunity to get up in front of a grandstand and stoke uninformed fears.

Trent Garner is a Tom Cotton wannabe from El Dorado who holds a seat in the state Senate that he seems to devote to making Jason Rapert seem comparatively endurable.

The issue is thoroughly basic: Would Arkansas consent to continue accepting refugees who might get through the Trump administration's unwelcoming policies and make a turn toward our little spot on the map? Or would the state exercise dubious authority granted newly by the Trump administration to opt out of having to put up with any needy foreigners whatsoever?

Hutchinson told the State Department that Arkansas would continue to accept refugees under current conditions. He thus put Arkansas among the 34 better states.

He did that two days before Christmas. He was saying we'd be willing to find room at one inn or another.

Garner shot back on Twitter on the day after Christmas that we should wait just a minute. Who were these people, anyway, wandering around in the dead of night following a star and looking for shelter?

Garner put out a statement declaring that we're apt to wind up like Sweden or somebody if we start letting people who slither through the Trump administration's anti-refugee shield venture willy-nilly into our Arkansas.

Here is all in the world Hutchinson was saying: Considering how stingy the Trump administration is about accepting refugees in the first place, then, sure, we would accept some thoroughly checked-out folks if that circumstance should arise, as it seldom will, if history guides.

Arkansas has not been a strong or regular refugee destination in years, since those two large encampments at Fort Chaffee when Vietnamese and Cuban refugees needed a big place quickly. That's hardly the circumstance now.

This dust-up is about far less than meets the demagogue's small mind.

The issue here is not illegal immigration, which is at least a tough issue. This is a matter of asylum-granted refugees who fled persecution or intolerable conditions.

The issue is not encampment of thousands of Cuban refugees floating on rickety rafts toward Florida, and then going on a riot. This is a matter of Arkansas' potential and probably minute share of a few hundred people, from various abusive countries, who manage to make it through the Trump administration's maze.

The issue is not Hutchinson's proactive open invitation to every might-be terrorist. This is a matter of the Trump administration giving states the option to refuse any and all refugee relocations, and setting a January date to exercise it, and of Hutchinson's meeting the deadline by saying that we won't outrightly refuse in Arkansas because we're good people and we trust that The Great Donald will be tough on who gets this far.

The issue is not open-border acceptance of immigrants that Garner warned could bedevil us the way it's bedeviled parts of Europe and Scandinavia. This is a matter of simply declining to say no way, no how, nowhere, no time, no sir.

It's a matter of declining to be un-Christian across the board, of keeping alive the option for cautious and limited Christian behavior.

Hutchinson said that he had run the matter past the state's municipalities, faith-based communities and other charities and received assurances of orderly cooperation in providing services.

Yet Garner was calling for payment of per diem for legislators to hie to Little Rock for hearings to get to the bottom of this simple exercise in continued compassion that the governor, through due diligence, had already gotten to the transparent bottom of.

What Garner was really doing was what so many modern conservative extremists do. They exploit paper-thin appearances to serve their personal political interests by ignoring facts and practicalities to scare their constituents into continuing to vote for them.

Hutchinson said Arkansas has a history of welcoming refugees. He's just trying to honor that history in as careful a way as possible.

Garner is representing a stronger strain of Arkansas history, a demagogic one represented by Jeff Davis and Orval Faubus and Tommy Robinson and Tom Cotton and, by his own imitative nomination, himself.

It's the classic Arkansas political and cultural battle, pitting careful pragmatists on what passes for our contemporary left against the wolf-crying scaredy-cats who define what passes for our contemporary right.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/31/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Garner, bar the door!


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