[ Jeff Sessions’ tenure as attorney general was vastly more
detrimental to democracy and the rule of law than shuttering
Mueller’s investigation could ever be. No one should be nostalgic
for his tenure.] [https://portside.org/] 

 THE CONTRADICTIONS OF THE #RESISTANCE  
[https://portside.org/2018-11-10/contradictions-resistance] 

 

 Branko Marcetic 
 November 9, 2018
Jacobin
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/11/contradictions-resistance-trump-sessions-rule-of-law]


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 _ Jeff Sessions’ tenure as attorney general was vastly more
detrimental to democracy and the rule of law than shuttering
Mueller’s investigation could ever be. No one should be nostalgic
for his tenure. _ 

 Jeff Sessions speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech
hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix,
Arizona., Gage Skidmore / Flickr. 

 

Democracy and the rule of law are under threat in the United States.
So it was heartening to see thousands of Americans gather around the
country at short notice to protest Trump and the Republican party’s
authoritarian tendencies, rallying to demand protection for Robert
Mueller’s nearly-finished investigation into possible collusion
between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The mobilization effort was impressive. Overnight, a coalition
[https://www.trumpisnotabovethelaw.org/event/mueller-firing-rapid-response/search/]
of some of the country’s most progressive groups, including
MoveOn.org, Common Cause, Public Citizen, and Indivisible, organized
nationwide protests (and even some in Canada
[https://globalnews.ca/news/4646510/americans-rally-vancouver-support-special-counsel-robert-mueller/])
against Trump’s firing of “white nationalist” (read: white
supremacist) attorney general Jeff Sessions and the ascension of the
anti-Mueller-probe Matthew Whitaker to the post. Ordinary people, many
of them likely newly politicized in the Trump era, braved cold weather
on a weeknight to take a stand for democratic ideals.

“It’s happening,” said
[https://twitter.com/maddow/status/1060307327155363840] MSNBC host
Rachel Maddow, calling the situation an “emergency.” “We knew
this would happen at some point — the day has arrived.”

“If you have any doubt about the resiliency of our democracy –
especially in the wake of a bruising election – then go type in
#ProtectMueller on Twitter and you will be heartened and inspired,”
said
[https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/11/09/displaying-resiliency-democracy-hundreds-protests-us-cities-small-medium-and-large]
Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn.

“We can all open our eyes, but you know who needs to open their
eyes?” said [https://twitter.com/MoveOn/status/1060656028700749824]
Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden to assembled
protesters. “The media, ‘cause we’re clearly in a constitutional
crisis.”

The rapid mobilization of thousands of outraged ordinary Americans
around the country shouldn’t be scoffed at. Just as with the swift,
spontaneous rallies against Trump’s Muslim ban at the start of his
presidency — or with the grass-roots howls of rage at the GOP’s
attempts to repeal Obamacare and to ram a probable sexual predator and
extremist ideologue
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/07/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-conservative-extremist]
onto the country’s highest court — we’re seeing a real hunger
among ordinary, previously politically disengaged people to protest a
far-right administration. As much as the #Resistance inspires sometime
derision from the Left, including from myself, there’s a genuine,
committed will to resist that undergirds this burgeoning movement.

Unfortunately, the Mueller protests are also a perfect illustration of
the Left’s frustration with the so-called Resistance to Trump;
namely, how the misguided and often self-interested liberal and
centrist establishments, obsessed above all else with the murky
Trump-Russia scandal, can co-opt and misdirect powerful grass-roots
anger straight into a brick wall.

It’s not that Trump’s removal of Sessions doesn’t have dangerous
implications. Sessions’ recusal from the Mueller probe was just
about the only measured thing he did in office, and his ouster —
along with the elevation of a man clearly ready to thwart the Mueller
investigation for political reasons — raises major separation of
powers issues.

