Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is back in the news, and it’s for exactly the type of thing you’d expect.
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) July 27, 2020
Cotton said slavery was a “necessary evil” upon which the United States was founded during an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about new legislation preventing schools from teaching The New York Times’ 1619 project in schools. Outlets like HuffPost quickly took the quote and ran, but Cotton called it “fake news” and ascribed his quote to the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln.
This is the definition of fake news.
I said that *the Founders viewed slavery as a necessary evil* and described how they put the evil institution on the path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln. https://t.co/SaWTTlMO7w
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) July 26, 2020
It seems like an open-and-shut case of misquoting—until you actually read the quote. Many in Cotton’s replies pointed out he was quoted saying “as the Founding Fathers said” about slavery being a necessary evil, implying Cotton’s agreement with the sentiment. As Twitter user @jhkayejr wrote, “the subordinating conjunction gives him away.”
Arguing Cotton’s grammar is hardly worth the time. We know where he stands on American slavery because we know where he stands on how it’s taught in schools. Anything portraying slavery as less than a “necessary evil”—like, say, just evil—is an inaccurate rewriting of American history. Inaccuracies and omissions in how American history is currently taught don’t meet the same standard, however. If they did, perhaps there would’ve been an equal amount of outrage over Southern states teaching the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” or skipping over the Civil Rights Movement.
Cotton and his ilk take pride in the country’s history as it’s written and see no need to question Founding Fathers or why they kicked the can down the road when it came to the issue of slavery. (It couldn’t be because so many of them owned slaves—could it?)
Descendant of slave owner justifies slavery and then backpeddles by only using 3/5ths of his original quote. https://t.co/17lIQjbz3h
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) July 27, 2020
Historical projection is always tricky. Exalted heroes of the past will rarely hold up to the morals and ideals of the current moment. But slavery isn’t a sentiment—it’s an institution of human bondage and suffering. It’s part of the bedrock on which the United States was founded whether you like it or not. And to have a sitting senator actively fighting against it being taught as such in 2020 reveals how far some people are willing to go to ignore that fact.