New York Times (Opinion)
By David Leonhardt
August 04, 2017
Jeff Sessions has become a symbol of haplessness and humiliation, repeatedly undermined by his boss, the president. But the image is at least partly misleading.
Set aside the barbs from the White House and you realize that Sessions is also an ambitious attorney general, waging a wide-ranging campaign to use the Justice Department to achieve a far-right agenda.
His Justice Department has announced that it does not believe federal law protects L.G.B.T. Americans from employment discrimination. He pushed cities to crack down on enforcement of immigration laws. He is preparing to take on affirmative action. He has moved to change federal policy to allow more states to restrict voting rights and more local police departments to operate without oversight. He is pushing for drug crimes to lead to long prison sentences.
These moves have come in a flurry over the past two weeks, the same period in which Trump has so publicly soured on Sessions for not blocking the Russia investigation. And the moves are a reminder of why Sessions is enduring the humiliation: He has a clear ideology, and he is willing to endure some nasty words from President Trump in order to enact it.
The irony, of course, is that Sessions’s ideology is also Trump’s. As Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker, “no member of the Cabinet has worked more assiduously to advance Trump’s agenda than Sessions.” A recent piece by Vox’s Dara Lind put it this way: “Sessions is the rare Trump appointee more committed to Trumpism than he is to Trump personally.”
The Times Editorial Board has written on the contempt for the rule of law that Trump’s attacks on Sessions show. It also notes that those attacks have begun to worry even the president’s staunchest conservative allies.
But, looking ahead, I’d encourage you to pay at least as much attention to what Sessions’s Justice Department is doing as you do to what the president is tweeting about Sessions.
On the news. Robert Mueller’s latest move in the Russia probe is significant but not surprising, explains Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, in Politico. “The existence of a grand jury confirms what many of us presumed, which is that Mueller was conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation. What we don’t know is what, if anything, they will uncover,” he writes.
The president negotiates poorly with foreign leaders in leaked transcripts of their conversations because narcissism blinds him to what they want, Michelle Goldberg writes in Slate. “Trump can’t make deals because he can’t see other people clearly, can’t understand their desires, incentives and constraints.”
But even leaks that expose Trump’s unfitness set a dangerous precedent, argues The Atlantic’s David Frum. “Trump’s violation of basic norms of government has driven people who would otherwise uphold those norms unto death to violate them in their turn,” he writes. “Contempt for Trump’s misconduct inspires counter-misconduct.”
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