But Mueller skeptics have long pointed out that liberals and centrists
place far too much stock in his probe, particularly given the
uncertain contours of the Trump-Russia scandal. Turning it into a
cornerstone of anti-Trump resistance was a risky proposition, given
that it was, and still is, unclear how much actual fire there was
behind the thick plumes of smoke being fanned by the media, disgraced
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/08/john-brennan-trump-hayden-clapper]
former intelligence officials, and self-interested Democratic
politicians
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/02/adam-schiff-russia-intervention-raytheon-parsons].
After all, as others have pointed out
[https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/12/what-is-collusion-215366],
“collusion” isn’t really a crime, and if it was, it would also
leave the Clinton campaign open to prosecution given that it colluded
[https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446]
with the Ukrainian government to undermine Trump’s candidacy. So
what happens if Mueller’s probe prove utterly disappointing?

It’s not just the Left that worries about this. Peter Strzok, the
anti-Trump FBI agent who was removed from Mueller’s team and became
the Right’s top bogeyman for a few months, privately confessed
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/peter-strzok-fbi-agent-accused-of-treason-by-trump-said-there-was-no-there-there-on-russia]
that his “gut sense and concern is there’s no big there there.”
Even an establishment outlet like _Politico_ cautioned
[https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/19/mueller-investigation-findings-914754]
last month, based on interviews with more than a dozen government
investigation experts, that not only could Mueller’s probe not end
up revealing anything conclusive, its results might not even be
released to the public.

It’s certainly more than possible that Trump did commit some major,
identifiable crime. After all, Trump is a career
[https://www.citypaper.com/blogs/the-news-hole/bcpnews-five-times-law-enforcers-could-have-arrested-donald-trump-but-didn-t-20170306-story.html]
criminal
[https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-its-worse-than-you-think].
But there’s a pretty big risk that this particular scandal will turn
out to be a “slam dunk” in the same way the case for the Iraq war
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2015/05/05/heres-why-ex-cia-director-tenet-said-iraq-would-be-a-slam-dunk/]
was.

What’s particularly baffling is that, if you’re worried about
authoritarianism and the erosion of democracy in the age of Trump, you
don’t have to look far. The Republican Party just successfully
rigged an election
[https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/26/18024468/georgia-voter-suppression-stacey-abrams-brian-kemp-voting-rights]
in Georgia in a way so brazen, it would encourage calls for regime
change if it was the country, not the state. They may well have done
the same
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/08/politics/broward-county-vote-counting-recount/index.html]
in Florida. That’s not even to mention the myriad
turnout-suppressing voting irregularities
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/11/2018-midterm-elections-roundup-ballot-measures]
that are simply factored in as a part of the system. While all of this
has inspired outrage, it’s not nearly on the level of Jeff
Sessions’ removal.

We can only imagine if the same organizational resources were put
toward resisting the Trump administration’s climate policies,
policies which — it cannot be said enough — are literally helping
drive the potential end of all life on Earth, a fact the
administration fully realizes
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/10/trump-administration-climate-change-nihilism]
but doesn’t care about. What if this same popular will to resist was
also channelled in the direction of the Democratic Party, who plan on
doing precisely nothing
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/10/climate-change-nancy-pelosi-democrats-midterms]
about climate change now that they will control the House, including,
it seems, no plans to use their now-considerable
[https://www.axios.com/2018-midterm-elections-republicans-preparation-investigations-180abf7b-0de8-4670-ae8a-2e6da123c584.html]
power to investigate and bring attention to the issue? What if it was
channelled toward a push for universal healthcare, to deal with a
problem that not only seems to most occupy
[https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/negative-trump-divided-issues-voters-reshuffle-cards-washington/story?id=59025819]
voters’ minds, but is in reality more impactful on a day-to-day
basis and to a larger share of the country than the issue of
immigration?

