Jeff Sessions Remains the Great White Hope of Trump’s Presidency
Steve Bannon is back at Breitbart News, but the stigma of Breitbart-style white nationalism he brought to the White House lives on inside the Trump administration.
First and foremost, of course, the stigma remains because of the president. Though Trump dismissed Bannon, he isn’t about to turn against Breitbart. In a tweet sent out after Bannon’s departure, Trump wrote: “Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews … maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!”
Trump’s racist and nationalist views are enduring and entrenched. They date back long before the formation of Breitbart News to his alleged discriminatory practices as a young New York City real estate developer in the early 1970s. Those views won’t change, even if Bannon’s hulking figure no longer roams the halls of the West Wing.
And then there are the unhinged Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller, both of whom have strong ties to Breitbart and remain on the payroll as presidential advisers and prominent spokesmen. They have Trump’s ear on matters of national security, terrorism and immigration.
Gorka is a former Breitbart columnist. Miller, although just 31 years old, had amassed an impressive nationalist resume even before joining Trump, working as communications director for Jeff Sessions, then a Republican senator from Alabama before his appointment as Trump’s attorney general. Among his achievements while a Sessions staffer, Miller regularly provided source material to Breitbart, particularly on immigration issues.
Apart from the president, however, no one in the administration embodies the principles of white nationalism more directly or effectively than Sessions. That’s why, despite Trump’s heated and public denunciation of Sessions as being “very weak” for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of alleged Russian election meddling, the attorney general has kept his job.
Sessions isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He and Trump need and complement each other. Together, they are the glue that keeps the GOP base from shattering. As Sessions told reporters on July 28 during a trip to El Salvador to coordinate efforts to combat international drug gangs, he and Trump have a “harmony of values and beliefs.”
Sessions is also a top Breitbart and Bannon favorite. The close relationship between Sessions, Bannon and Trump is chronicled in a chapter of journalist Josh Green’s new bestseller, “The Devil’s Bargain.” As Green explains, Bannon was the driving force in bringing Trump and Sessions together during the presidential campaign.
According to Right Wing Watch (RWW)—a liberal research project sponsored by People for the American Way that opposed Sessions’ nomination to become attorney general—between 2013 and December 2016, Sessions was interviewed on Breitbart radio programs (which are currently broadcast on the SiriusXM Radio’s Patriot channel) a total of 18 times, including 14 interviews conducted directly by Bannon. In addition, Sessions gave seven print interviews to Breitbart and penned a number of op-eds for the website.
As RWW has reported (including an audio link to the SoundCloud podcast streaming service), during a Feb. 27, 2015, radio interview, the same day Sessions addressed a Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Maryland on immigration reform, he told Bannon:
Let me just stop a minute and say Breitbart has been the absolute bright spot in this whole debate. You get it, your writers get it, every day they find new information that I use repeatedly in debate on the floor of the Senate because it’s highlighting the kind of problems that we have. And nobody else is doing it effectively.
These comments were made well before Trump formally announced his presidential bid in June 2015.
In another radio interview with Bannon, in October 2015, Sessions praised the Immigration Act of 1924, which set strict quotas on immigrants based on their countries of origin and heavily favored immigration from Western Europe and Canada. He decried current laws for flooding the country with “low-skilled” labor from non-English-speaking parts of the world that he said saps government resources and brings down wages for native citizens. He also asserted that immigrants and refugees were bringing crime and terrorism, before moving to a discussion of what Bannon provocatively termed the “Muslim invasion of Europe.”
When Bannon asked Sessions to respond to charges of “nativism” that had been leveled against him, the future attorney general struck a now-familiar nationalist note, replying, “I love America,” before adding that some congressional leaders “think they represent … the whole world.”
Bannon and Sessions continued their nationalist dialogue in subsequent shows. When Bannon’s radio program went weekly on Nov. 4, 2015, Sessions was his first invited guest. The two men slammed the mainstream media as “internationalist” and for being dedicated to “banishing meaningful discussion of issues critical to Republican voters.”
In another November 2015 appearance, Sessions again invoked the 1924 Immigration Act as a model for future policy, prefiguring Trump’s present proposals to revamp immigration law. A month later, Sessions returned to Breitbart to express “cautious” interest in Trump’s infamous call for “a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the country.”
In early February 2016, as his Breitbart-fueled public profile expanded, Sessions circulated a five-part questionnaire to leading Republican presidential candidates, asking their views on trade and immigration policy, as well as their position on increasing federal prison sentences for drug-related offenders. In mid-February, Breitbart carried Sessions’ announcement that Trump was the only candidate who had answered the questionnaire to his satisfaction. By the end of the month, Sessions became the first member of the Senate to formally endorse Trump.
As the presidential campaign heated up, Sessions continued to appear on Breitbart radio. In a particularly notable June 2016 installment, two months before Bannon officially joined the Trump team, Sessions clearly aligned himself with what Bannon called the “populist, nationalist” movement that had sprung up in opposition to what he called the “nation’s political, financial, and cultural elites.”
Asked if he thought those elites had the “backbone and the belief in the underlying principles of the Judeo-Christian West to actually win this war” against Islam, terror, immigration and globalism, Sessions, by then fully embracing Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again,” replied:
I’m losing great confidence that our elites … do not operate sufficiently in the real world. And it’s a dangerous thing and they are eroding regularly, it seems to me, classical American values that are so critical to our success. We need to elect a president who understands it. That’s a deciding issue in this election. We need to make sure the presidential candidate who is elected understands the threat and is willing to take action to protect the republic.
Since assuming his post as attorney general, Sessions has used his power as the nation’s top law-enforcement official to advance Trump’s regressive white nationalist agenda at almost every conceivable turn.
As I’ve noted in this column before, on immigration Sessions has been a staunch defender of the president’s Muslim travel bans, mass deportation and the border wall, and he has threatened to withhold federal law-enforcement grants from sanctuary cities.
On criminal justice, Session has urged federal prosecutors to press for the harshest available sentences, even in minor drug cases. He supports continued use of private prisons, and he wants to undo or limit consent decrees that call for federal oversight of local police departments to ensure compliance with civil rights laws.
Sessions also has taken steps to reverse the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the department’s support for equal protection of LGBT Americans. Weighing in on affirmative action earlier this month, Sessions announced plans to allocate Justice Department resources to crack down on colleges and universities that he believes may discriminate against white applicants.
In addition, Sessions has boasted that the department under his direction has tripled the number of “leak” investigations (over and above the high levels reached during the Obama administration) aimed at punishing those who disclose “sensitive” government information to the press. For good measure, he’s reviewing, and threatening to expand, the department’s policies on subpoenaing reporters to force them to disclose the sources of leaked material.
Like a true loyalist, Sessions also has adamantly defended the president’s pathetically inadequate response to the recent neo-Nazi and KKK violence in Charlottesville, Va..
So while Bannon may be gone, Sessions and the cause of white nationalism remain entrenched in the Trump presidency. Sessions, in no small sense, is the bridge between the old right that he has long represented and the alt-right movement that helped sweep Trump into power. Trump may choose to humiliate him before the press and in late-night tweets—as he does to many others—but in the end their shared values and interests will keep them together.