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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: What passes for courage

by John Brummett | November 14, 2021 at 1:56 a.m.

A few letters to the editor have expressed plenty of outrage and some bewilderment over the state's congressional delegation voting against the needs of Arkansas in opposing that bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last Friday night.

The outrage is well-placed, but the bewilderment is bewildering.

Surely it's plain by now: Except for Asa Hutchinson, modern Republican officeholders around here are afraid of a force greater than service to constituents.

Our four Republican House members--or yours, since they clearly don't represent me--were, like your two senators in August on the same bill, too frightened to cast the logical problem-solving vote to make the state's bridges safer and high-speed Internet more accessible. They recoiled in fear of the egomaniacal and vengeful wrath of Donald Trump and the vile backlash of the least-varnished of his backers.

Trump and his backers don't want anything done by which credit might accrue to someone other than Trump.

The megalomaniac talked throughout his four years as president about championing an infrastructure program, but never seriously advanced the matter. Maybe he found the issue insufficiently ego-serving when informed he couldn't put his name on every road, bridge and airport terminal.

Yet now that Joe Biden and Democrats have passed an infrastructure bill with 16 Republican votes in the Senate and a decisive 13 in the House last Friday, Trump is reacting in the only way he knows--childishly, enviously, petulantly, self-obsessively and absurdly.

He is blasting as lily-livered the 16 Republican senators including Mitch McConnell and the 13 Republican House members who actually pushed the proposal across the finish line in the House because the Democrats had to overcome a half-dozen irrational fringe artists of their own.

Trump declared in a written statement that is quoted here without correction of typical capitalization misuse: "All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves, in particular Mitch McConnell, for granting a two-month stay which allowed the Democrats time to work things out at our Country's, and the Republican Party's, expense. How about all of those Republican Senators that voted thinking that helping the Democrats is such a wonderful thing to do, so politically correct. They just don't get it!"

Trump also said that only 11 percent of the bill's money would be spent on "real infrastructure." But 20 percent is going to roads and bridges. Counting as infrastructure assorted rail improvements, air-terminal projects and port enhancements along with water- and sewer-line replacements gets you above 50 percent even before you decide to count broadband as contemporary infrastructure, as you should. We can argue, I suppose, about climate-change mitigation and charging stations for electric cars.

One element in Trump's statement was more important to garden-variety Republican fraidy-cats than any misstatement, including his making no sense in that reference to McConnell granting the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi some kind of a two-month "stay." McConnell cannot control the pace of events in the other chamber.

More important was that Trump vowed to endorse primary candidates against those reaching across the aisle for safe bridges and better facilities.

Don't you just know that mild-mannered U.S. Sen. John Boozman is glad he didn't go with his original puppeteer, McConnell, but with Trump on his chamber's infrastructure vote in August?

Otherwise Trump might be rescinding his endorsement of Boozman and bestowing it on that former Razorback footballer Jake Bequette who challenges Boozman from the rabid-right GOP's Southeastern Conference football farm club that produced such political luminaries as Tommy Tuberville and Herschel Walker.

Then there is the case of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan. He was among the 13 Republican House members voting for infrastructure, doing so in part, he said, to strike a blow for responsible problem-solving against the Democrats' "progressive" caucus that had long held the bill hostage to leverage a bigger one on social spending.

Upton played for CNN last week a recording of a voice mail he received anonymously in protest of his vote. The voice declared: "I hope your f- - - - - - family dies. I hope everybody in your f- - - - - - staff dies, you f- - - - - - piece of f- - - - - - s- - -. Traitor!"

I think that guy used to call me every afternoon.

I suspect the caller was driven by devotion to Trump rather than any thoughtful conservative principle--those being entirely different. He probably was angry less about any policy than about the fact that any Republican would help an evil Democrat on anything.

I also would not be surprised to learn that the guy thought the bill that had passed was the bigger and decidedly liberal social-spending bill, or to learn that there were two bills ... or a round Earth.

The point is that moderation, pragmatism and voting just once with the other side for safer bridges and faster Internet passes for courage anymore in the Republican context.

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.


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