In Search of Tom Cole ’71

Grinnell has always impressed me by having few glitzy, headline-hogging alums. I’d like to think the College instead produces serious, hardworking leaders in all sorts of fields; the kind who do, rather than boast about doing. Among those, I include Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla, from the state’s 4th District, and a deputy majority whip. Several months ago, troubled by the state of our country, I wrote him a letter. 

June 14, 2017

Dear Tom Cole,

I have followed your career with interest, initially because you are a fellow Grinnellian and later because you sound like someone I could honestly disagree with and respect. I am so troubled by the direction our government seems to be heading in. It doesn’t take a genius to see that one day, possibly quite soon, you and members of your party will be faced with a choice between civic duty and political self-interest. You must sense this coming, too. I know the first rule of an officeholder is to get re-elected, but I urge you, should that occasion arise, to put patriotism before party loyalty. The institutions of our nation truly seem at risk. The president shows no respect or even understanding for our democratic system. If he starts acting in a way that you feel violates the precepts of government, that starts us down the road to some form of thinly-veiled dictatorship, I urge you to speak out. 

What can I offer in return? Dinner in Brooklyn, New York, should you ever be in the neighborhood. I’m a pretty fair cook. 

After Charlottesville, Va., I tried again:

August 17, 2017

Dear Representative Cole,

… What President Trump did this week, tacitly endorsing people who hate blacks and Jews, was a gut-punch to this American. I wish you and others in the Republican leadership (surely there must be some who truly care about their country, not just their position) would speak out. Forcefully. 

This is a test. You may not have asked to be put in this position but here you are. I think you know what your duty is. You don’t want to look back and feel that your silence contributed, however indirectly, to the kind of attacks and injustices your own racial heritage has made you all too familiar with. 

Then it occurred to me that he may not be seeing my letters. After all, I’m not a constituent. But I’ll bet Rep. Cole reads The Grinnell Magazine! So, ever the optimist, I fired up my laptop once more. 

Dear Tom Cole,

Have you seen the recent reports that President Trump is now calling into question the authenticity of the Access Hollywood video in which he makes those embarrassing and shameful remarks about groping women? “Maybe it’s not my voice,” he’s been telling people. 

Now, we both know it’s him on that footage. He admitted as much when it first surfaced. What we have is a president who is unable to accept the difference between truth and falsehood. Differences in ideology, in style, are one thing, but when the leader of our country loses his grip on reality, thinks he can make something true just by saying it, that’s another. Aren’t you worried for the safety of our nation? 

You’re an elected official. Don’t you think someone in government should be calling for the president’s mental health to be independently evaluated? It would be an extraordinary act, but these are extraordinary times. The man has almost unlimited power and seems dangerously out of touch with the concepts that form the foundations of civilized society. He may be ill. He literally may not understand what he is doing. And that’s dangerous.

Let’s talk. My dinner invite is still on.

Representative Cole is in a tough spot, but I have faith in him. He’s going to speak up, say out loud what his more timid colleagues all privately admit: that they are scared, that our leader seems to be deteriorating, that action must be taken. Whatever it costs in the short term, he’ll sleep better at night knowing he did the right thing. I’ll do my part. 

I'll make him a good meal.

I wonder if he’d like my vegetarian enchiladas…

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