When Cotton Gets Rotten

One ridiculous aspect about comments made by President Donald Trump regarding his preference for immigrants from Norway over immigrants from Haiti and some other African nations is the debate about his language.  Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Senator David Perdue of Georgia, who attended the Oval Office meeting, defend the president by using a bit of linguistic legerdemain.

While reliable sources confirm that Trump referred to Haiti and other countries as “shithole countries,” Trump’s allies have raised an interesting defense.  Cotton and Perdue supported Trump by denying the president said the word.  But apparently the basis for their defense is that Trump actually said “shithouse countries.”

Others may debate whether it is more or less racist to have used one term over the other.  But it is clear that politics is at a low level when you have elected Senators even making such an argument to suck up to this president.

The incident, however, probably is not a new low for politics.  Just considering Cotton’s record, one sees a man whose loyalty to ideology often trumps traditional notions of national service.  For example, during his first year in the Senate in 2015, Cotton organized other Senators to undermine President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran through a letter to the government of a foreign country.

Cotton also worked to prevent the confirmation of a highly qualified African-American woman to be the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas because she was friends with President Obama.  The nominee, Cassandra Butts, had a distinguished career when she was nominated for a position that needed to be filled.

After a hearing about Butts’s nomination in May 2014, Cotton put a hold on her confirmation.  He later told her that he was doing it because he knew she had been friends with President Obama since law school.  And he wanted to hurt the president.  Butts spent the last 835 days of her life waiting for the confirmation before she died of acute leukemia.

“Cotton Fields”

For something nicer, when I think of rotten cotton, I go back to the classic song “Cotton Fields.”

Oh, when them cotton bolls get rotten,
You can’t pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home.

Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, wrote “Cotton Fields.” He recorded it in 1940.

A number of famous artists have covered the song, including Odetta, Harry Belafonte, the Beach Boys, and Johnny Cash. But my favorite cover version is the one by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The CCR version is the one I grew up listening to.  It appeared on their 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys.

“Cotton Fields” is a wonderful song that people still enjoy more than seventy-five years after it was first recorded. By contrast, seventy-five years from now, nobody will probably remember how a man named Cotton tried to ingratiate himself to a president based on a distinction between “shithole” and “shithouse.”

Photo of cotton fields via Creative Commons and Kimberly Vardeman. What is your favorite version of “Cotton Fields”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Lead Belly: “The Hindenburg Disaster”

    On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire while it attempted to dock at a naval station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board the ship died, along with one worker on the ground.

    Herbert Morrison’s Report

    Many people would listen to Herbert Morrison‘s recorded reports on the radio.  The horrible crash — along with Morrison’s cry of “Oh, the humanity!” — helped end public confidence in the use of airships as a means of travel.

    This video puts together Morrson’s reporting with some separate color footage from the scene.

    Lead Belly’s “The Hindenburg Disaster”

    In the years before television, songwriter often responded quickly to write songs about a major disaster.  And Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, used his songwriting skills to tell the story of the Hindenburg in “The Hindenburg Disaster.”

    Lead Belly recorded his song for the Library of Congress on June 22, 1937.  Check out his version of the story in “The Hindenburg Disaster.”

    “The Hindenburg Disaster” appears on Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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