Alex Mills ‘17
For a presidency which has thus far been highly controversial, it came as no surprise that President Trump’s selection of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as the country’s 84th Attorney General was equally acrimonious. After Trump’s nomination of Sessions was made public, outcry from Democrats was vociferous and unrelenting.
At the heart of Democratic discontent were accusations of racial insensitivity and a disregard for civil rights which have plagued Sessions since the 1980’s. Hailing from a state whose civil rights track record has been at best questionable and at worst completely unresponsive to federal mandates, Sessions has done little to distance himself from the anti-civil rights stance Alabama adopted during the 1960’s. Some of the most flagrant examples of Sessions’ disrespect for black communities are jokes he made about the Klu Klux Klan, his use of racial slurs and his observation that the NAACP was ‘un-American.’ Despite the criticisms that have and continue to be leveled against him, Sessions is not without his supporters. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell praised Sessions, identifying him as a “true Southern gentleman”— a comment which ignores or belies ignorance of the systemically racist nature of plantation life which created the construct of “Southern gentleman.”
At a time when race relations remain one of the most charged and contentious issues in the American political landscape (especially in the wake of Trump’s executive orders), the choice of Sessions represents continued Republican determination to target vulnerable minority communities. While discussion has primarily centered upon Sessions’ attitude towards civil-rights, racial minorities are not the only groups to feel threatened by the new attorney general.
In fact, the scope of Sessions’ conservatism is much wider than many realize: for years, Sessions has opposed legislation that would allow teenagers to access sexual education and contraceptives, voted against laws that would benefit and recognize the rights of LGBT individuals, refused to support the Violence Against Women Act and fully embraced an anti-immigration stance. Although it is easy to target Sessions for his deficient civil-rights platform, his Senate voting record demonstrates that Sessions’ nomination will affect broad swaths of vulnerable communities, including women, those who identify as LGBTQ and the young.
Reflecting further upon the embittered nature of Sessions’ confirmation, the overtly political undercurrents of the office of attorney general become increasingly apparent. Yes, the attorney general is meant to represent the country’s citizens, but because the position is presidentially appointed, partisan politics are an intrinsic element of the decision-making process. Rather than select a more centrist candidate, President Trump, buoyed by his Congressional majority, has taken full advantage of this opportunity. One might posit that Trump — never one to shy away from sending a message, especially in Tweet form —shows once again that his cabinet will value ideological purity and a singleness of purpose that lacks all political subtlety.
Sessions’ nomination represents much more than the senator’s willingness to support Trump’s policy goals; it also stands as a testament to Trump’s disdain for political pretense. As the legions of disaffected Americans grow, President Trump’s ability to maintain this same level of blunt, self-serving decision-making will likely become increasingly strained.