Tom Cotton, the junior US senator from Arkansas, is an army veteran, but these days his preferred incendiary devices are words. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an op-ed he wrote urging the Trump administration to “Send in the Troops” to put down the protests taking place in many cities, which Cotton called “riots” perpetrated by “bands of miscreants.” There was outrage and outcry in response to the op-ed, and the Times backpedaled, a little, by tacking on a five-paragraph explanation/apology about insufficient fact-checking. A few days later, the editor of the editorial-page section, James Bennett, resigned.
You can read more that particular drama in this New Yorker essay, if you like. My subject today, however, is a phrase Cotton dropped on June 11 during remarks on the Senate floor about calls, once again, to remove statues and monuments that celebrate the Confederacy (which, you probably don’t need to be reminded, was the losing side of the Civil War). Cotton, from the Land of Cotton, was having none of it.
Sen. Tom Cotton: "Are we going to tear the Washington Monument down? Are we going to rename it the Obelisk of Wokeness?" pic.twitter.com/gPTACs2Ep6— The Hill (@thehill) June 11, 2020
"Just up the mall is the Washington Monument,” he said, after demanding that his colleagues “end the madness” of “cancel culture.” “Are we going to tear the Washington Monument down? Are we going to rename it the Obelisk of Wokeness?”
I’m not going to rehash cancel culture (which was the Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year for 2019) or woke (which has been considered for WotY status every year since 2016). Instead, I want to talk about a non-slang word in Cotton’s little speech: obelisk.
Washington Monument, woke obelisk. (Via National Park Service)