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Vengeful Trump Takes Down Sessions In Senate Runoff

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions lost his primary race to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama on Tuesday night in a landslide, according to Decision Desk HQ. Early returns showed him losing the shot to win back his old seat by more than 20 points to opponent Tommy Tuberville, who will face off against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November.

It wasn't a surprising loss for Sessions, though it is a brutal one. He gave up his seat in the Senate to become President Donald Trump's attorney general, and he lost his big chance to return because his one-time benefactor turned against him. Trump enthusiastically endorsed Tuberville while viciously and repeatedly denouncing Sessions.

There's no reason to feel any sympathy for Sessions. He's an unrepentant racist who loved Trump's anti-immigrant bigotry so much that he was the first sitting senator to endorse him as a presidential candidate. He was one of the leading architects of the family separation policy that tore apart immigrant children from their parents, inflicted untold suffering, and created enduring trauma.

But his national humiliation should be a warning to the rest of us. Like it or not, Trump is in all likelihood to remain president until at least January of 2021. And his treatment of Sessions could presage his treatment of the country — especially if he loses re-election to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sessions genuinely did love Trump. He loved Trump enough to endorse him early in the race when many still thought he was destined for defeat. Had Trump gone down in flames, Sessions would have been seen as an easy mark.

He took the risk, though, because Sessions really believed in Trump. He believed in the anti-immigrant message, the barely concealed racial animus. He wanted to help Trump enact that vision, to turn it into law.

Yet despite his commitment to Trump, he had his limits. When early in Trump's presidency, the Russia investigation began to come into view, Sessions did nothing to stop it. Worse than that, in Trump's eyes, he recused himself from the case as the ethics regulations dictated he must. He refused repeatedly to intervene in the investigation despite Trump's pleas. Trump never forgave him for this, seeing it is a fundamental betrayal, even though Sessions was only following the law and his conscience on this matter — one of few saving graces in an otherwise loathsome career. Trump eventually fired him in what can only be described as an act of obstruction of justice and retaliation.

Sessions was thoroughly humiliated, and he only humiliated himself further when he ran for his old Senate seat. Despite Trump's constant abuse, he pledged to serve the president's will in the Senate. The Republican voters, it seemed, didn't buy it. They took Trump's word on what was good for Trump over Sessions' protestations.

So for a second time, Trump has degraded and humiliated Sessions, a man who from all appearances genuinely loved him and wanted to serve his ends. And this time, it wasn't about wresting control of a vexing investigation; it certainly wasn't about policy differences. Sessions probably would have been a loyal ally in the Senate if he had the chance to be around for a second Trump term. Trump sabotaged Sessions because he felt Sessions was insufficiently loyal when he needed it. It was an act of vindictiveness and spite. It was also, intentionally or not, a warning to anyone else who isn't loyal.

Which brings us back to the November election. Currently, Trump is strongly favored to lose. He may pull off a stunning upset and scrape by with an electoral college victory once again, but right now, it's a longshot. Most likely, Biden will be the next American president.

So what happens if Trump loses? There's been a lot of discussion about how Trump might try to contest the result or throw the election into doubt. Those are real possibilities that we need to be deeply concerned with.

But those efforts may fail, or the loss may be decisive enough that Trump doesn't even try to deny it. What then? That's when we might realize just how bad it is having a president who revels in spite and retaliation. A man with the power of the presidency, and all that that entails, will hold his office for another two and a half months after losing. He'll feel betrayed by the American people, and he'll no longer have much incentive to keep us in his good graces. We should be thinking hard about how he could be constrained in that time and what he might try to do to exact his revenge.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Surprise! Bigots Running For Senate In Alabama

In the final third of his political career, George Wallace retreated from the politics of rage and resentment, apologizing to black Alabamians for his support of white supremacy and winning the votes of many of them. But he is remembered, still, as the fiery segregationist who stood in the schoolhouse door, the politician who insisted “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” His legacy is stubbornly resistant to a makeover.

White Southern politicians of the 21st century ought to think long and hard about the Wallace legacy and whether they want to be remembered for more than their political expediency and prejudices. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., seem to be ignoring the lessons of the Wallace era.

Both men are seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate that is currently held by an Alabama Democrat, Doug Jones. And in a hotly contested Republican primary, both men are appealing to a right-wing Republican base that remains resentful of the social and cultural changes wrought by the civil rights movement. To do so, Sessions and Byrne are diving unabashedly into hoary stereotypes and offensive rhetoric.

For Sessions, this is familiar territory. (He is seeking to win back the seat he gave up to become Trump’s first attorney general.) He is a dyed-in-the-wool bigot who has long fought to curtail voting rights for black citizens and who wants to limit even legal immigration. When Sessions was in the Senate, one of his chief aides was the infamous Stephen Miller, now an aide to President Donald Trump. Miller has a long history of trafficking in white nationalist beliefs and supporting the views of self-avowed racists.

So it’s no great surprise that Sessions has a new campaign ad in which he not only denounces Democratic politicians as “socialists” — a time-honored tactic by conservatives — but also accuses them of wanting “open borders” and having a plan to give “free health care to illegal immigrants.” Never mind that the claims don’t bear scrutiny.

Byrne, however, is a more recent convert to the politics of racism and resentment. Once upon a time, he was a moderate Republican with a track record of working within the mainstream. Not anymore. Since Trump’s rise to power, Byrne has been busy tacking to the right, courting ultraconservative extremists, enmeshing his campaign in racially charged rhetoric.

