If the 2016 presidential election felt to you like a torturous exercise in searching for lesser evils, the period we find ourselves in now — one where every day brings fresh speculation about unseemly potential appointments to President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet — has been a waking nightmare.
Now comes the news that Trump has settled on making Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) the nation’s top cop.
Ryan J. Reilly at the Huffington Post wrote up Sessions’s greatest hits yesterday. They include allegedly calling a black attorney “boy” and agreeing with the description of a white attorney representing black clients as a “race traitor.” He was also accused of referring to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP as “un-American.” And alleged racism is not the only worrisome thing on Sessions’s résumé.
Those allegations of racism all surfaced in 1986, during confirmation hearings after Sessions was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan to be a federal judge. Sessions denied many of the allegations or claimed they had been taken out of context, but the Senate Judiciary Committee would eventually reject his nomination, a first for the Reagan administration.
The civil rights organizations that Sessions allegedly demeaned have already been gearing up for the Trump administration. Reached earlier this week and asked about the Sessions speculation, Benard H. Simelton, head of the Alabama chapter of the NAACP, told The Watch that he expects Sessions would “move the country back, especially on civil rights and human rights.”
“It’s going to make our work here — all people who work for civil rights, it’ll make our work double,” Simelton said.
Of course, the Sessions appointment does not come in a vacuum. If confirmed, he will serve a president who spent more than a year waging a campaign that consistently included racist appeals and was rhetorically built on the desire for a return to the glorious days of some unspecified past American era, all the while making apparent his authoritarian impulses. He will serve a White House whose halls are haunted by former Breitbart boss and Trump campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon — a man whose appointment has been cheered by white supremacists. And Sessions — a man who has, in the past, shown some bitterness over the fact that Abraham Lincoln “killed” one of his ancestors — will follow Eric Holder and Loretta E. Lynch, the first African American and first African American woman, respectively, to lead the Justice Department.
Which brings up another area of concern that Simelton touched on.
“From marriage equality to basic civil rights issues like police brutality, we don’t think those cases will be investigated fairly, don’t think they’ll get attention they deserve,” he said.
Recall the Justice Department’s 2015 investigation into the Ferguson police department and the blistering report that resulted from it, exposing the department as essentially a protection racket preying on the city’s African American residents. That report was crucial to gaining a true understanding of why a single, albeit devastating, incident such as the shooting of Michael Brown erupted the way it did. If one wants to know what it is like to live in some of America’s marginalized communities and experience the local police as an occupying force, as many Ferguson residents did, the document is indispensable.
Will a Justice Department run by Sessions undertake such an investigation and produce such a report when, inevitably, the smoke emanating from some local police department somewhere in the United States becomes so thick as to suggest the community’s civil liberties are on fire?
If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that predictions are for fools, but that doesn’t sound like a safe bet.
Tana Ganeva contributed to this post.