Couple this with the strange, knee-jerk lionization of Jeff Sessions
in the wake of his firing, typical
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/10/nikki-haley-resignation-un-john-bolton-war]
of the Trump era. The thousands of Americans who took to the streets
yesterday weren’t doing so in support of Sessions — but that
hasn’t stopped three “mainstream” Republican former attorneys
general dubbing him
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jeff-sessions-can-look-back-on-a-job-well-done/2018/11/07/527e5830-e2cf-11e8-8f5f-a55347f48762_story.html]
“an outstanding attorney general,” and at least one
[https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/07/jeff-sessions-loyalty-office-trump]
liberal law professor declaring that Sessions “placed loyalty to his
office above fealty to his chief” (“Whitaker looks to be the kind
of loyalist Trump lacked in Sessions,” we’re told).

This is nonsense. Trump’s bizarre vendetta against Sessions has
apparently disguised for some the fact that the president couldn’t
have asked for a more loyal underling than Sessions, his recusal
aside. One need only do a quick survey of Sessions’ handiwork over
the last two years to see why.

On the criminal justice side, Sessions put private prisons back into
play
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/spotlight/2017/03/01/policing-the-usa-sessions-private-prisons-consent-decrees-ferguson-baltimore/98364940/],
strengthened
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/07/sessions-forfeiture-justice-department-civil/534168/]
the government’s power to steal property from the accused, cut short
[https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/jeff-sessions-is-keeping-junk-science-in-americas-courts-194492/]
moves to get rid of the use of junk science in courts, and pushed
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/09/us/politics/guantanamo-bay-jeff-sessions.html]
Trump to start sending accused terrorists to Guantanamo again. He
ended
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/04/jeff-sessions-review-police-reforms-high-profile-shootings]
federally mandated police reforms in some of the country’s worst
cesspits of police brutality, and as his very last move, he limited
the use of court settlements to reform such departments. He fired
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/10/jeff-sessions-us-attorneys-resign-obama-trump]
dozens of Obama-appointed US attorneys en masse and replaced them with
Trump loyalists, often in jurisdictions where Trump was conspicuously
vulnerable
[https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/03/jeff-sessions-is-evading-senate-confirmation-of-u-s-attorneys-in-jurisdictions-where-trump-might-be-investigated.html]
to investigation and potential prosecution.

Sessions was a loyal foot-soldier for Trump’s radical anti-immigrant
agenda. He directed
[https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/jeff-sessions-new-era-for-doj/index.html]
US attorneys to step up immigration prosecutions, established
[https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2018/04/07/attorney-general-jeff-sessions-announces-new-illegal-immigration-policy/496190002/]
a “zero tolerance” prosecutorial authority for immigration
offenses, expanded
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/seeking-central-role-on-immigration-attorney-general-jeff-sessions-plots-border-visit-to-arizona/2017/03/30/34fc8596-1550-11e7-833c-503e1f6394c9_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6068b67c0cf6]
the deportation machine, beefed up
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/president-jeff-sessionss-first-100-days]
the number of immigration judges, and pushed to speed up sentencing
and deportation processes for undocumented immigrants.

He tried
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/15/judge-rules-jeff-sessions-cant-withhold-money-from-sanctuary-cities]
to defund
[https://www.courthousenews.com/sessions-cuts-off-doj-grant-funds-sanctuary-cities/]
sanctuary cities, sued California
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/justice-dept-sues-california-over-sanctuary-laws-that-aid-those-in-us-illegally/2018/03/06/fd489c2e-215c-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html]
over its sanctuary policies, moved
[https://www.npr.org/2018/02/09/583698634/in-his-first-year-as-attorney-general-sessions-transforms-justice-in-key-ways]
to strip immigrants of their citizenship, closed the door
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/06/11/ag-sessions-unveils-strict-asylum-policy-limits-domestic-violence/691978002/]
to people seeking asylum from gang violence and domestic abuse, and
looked to be about to mandate
[https://www.axios.com/jeff-sessions-immigration-asylum-border-detention-2fd5ca5e-1ca5-4779-91f6-5fa224677695.html]
that they be detained even if they’re found to have “credible
fear” of returning home. He’s also launched what amounts to an
offensive campaign against the judiciary, limiting
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeff-sessions-uses-exceptional-power-immigration_us_5afe321be4b0a0461869e928]
the independence of immigration judges and pressuring
[https://www.vox.com/2018/5/21/17376398/jeff-sessions-immigration-ruling-courts]
them to decide immigration cases at a rapid clip, while taking cases
away
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/08/politics/immigration-judges-justice-department-grievance/index.html]
from those judges who don’t obey.