His latest campaign ad is incendiary, featuring images of women of color in Congress and, of all people, former professional football player Colin Kaepernick. At least Sessions has the decency to denounce some white Democrats. Byrne doesn’t. He homes in, instead, on a picture of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wearing the hijab, and attempts to associate her with terrorism. Kaepernick, who is famous for refusing to stand for the national anthem, is supposedly a traitor to his country. The ad may delight Alabama’s white bigots, but it also makes Byrne appear to be one of them.

And his cynicism shows through as he looks solemnly into the camera to declare that he will not let the people whom he targets in the ad “tear the country apart.” That’s precisely what Byrne is doing with a campaign that takes its cue from the George Wallace who ran for president in 1968, pledging to “Stand Up for America.” In “The Politics of Rage,” a seminal work analyzing Wallace’s appeal, historian Dan Carter writes: “In speech after speech, Wallace knit together the strands of racism with those of a deeply rooted xenophobic ‘plain folk’ cultural outlook which equated social change with moral corruption.”

It is quite likely that a Republican will win the race for the Senate. Jones won a special election in crimson-red Alabama only because the winner of the Republican primary was Roy Moore, a former jurist who was damaged by credible accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Trump remains hugely popular here in my home state.

But like neighboring Mississippi, Alabama has serious challenges, including high rates of infant and maternal mortality and a poor system of public education. It deserves to be represented by politicians prepared to meet the future, not those mired in the reprehensible politics of the past.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Republicans Drop Criminal Justice Reform, Revert To Reactionary ‘Law And Order’

That didn’t last long.

For a while, it looked as though the distance between the parties had narrowed on the issue of criminal justice reform. Bipartisan cooperation passed the First Step Act, a small step indeed toward remedying America’s mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately, in a historically skewed system, burdens minorities and the poor in everything from arrests to sentencing. Increasingly, though, the rhetoric resembles a partisan return to form.

But is the public changing?

With a nudge from viral videos and reasons to doubt the “official” story, as well as attention paid to inequities built into the history of policing in America, more aware citizens may have evolved more than politicians.

For past presidential candidates like Richard Nixon, “law and order” became mantra as well as code, a promise to protect a silent (white) majority from young people protesting war, African Americans demanding equality, anyone looking to shake up the status quo. It was a page from a very old playbook — and it worked for those afraid of change.

You can hear the refrain, amplified, from the current president, when he bolsters law enforcement on the border and speaks of an invasion. Donald Trump may take a cue from “consultants” such as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian when he intervenes in the individual case of a nonviolent drug offender or feuds with Sweden over a jailed rapper. But the president has always seemed more comfortable when he has advised police officers not to be “too nice” to suspects or maligned cities as criminal cesspools — even when the city was El Paso, Texas, relatively peaceful until a white domestic terrorist echoing the president’s words blasted its tranquility to bits.

With 2020 looming, other members of the administration and other Republicans are falling in line and reverting to the past.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so eager to release police departments from agreed-upon consent decrees to reform corruption and misconduct, had nothing on successor William Barr.

In a recent speech to the Fraternal Order of Police conference in New Orleans, Barr took a partisan blowtorch to the legitimacy of duly elected prosecutors, saying the appointment of progressive district attorneys is “demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety” because they “spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.”

In a column in The Washington Post, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic nominee for commonwealth’s attorney in Arlington, Mark Gonzalez, district attorney for Nueces County, Texas, and Wesley Bell, county prosecutor for St. Louis County, Missouri, hit back, writing: “We are dedicated to safety and justice. We understand that our current criminal legal system throws away too many people, breaks up too many families, destroys too many communities and wastes too much money. And we refuse to accept that a wealthy democracy cannot figure out how to keep its people safe without criminalizing as many things as possible, prosecuting as hard as possible and punishing people for as long as possible.”

These are officials who campaigned on the promise to respect all citizens instead of reflexively treating entire populations as potential perps. As someone who grew up in an urban neighborhood that was at once under protected and over policed, I recognize the challenges these prosecutors were elected to alleviate.

Because of videos and education, the general public and those not affected by unequal treatment have learned, as well, of the names and cases of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile — and the list goes on. Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to run for another term was hastened by the delayed release of the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke, now serving time for his crime, shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

When Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City officer who placed Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold before he died, recently was fired, the police union president was the loudest voice objecting to the move, and now Patrick Lynch is hinting at a work slowdown in response. To those haunted by the voice of Garner saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times and the sight of officers and EMT personnel standing by, Pantaleo was lucky no charges were filed.

Props must also be given to efforts such as The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which examines, it says, “the consequences of slavery” and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Its all-too-true stories draw the line from injustices then to those that persist, including the fact that law enforcement throughout the country’s history was often the brutal enforcer of repressive policies.

In the 2020 presidential race, Democratic candidates are not afraid to be vocal about criminal justice and police reform plans. In fact, candidates have had to explain their past records as mayors and prosecutors and, in front-runner Joe Biden’s case, his role in helping to write the 1994 crime bill, acknowledged to have played a large role in the mass incarceration that followed.

It’s a big change from when Democrats were reluctant to speak out, afraid of being judged “soft on crime.”

So, while for a moment it seemed Democrats and Republicans might be moving closer to a tentative truce on the issue, unfortunately the importance of seeking a more just “justice” is becoming, like so much else, another opportunity to disagree.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.