It was nice listening to Lindsey Graham making sense, while it lasted.
The Republican senator from South Carolina was so outspoken in his criticism of the Republican nominee for president (“a nut job…loser as a person and a candidate…[who is] ill-suited for the job”), and of the partisans who nominated Donald Trump (“my party has gone batshit crazy”) that it was almost possible to imagine that Graham was a more reasonable and responsible Republican than Trump.
Then Lindsey Graham reminded us that, before he was trashing Trump for trashing the Constitution, Lindsey Graham was trashing the Constitution. Indeed, Graham has a long record of defending the Republican Party’s assault on civil liberties in ways that Trump merely echoes.
That’s what Graham has been doing this week, as he has proposed that Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in last weekend’s New York and New Jersey bombings, be treated as an “enemy combatant.”
The South Carolina Republican issued a statement this week in which he argued that holding Rahami as an enemy combatant would allow for aggressive and immediate questioning of the suspect. “That should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete,” griped Graham, who added, “I have little confidence the Obama Administration will take the course of action I am proposing. Instead, they will read him Miranda Rights as soon as possible…”
“As an American citizen,” Graham acknowledges, “Rahami cannot be tried by a military commission. Any future trial at which he would be a defendant would take place in federal district court or state court.” But in the meantime the senator wants to apply a set of rules that align with his current enthusiasms—even if that means authorities must disregard the dictates of a Constitution that since 1791 has stated: “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Constitution, since 1868, has also included the charge: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Graham, a former military lawyer, grounds his arguments in his interpretations of court rulings and the Law of War, rather than the theatrical ruminations in which the Republican nominee so frequently engages. But Graham’s stance is at least as extreme as that of Trump and, depending on how Trump aides explain the Republican nominee’s position, perhaps a bit more extreme.
This, of course, is the stark reality that is too often neglected when politicians and pundits focus all their attention on Trump, while neglecting the partisan context in which he operates.
Many of the so-called #NeverTrump Republicans, who delight in the attention they receive for their glib remarks about the Republican nominee, are at least as wrong as Trump on the most basic issues facing the country and the world. That was certainly the case with the favorite of the #NeverTrump crowd in the primaries, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
There are responsible Republicans and conservatives who respect the Constitution. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, like Graham a failed 2016 Republican presidential contender, has argued, “We need to be very careful that as we fight this long war that we don’t wake up one day and say, we won the war but we lost what we stood for, we lost the bill of rights…”
But too many Republicans, including Trump, including Graham, neglect what should be bipartisan wisdom with regard to basic liberties.
Speaking from New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “We want to protect America. What is America? It’s the rights that we have established. It’s the systems that we have established. That’s what makes us who we are. And I fear, sometimes, with this rhetoric, that people are suggesting we lose what is special about us in way to protect ourselves. And that’s that doesn’t work. It’s not who we are. Let’s preserve the system. Let’s be fair about it. Let’s keep our heads.”
That’s the reasoned and responsible stance, the position that respects and honors the Constitution.
For the unreasonable and irresponsible stance, the position that disrespects and dishonors the Constitution, you can turn to Donald Trump… or to #NeverTrumper Lindsey Graham.