PRIORITIES

Donald Trump Puts the White Back in White House, Taps Jeff Sessions For Attorney General

With Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s early picks suggest he’s doubling down on his ugliest instincts.

Jeff Sessions, attorney general of the United States. The man who was too racist to be a federal judge. Thirty years ago. That is, he was too out there for the racial sensitivities of 30 years ago. And now he’s going to be the boss of every federal judge in the United States.

I remember the Sessions judicial nomination as it unfolded in real time, remember that he said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was all right until he found out some of them smoked dope, that he said the ACLU and NAACP were commie front groups. His nomination was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee, making him the first Reagan federal bench appointee to be so rejected.

Down in Alabama, that counted as a credit, not a blemish. In 1994, he was easily elected the state attorney general and two years later won his Senate seat. If he’s changed his views on such matters over the years, he’s given little public indication of having done so.

And now he’s going to be the attorney general. Or is he? I assume the old Senate practice of going easy on colleagues will obtain and Sessions will be sworn in. Even if the Democrats do decide to dispense with the old courtesy, they don’t have the votes, so confirmed he will be.

What will a Sessions-led Justice Department do? We can only imagine. There aren’t going to be any Voting Rights Act violation prosecutions, we can count on that. Instead we’re going to see “voter fraud” prosecutions. (Sessions initiated such criminal prosecutions in Alabama years ago.) We’re going to see the department provide whatever leeway and encouragement it can to states that want to do even more voter suppression.

Think also of what this will do to morale and personnel within the department. Divisions within the department will see their missions perverted and turned completely on their heads. The civil-rights division is going to have put a big poster of Orwell on the wall.

The racial issues will get the media attention and will deserve to. But Sessions will be a nightmare in many other respects. The Justice Department defines what constitutes torture. How reassured does an Attorney General Sessions make you feel about that? It also makes loads of decisions about bringing actions against corporations that rip people off, fix prices, collude against fair competition in various ways. These affect so many aspects of daily life.

You want to talk health-care costs? One big but almost-never-discussed reason they keep rising is monopolization within the health-care industry. Think Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department is going to do anything about that? Justice is in court right now trying to block health-industry mergers. These suits will presumably be dropped soon. Consumers will suffer.

There are first-tier tragedies in the election results—where the country is headed racially is high on that list. And there are a million second-tier tragedies. One of this country’s great needs, one of my private little hopes for a Clinton administration, was for a Justice Department that would be absolutely crusading on antitrust enforcement, as violations are rampant and crippling the economy. The antitrust division is going to be shredded.

Finally—remember that the Justice Department is highly susceptible to corruption if the attorney general isn’t sufficiently independent from the president. Think Sessions will be independent? Here’s a hypothetical for you. Trump hates the media, right? Said on the campaign trail that some news organizations are in for a very hard time when he’s president, right?

Even Trump may not be arrogant enough to take on The Washington Post, say, on direct First Amendment grounds. No—what you do is go after Jeff Bezos in some other way. Find some dirt on Amazon, try to break him that way. I’m just saying keep an eye out for it.

But let’s go back to the lede here: We’re going to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Muslim-loathing National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. And alt-right propaganda visionary turned top political strategist Steve Bannon.

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Three’s a pattern, not an accident. And who thinks it’s going to stop at three? This is as ghastly a start as could have been imagined.

In the days after the election we had the debate—was it racial or economic anxiety? I think it was a mix. I know some Trump voters, believe it or not, friends from back home. They’re not evil people. In fact they’re good people. They wouldn’t be my friends otherwise. They aren’t racists. They didn’t like Hillary, and they wanted to believe Trump on coal. I can understand that.

So I don’t blame them. But I do find it interesting that Trump’s first announcements do not include his Treasury secretary, or his chief economic adviser, or some kind of special Manufacturing Czar whose job will be to MAGA his way across the Rust Belt til the cows come home. No—the first flank the president-elect seems to have felt the need to cover is the racial one. I don’t think you’d be wrong to read into that what you wish.