The outgoing attorney general did more to enact the president’s priorities than any other member of the Cabinet, but that didn’t save him from White House hostility.
The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no member of the Trump administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by President Trump, but no member got as much done.Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from the president, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection.
- When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who
- tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who
- went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents.
Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through... But these weren’t just Sessions’s pet issues. They were Trump’s as well. Hardline immigration policies, giving police free rein, fighting phantom voter fraud—these were all signature Trump projects. Sessions had been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and Trump took from him a range of policy concepts—especially on immigration—as well as a top adviser, Stephen Miller. But Sessions’s stewardship of those projects didn’t return him to favor with Trump, who, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear, called Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”.. When McGahn’s departure was announced in August, I wrote that he’d been the most effective person in the West Wing, through his stewardship of judicial appointments. But Trump disliked and distrusted McGahn, and seemed eager to have him gone... Of course, the same issue poisoned both Sessions’s and McGahn’s relationships with Trump: the Russia investigation, and especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s takeover of it... Trump was angry that neither man had protected him. He raged at Sessions’s lack of “loyalty” and complained that Attorney General Eric Holder had “totally protected” Barack Obama. (What he meant by that is unclear.) He twice instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, and McGahn twice refused, once threatening to resign... Attorney General Matthew Whitaker assumes control of Mueller’s probe. Whitaker was outspokenly critical of the special counsel’s inquiry before joining the administration, so Trump may now have a leader of the Justice Department who is more pliable on the Mueller front. But the president is unlikely to find an attorney general who will do as much to move his priorities forward as Sessions did—and the new attorney general will come into the job knowing that loyalty and efficacy aren’t enough to garner favor with Trump.
the New Cruelty is the Trumpian successor to the New Deal and Great Society... And, indeed, Lewandowski seems especially vile in an era in which vileness increasingly appears to be a career path. But was his insensitive gibe off-message? Or was it simply a cruder version of the New Cruelty that has displaced whatever was left of “compassionate conservativism”?.. Trump rode to the presidency by embracing broad, crudely designed policies—from the proposed ban on all Muslims to mass deportations of all illegals—that ineluctably lead to a zero-tolerance policy that demands the arrest of all illegal border-crossers, even those with infants or children... his supporters enthusiastically cheered polices that treat large populations as an undifferentiated mass, regardless of individual circumstances. These policies do not treat individuals based on the “content of their character,” or their merit, or the exigencies of their circumstances, but on their religion, nationality, and immigration status... the president has cultivated a studied insensitivity, treating empathy as a sign of weakness or fecklessness... The distinctive rhetoric of Trumpism isn’t merely the use of insult and invective against political opponents; it is also the brutal willingness to degrade and demonize others as “animals” and “rapists” while unsubtly comparing them to the sort of vermin who will “infest” the country... swaggering callousness became a hallmark of Trumpism, with harshness masquerading as toughness and cruelty as a sign of strength... Ironically, conservatives used to lead the charge against zero-tolerance policies, because they produce foolish, knee-jerk, bureaucratic responses that lack common sense and result in absurd outcomes... It was in the name of zero tolerance that a kindergartner was once suspended for bringing a dinosaur-shaped squirt gun to school and it was zero tolerance that led school boards to such excesses as expelling a high school student for having a single tablet of Advil in her purse... What’s important to recognize is that the children were not collateral damage of Trump’s policy: They were the entire point... Removing them from their parents was designed to be shocking because their trauma was intended as a deterrent... the pitiless separation of young children from their mothers was supposed to send a chilling message to anyone foolish enough to seek asylum here... More important, it was supposed to project strength, or at least the bully’s imitation of strength... Perhaps more than any other trait, it is this that motivates Trump: his need to appear strong and his fear of looking weak... He is just another of the menagerie of misfit toys, in the likeness of Steve Bannon, who feed off Trump’s sundry insecurities. They do not shape or influence those anxieties, they simply minister to them, encouraging the president in his use of spite to substitute for real strength... Fred Hiatt described the New Cruelty as the ultimate victory of Bannonism:
Truculent, anti-immigrant nationalism; disdain for the “deep state”; disparaging democratic allies while celebrating dictators: These are now the pillars of President Trump’s rule. In his administration’s policy, foreign and domestic, and in the compliant Republican Party, Bannonism is ascendant.
.. Bannonism is now indistinguishable from Trumpism.
while it’s tempting to see Bannon’s fall as an inflection point, the reality is that his departure does nothing to change the fundamental nature of this presidency, which continues to be shaped by Donald Trump’s hollow core, erratic character and impulsivity….