Like Trump, Sessions was determined to move the clock back a couple of
decades. He withdrew Obama’s protections for transgender students at
public schools before later further undermining
[https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/06/sessions-calls-for-broad-religious-freedom-protections-243536]
LGBT and other protections by instructing agencies to look after
“religious liberty.” He withdrew
[https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/jeff-sessions-new-era-for-doj/index.html]
from a case against a racist
[https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/10/texas-intentionally-discriminated-2011-voter-id-law-judge-rules-again/]
voter ID law in Texas launched under Obama and revoked
[https://www.npr.org/2018/07/03/625750918/trump-administration-rescinds-obama-era-guidance-encouraging-affirmative-action]
Obama-era guidance promoting affirmative action. And he re-started the
drug war, mandating
[https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/12/528086525/sessions-tells-prosecutors-to-seek-most-serious-charges-stricter-sentences]
that prosecutors harshly go after low-level drug crimes, siccing
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/29/attorney-general-jeff-sessions-creates-new-dea-office-turn-tide-opioid-crisis/905786001/]
federal drug agents on opioid-ravaged communities, and trying
[https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevorburrus/2017/06/16/jeff-sessionss-reefer-madness/%236499d2ae1f95]
to get the ball rolling
[https://www.npr.org/2018/01/04/575679429/attorney-general-rescinds-obama-era-marijuana-guidelines]
on criminalizing marijuana all over again, even in states where it’s
now legal.

Finally, while much of the media frets over Trump’s hostility
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/11/09/donald-trump-threatens-other-reporters-white-house-press-passes/1942013002/]
to the White House press corps there’s been comparatively no
mainstream outrage over Sessions’ escalation
[https://pen.org/trump-administrations-war-sources/] of Obama’s war
on whistleblowers. He tripled
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/us/politics/jeff-sessions-trump-leaks-attorney-general.html]
the number of leak investigations since Obama’s final year, and
harshly
[https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/23/reality-winner-gets-63-months-in-prison-for-leaking-top-secret-report.html]
prosecuted
[https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/white-house/jeff-sessions-touts-prison-for-second-trump-era-source-a-warning-to-every-would-be-leaker]
two whistleblowers (to the point where even Trump felt
[https://www.weeklystandard.com/haley-byrd/trump-criticizes-jeff-sessions-decries-63-month-sentence-of-former-nsa-contractor-reality-winner-for-leaking-russian-hacking-report]
one went overboard), the latter having revealed secret government
rules for seizing journalists’ records. He threatened
[https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jeff-sessions-white-house-leaks-investigations-news-conference-live-updates/]
to start subpoenaing journalists as part of this war on leaks, and in
one case did in fact
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/politics/times-reporter-phone-records-seized.html]
seize a _New York Times_ reporter’s phone and email records for this
very purpose.

In other words, Sessions’ continued occupancy of the attorney
general’s office was vastly more detrimental to democracy and the
rule of law than the closing of Mueller’s investigation ever could
be. No one should be nostalgic for his tenure.

Sessions’ removal and the reaction to it neatly sum up the
head-scratching nature of the Trump years. But the Left should
nonetheless take heart. Americans are thirsting to resist the
Republican agenda; they just need to be shown how.

Our new issue hits the printer this week. Subscriptions are $10 off
today if you follow this link
[https://jacobinmag.com/subscribe/?code=JACOLANTERN].

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