The Long and Sad Goodbye of Lamar Alexander 

Senator, this is perhaps the third time I have written to you publicly in 2020, the final year of your third term as our state's senior senator. Like many Tennesseans, I have always considered you an excellent representative of our state, and a dedicated public servant. Unfortunately, 2020 was not America's greatest-ever year. Nor was it yours.

I read with interest the interview you did last week with the Daily Memphian and paid close attention to your comments about Donald Trump, now the lame-duck president of these United States. This was the digital headline in the DM:

Alexander to Trump: 'People remember the last thing you do'

That statement is certainly true, Senator, particularly when the "last thing you do" is particularly good or particularly bad. But did the thought not cross your mind that people might well remember the last things of consequence you have done as our outgoing senior senator?

click to enlarge Lamar Alexander - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Lamar Alexander

Many Tennesseans know exactly what's happened during this, your last year in office. Many of us will always remember what you did and didn't do in 2020. Indeed, last week's Daily Memphian headline might just as well have read:

Tennesseans to Alexander: 'People remember the last thing you do'

How ironic, sir, that you will always be remembered for what you did and did not do in 2020, the year in which you announced your retirement. Ironic, in the sense that you first became our governor in the dying days of 1978, 42 years ago, when your predecessor, Ray Blanton, was removed early from that position, on account of his awarding pardons to all kinds of scoundrels. (Apparently, Donald Trump is now doing the same kind of thing, but that's another story for another day.)

I interviewed you in Nashville in 1979, a month or two after you took office. Clearly, you were a vast improvement over Blanton. How sad, then, after such a long and illustrious career in our state and in Washington, D.C., that you too will be remembered now for the last things you did, carrying water, time and time again, for Trump, all the while endorsing, aloud or in silence, the wretched policies of this worst president in our nation's history.

Last January, you helped make sure that the president, under impeachment, would not be convicted in the Senate, declining to bring John Bolton forward as a witness before the Senate Chamber. And for the next 10 months, after Trump's acquittal, you said next to nothing about this de facto mob boss in the White House, who, in 2020 alone, came close to destroying our country, ignoring the coronavirus, all while time and again challenging America's democratic institutions.

As best I can tell, Senator, you said nothing whatsoever about Trump's ongoing failure to deal with the pandemic. You said nothing at all about his absurd focus on golf, glitter, and Twitter. Perhaps, as chair of the Senate Health Committee, you suggested privately that Trump might meet more regularly with the Coronavirus Task Force, but if so, that suggestion was never made public. Month after month, you said and did nothing about this president's penchant for fiddling while America burned, putting the country's economy, its institutions, and its public-health systems through the ringer.

Last week, when you spoke to the Daily Memphian, you gave Mr. Trump advice you apparently never had given to yourself. Why did you wait until November 23rd to make that headline observation, that Trump had screwed the pooch, when such an observation might have made a real difference six months ago?

Don't worry, many of us will always remember the last year of your last term as our senator. At least you're retiring shortly. Perhaps you'll have plenty of time to think about how different things could and should have been, had you used your final year in office to try to make America great again. Instead, you chose to be part of the problem, making no real attempt to be part of the solution. That's a tragedy, for us all.

Kenneth Neill is the founder and publisher emeritus of the Memphis Flyer.

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