As malign an influence as Bannon was, it seems naïve to now expect a more modulated or moderate Trump. Instead, we can expect Trump to attempt to insulate himself against Bannonite attacks by throwing out even more red meat for his base, and escalating the culture wars that Bannon has done so much to foment.
.. Bannon may have helped write the ill-fated travel ban, but it was Trump who denounced “Mexican rapists,” and Trump who called for a Muslim ban. It was Trump, not Bannon, who rose from reality TV stardom to political prominence and power by spreading birther conspiracy theories.
.. It was Trump, not Bannon, who retweeted white supremacists and refused to distance himself from white nationalists during the campaign; Trump, not Bannon, who attacked a Mexican-American judge, demeaned women and mocked a disabled reporter... Divorcing Bannon doesn’t fix what is wrong with this presidency. The cancer at the heart of this White House isn’t the staff. It’s the man in the Oval Office and he is not changing.
A semantic debate is raging over what to call the pens where migrant kids are being held after separation from their parents.
editor Joel B. Pollak wrote a post devoted to criticizing the AP’s word choice. “The AP’s choice of words is only the latest in what appears to be a series of politically-charged word choices by the wire service,” he said, and contrasted the AP dispatch with a story in the Los Angeles Times that described “chain-link fenced holding areas.”
.. Pollak insisted that the correct terminology is “chain-link partition.”.. The Border Patrol, CBS reported, took issue with that description, not because they felt it was inaccurate, but because they were “very uncomfortable” with the implication that the children were being treated like animals... Refusal to call a cage a cage merely because it makes someone uneasy—or, perhaps more importantly, because it is politically toxic—does not transform a cage into a “chain-link partition.”.. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said unaccompanied minors would be deported, labeling the practice a deterrent. There was outcry at the time, especially from immigration groups, and the Obama White House was forced to stop detaining families by a court. What is different now is that the children being held are being forcibly separated from their parents at the border. So is the scale of the issue—the Washington Examiner reports that there could be 30,000 such children in custody by August... The administration knew full well that the result would be separations. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said in May... White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also said in May that the goal was to dissuade unauthorized immigrants from entering. “The laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence,” he told NPR. “It could be a tough deterrent—would be a tough deterrent.”.. By Monday, she was defending the same policy she claimed didn’t exist, saying in New Orleans, “It’s important to understand that these minors are very well taken care of. Don’t believe the press.”.. This, too, plays games with the truth, suggesting that the reason for the policy is that both parties won’t simply come together to pass immigration reform. But the battle in Congress over reform right now is mostly within the Republican Party, as moderates, conservatives, and leadership in the House fight over how to proceed on immigration... In theory, the falsehoods in these statements ought to be plain—the representations by Donald and Melania Trump and Nielsen are simply wrong, while Sessions and Kelly are more honest, if politically reckless, in their comments.
America’s immigration crisis right now is that we don’t have enough immigrants.
.. First: The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low. In May, The Times reported that women “had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, despite the fact that there were an estimated 7 percent more women in their prime childbearing years.” That’s a harbinger of long-term, Japanese-style economic decline.
.. Second: Americans are getting older. In 2010 there were more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2050 the number will be closer to 90 million, or an estimated 22.1 percent of the population. That won’t be as catastrophic as Japan, where 40.1 percent of people will be over 65
.. Third: The Federal Reserve has reported labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country. That inhibits business growth. Nor are the shortages only a matter of missing “skills”: The New American Economy think tank estimates that the number of farm workers fell by 20 percent between 2002 and 2014, accounting for $3 billion a year in revenue losses.
The same Trumpian conservatives who claim to want to save the American heartland from the fabled Latin American Horde are guaranteeing conditions that over time will turn the heartland into a wasteland.
.. Fifth: The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large: About 13.5 percent, high by recent history but below its late 19th century peak of 14.8 percent. In Israel, the share is 22.6 percent; in Australia, 27.7 percent
.. It was nice to hear Republican legislators decry the family separation policy.
.. there’s no sugarcoating the fact that a plurality of Republicans, 46 percent, favored it, while only 32 percent were opposed
.. This isn’t a party that’s merely losing its policy bearings. It’s one that’s losing its moral sense. If anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, then opposition to immigration is the conservatism of morons.
.. It mistakes identity for virtue, entitlement for merit, geographic place for moral value. In a nation of immigrants, it’s un-American.