Tag Archives: Sessions

Tell Me Again It Isn’t All About Race

The latest polling has Donald Trump at 33% approval. Most of the rest of us find it incomprehensible that anyone approves of this profoundly damaged and embarrassing man or his Keystone Kop administration. The folks that Molly Ivins used to call the “Chattering Classes” have filled column inches, airwaves and much of the Internet with efforts to explain his election and the continued loyalty of his rabid base.

The more I read, the more convinced I become that Trump owes that victory and that loyalty to what scholars delicately term “racial resentment.” There were certainly lifelong Republicans and Hillary haters who held their noses and voted for him; their defections account for the steady erosion of his support.  His remaining base, however, is composed of the people who understood that “Make America Great Again” was (none-too-subtle) code for “Make America White Again.”

As his poll results decline and his troubles mount, Trump needs to feed and energize that base. So his administration is ratcheting up his war on immigrants (especially brown and Muslim ones), throwing some red meat to anti-Semites, and promising to protect those poor, oppressed white people from “reverse” discrimination.

As Paul Waldman writes,

To many people reading this, the idea that white people are being discriminated against in higher education — or anywhere else — is absurd. The idea that discrimination against whites is such a significant problem that it demands Justice Department action is positively ludicrous. But we should understand that this is exactly the kind of thing many of Trump’s voters wanted him to deliver. And the administration will be only too pleased to hear the condemnations from the left over this initiative.

That’s not to say that the policy doesn’t have its origins in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s sincerely felt belief that white folks can’t catch a break in America. I’m sure it does. But it’s also part of a long and extraordinarily successful Republican project to convince white voters that minorities in general and African Americans in particular enjoy a panoply of free benefits from the government that make their lives comfortable and easy. It’s a lie, but it’s extraordinarily widespread.

Waldman reminds us that regular viewers of Fox News, readers of Breitbart, and fans of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are constantly inundated with “evidence” supporting white racial grievance. It’s a central theme in the media that shapes conservative reality.

Hate groups and so-called “alt-right” organizations have grown dramatically since the Presidential campaign–a campaign that saw Trump endorsed by the KKK, David Duke and other panicky “race warriors” who had slithered from under their rocks to revile and demean an African-American President.

The Guardian recently reported on a gathering in Tennessee of one such group.

This weekend, American Renaissance held its annual conference at a venue in Montgomery Bell state park, an hour west of Nashville, Tennessee. Attendees and speakers clearly felt a growing confidence. They have seen appreciable growth in membership of established and emerging far-right groups. They have also seen the election as president of Donald Trump.

Speakers at the event addressed subjects including “Race realism and race denialism” and “Has the white man turned the corner?” One considered “The Trump report card – so far”….

Many were millennials. Though all attendees wore conference dress code – jacket and tie – more than a few younger men sported the “fashy haircut”, short back and sides with a severe parting, which has become a signature of the so-called alt-right.

Many such young men lined up for selfies with Richard Spencer, the president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute thinktank who has achieved fame since greeting the election result with a cry of “Hail Trump”.

This resurgence of open, unapologetic racism is profoundly depressing. Like most sentient Americans, I realized that these attitudes still existed, but I’ve been appalled by how widespread and overt their expression has become in the Age of Trump.

When Trump’s poll numbers finally bottom out, we’ll have a pretty good idea what percentage of our fellow citizens are willing to jettison American ideals in return for continued White Christian privilege.

Trump’s “Perverse Miracle”

E.J. Dionne is always thought-provoking, but his column yesterday about the collapse of (small-d) democratic norms at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue–and especially his description of the President’s current twitter storm attacking Jeff Sessions–was, as the saying goes, “dead on.”

Trump’s latest perverse miracle is that he has progressives — along with everyone else who cares about the rule of law — rooting for Sessions. The attorney general is as wrong as ever on voter suppression, civil rights enforcement and immigration. But Sessions did one very important thing: He obeyed the law.

When it was clear that he would have obvious conflicts of interest in the investigation of Russian meddling in our election and its possible links to the Trump campaign, Sessions recused himself, as he was required to do.

Trump’s attacks on Sessions for that recusal are thus a naked admission that he wants the nation’s top lawyer to act illegally if that’s what it takes to protect the president and his family.

