Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a Martin Luther King Jr. Day address that touched on the aspects of his own Old South life when he witnessed so much “unvarnished discrimination” against people of color that he realized there was no such thing as separate but equal.
It was an address praising King and urging for the continued defense of the civil rights path he helped lead the country down in the ’50s and ’60s that should have been received as an indication of not only Sessions’ but also the Trump Administration’s dedication to King’s principles. That it wasn’t is a clear indication how far the current White House has to go to earn even a modicum of trust among African-Americans because of a series of incidents that included recent racist slurs in negotiations over immigration.
For those who were visiting the outer reaches of the galaxy at the time, Trump has been accused of referring to African nations as “s***holes” from which this country need not receive immigrants. Although the beleaguered chief executive denies he said that, there is a bit too much evidence to overcome. Add that to Trump’s seeming tolerance of white nationalists in the Charlottesville riot last summer and it is easy to understand why black leaders feel the way they do.
“Make no mistake. If Dr. King were alive today, he would be protesting outside of Jeff Sessions’ office,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“It is ironic for Jeff Sessions to celebrate the architecture of civil rights protections inspired by Dr. King and other leaders as he works to tear down these very protections,” Gupta, a former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under Barack Obama, told The Washington Post.
Others charge that Sessions has taken action to reverse civil rights enforcement, making it difficult for minority defendants. They contend, among other things, that new policies undermine lesbian and gay rights and the poor. There is no question that the department has centered most of its non-terrorist focus on violent crime and drug trafficking in a by-the-book fashion that puts more pressure on minorities and poor who more easily get caught up in these activities, especially first-time defendants who then earn stricter sentencing.
The former Alabama senator, early in his career, faced allegations of harboring racist beliefs and was denied a seat on the federal district bench because of them. He turned that around, but has not been a favorite of national civil rights leaders who opposed his nomination to AG.
But the concern in the black community has increased dramatically under Trump, and efforts by Sessions to get back in the good graces of his boss after a falling out on several issues — not the least the Russian investigation — have led African Americans generally to suspect the attorney general would aggressively follow any policy that Trump finds suitable in immigration and elsewhere — even if were detrimental to civil rights.
Thus, at this stage of his tenure in office, Sessions would face a tough uphill slog in the face of fury from the White House and minority leaders to change policies that would impress the latter. It also is quite probable that Trump will never forgive Sessions for recusing himself from the Russian investigation. Trump’s idea of a proper stance despite legal tradition is for the attorney general to defend him under any circumstance. This includes the appearance of impropriety that would undercut the validity of any investigation essentially of Trump and by Trump.
As a non-lawyer with an utter lack of government expertise too boot, Trump’s demand of absolute fealty to him for employees makes it difficult to have a camp full of happiness. The amazing amount of first year turnover among those in the top staff has been a clear indication that working for the real estate wunderkind is not beer and skittles. It would be a political miracle for African-Americans to look without distrust on the president or his minions. That includes his top legal authority whom Trump doesn’t trust himself.
The prominent picture of Trump marching onto a plane with his golf clubs on the day African-Americans celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. pretty much tells it all about how they feel.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.