Lindsey Graham, Chameleon

When examining adult pathologies, the Freudian in me wants to hop into Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine and check out the childhoods of the damaged adults who have perked my curiosity. For example, I’ve read South Carolina’s most prolific mass murderer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins’s autobiography where he describes being hung upside down naked as a boy and walloped by a tag team of fucked-up parents.[1] This abuse obviously contributed the sadism that characterized the hundred or so murders he committed.

Another pathological Donald, the 45th President of the United States, also suffered a lovelorn childhood. His father Fred taught him, to quote Patrice Taddonio’s profile from Frontline, that “there were only two kinds of people in this world: winners — or ‘killers’ — and losers.” 

Mary Trump, the President’s niece, claims that Trump’s mother “essentially abandoned” him, so the parents shipped the 13-year-old off to a military school that became for the next 5 years a sort of bullying bootcamp. There, to quote Marc Fisher, a co-author of Trump Revealed, “ Donald Trump yelled at his classmates. He pushed them around [… ] He ruled dormitory life with an iron fist.”

Which brings me to Trump enabler Lindsey Graham, who last night attempted to pivot from Trump in a cringe-worthy post-insurrection speech from the Capitol, a speech that might be described as jocular in tone, and what better time to yuk it up than in the aftermath of an Animal House like coup, or if you prefer, a Beer Belly putsch.[2]

Graham’s devotion to John McCain while McCain was living is well-documented, as is Graham’s abandonment of his mentor’s maverick ethos once the senior Senator from South Carolina became Trump’s number-one toady. Now that Trump’s about to leave the White House, whether through a traditional exit or via the 25th Amendment or impeachment, it seems as if Graham is once again metamorphosizing.

If you recall, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cited Graham’s pressuring him to adjust Georgia’s vote tallies as the reason he decided to record Trump’s recent call to, um, adjust Georgia’s vote tallies. However, suddenly now Lindsey’s flattering Hunter Biden’s dad.[3]

So what are we amateur psychologists to make of Lindsey Graham’s protean transformations from moderate McCain acolyte to fascistic Trump enabler, and now, it would seem, back into a more moderate political persona?

Is there something in his childhood to explain these permutations?

Graham, according to his 2015 memoir, grew up in a segregated establishment called the “Sanitary Café,” sleeping in a room behind the bar, “sharing a bathroom with patrons who worked down the street at a nearby mill plant [. . . ] [taking] baths with water heated up on the stove.”[4]  Despite the privation, he seems to have fond memories of his younger years, considering the regulars at the bar “his extended family.” In school he was a mediocre student and athlete but, according to the memoir, scored an 800 on the SAT.[5]

He seems, unlike the two Donalds, to have had a positive relationship with his parents, who died within a year of each other when he was 21 and 22, leaving Lindsey as the guardian of his 13-year-old sister, whom he looked after with love and attention.  Although he’s never successfully cultivated a long-term romantic relationship, Graham has imagined to achieve, at least resume-wise, a life of admirable achievement. 

Perhaps Graham, having lost his father at a relatively early age, has sought the friendship of powerful older men, first McCain 19 years Graham’s senior and then Trump, 9 years his senior, but I doubt it. 

Maybe he’s being blackmailed by Trump.

Or maybe he has only himself to blame. Like so many politicians, he seems to lack the ability to self-scrutinize, to apologize for shortcomings, to rein in his arrogance.

Whatever the case, “The evil that men do lives after them./ The good is oft interred with their bones.” What profit a man, etc.


[1] [TRIGGER WARNING! Don’t read this footnote if you possess a delicate sensibility] Peewee: “Next thing I knew, they [Pee Wee and Marsh’s stepfathers] was dragging Marsh and me to the barn. They stripped Marsh first — roped his ankles together and threw rope over a joist and strung him-up upside down, then his mama commenced to paddling him with a pine slat. Soon his ass was bleeding, and then she told his step daddy to whup him with his belt [. . .] Then it was my turn to be strung up naked. I felt the pine board splitting my butt; then my step-daddy (sic) stropped me with his belt like I hadn’t never been stropped before.

[2] Alas, I can’t claim these witticisms as my own. I copped the Animal House analogy from my friend Jake Williams and “Beer Belly Putsch” from my friend and former student Alex Werrell.

[3] If you recall, Graham, seeking Trumpian approval, called for Congressional investigations into Hunter Biden.

[4] Manu Raju “Graham’s memoir blunt about his upbringing.”

[5] Which, by the way, I consider to be in bad taste.