My only quibble with this analysis is the assumption– implicit in the description–that Trump understands the difference between legality and illegality. His entire career calls into question his comprehension of law as distinct from power.

To the extent that his mental processes could be called “thought,” it appears that Trump approaches law as the ability to wield authority. The central notion of the rule of law–that no one is above the law, that rules are created in conformance with certain standards of fundamental fairness, and that they apply to everyone, irrespective of wealth or status–is clearly outside his comprehension.

Even Sessions–a contemptible bigot who has spent much of his professional life opposed to rational policies if they advanced equal rights–understood his obligation to remove himself from a situation in which he had an obvious conflict of interest.

Gail Collins summed up the situation with her usual mordant humor:

Now Trump wants Sessions gone so he can replace him with an attorney general who will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions can’t do it because he recused himself from all things Russia-related.

Mueller’s probe into the Trump camp’s relationship with Russia terrifies the president, especially if it involves an investigation of Trump family finances. So obviously, we are rooting for Sessions to stay right where he is … and, um, keep persecuting immigrants, ratchet up imprisonments for nonviolent crimes and maybe go back to his old dream of imposing the death penalty on marijuana dealers.

Well, I told you this was about irony.

In just over six months, Trump has the whole country rooting for the lesser of two evils….a “perverse miracle” indeed.

Jeff Sessions, Drugs and the Late Lamented GOP

Jeff Sessions is a poster boy for the contemporary GOP–a perfect example of its takeover by racists, misogynists and anti-intellectuals, and its retreat from (and misapplication of) its philosophical roots.

Nowhere is the intellectual and moral corruption Sessions represents clearer than in his enthusiasm for re-instituting the War on Drugs–a counterproductive effort that even the rank and file of the GOP has largely abandoned.

Whether Sessions’ determination to go after marijuana, as well as harder drugs, is a result of his inability or unwillingness to understand the research, or is prompted by investments in the private prison industry, as has been speculated, is beside the point. In either case, Sessions is an example of the division–the abyss– between thoughtful adherents of principled conservatism and the ideologues who appeal to a far less thoughtful Republican base.

Nothing makes those contemporary Republican divisions clearer than a recent issue of Policy Analysis, a publication of the Cato Institute. Whether one agrees with its positions or not, Cato is indisputably home to legitimate scholars who make principled and consistent arguments for a libertarian point of view that used to be widely accepted–albeit never dominant–within the GOP.

Unlike today’s Republicans, Cato does not confine its application of libertarianism to economic issues and the boardroom while cheerfully endorsing theocratic control of personal behaviors.

The Institute’s current research adds to the great weight of evidence against Session-like drug policy, as the introduction makes clear:

Proponents of drug prohibition claim that such policies reduce drug-related crime, decrease drug-related disease and overdose, and are an effective means of disrupting and dismantling organized criminal enterprises.

We analyze the theoretical underpinnings of these claims, using tools and insights from economics, and explore the economics of prohibition and the veracity of proponent claims by analyzing data on overdose deaths, crime, and cartels. Moreover, we offer additional insights through an analysis of U.S. international drug policy utilizing data from U.S. drug policy in Afghanistan. While others have examined the effect of prohibition on domestic outcomes, few have asked how these programs impact foreign policy outcomes.

We conclude that prohibition is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, at achieving the goals of policymakers both domestically and abroad. Given the insights from economics and the available data, we find that the domestic War on Drugs has contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and fostered and sustained the creation of powerful drug cartels. Internationally, we find that prohibition not only fails in its own right, but also actively undermines the goals of the Global War on Terror.

Right now, all eyes are on the harm being done to our nation by the embarrassing buffoon in the Oval Office and his cabinet of theocrats and incompetents. That harm is real. But an even greater and more long-term harm comes from the collapse of a once-respectable political party capable of articulating a serious, intellectually  challenging conservative philosophy.

Much as partisans like to believe it, no political party has all the answers to the dilemmas of modern society. Without the advantage of adult conversation and debate, without the ability to consider and evaluate contending good-faith approaches to our common problems, America can’t move forward.

As long as the GOP remains dominated by clones of Jeff Sessions — in thrall to a rigid ideology, bound to partisan litmus tests, and convinced that genuine consideration of probative evidence is tantamount to betrayal– we all lose.