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Civil rights will suffer under Sessions
By Jesse Jackson
Donald Trump’s first weeks in office have left Americans reeling from what Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan called his “cloud of crazy.” His cabinet nominees seem intentionally perverse: an education secretary who has no clue about public schools; an energy secretary who wanted to eliminate the department; a treasury secretary from Goldman Sachs who ran a home foreclosure factory. So when a white nationalist sympathizer, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, was confirmed to be attorney general, it passed by as just another absurdity.

 

The coverage of the confirmation battle focused primarily on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s outrageous muzzling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as she tried to read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing Sessions.

 

The muzzling was an unforgivable indignity. Lost in the furor was the thrust of King’s letter. She was writing to urge the Republican-led Senate of the time to reject President Reagan’s nomination of Sessions to the federal bench because he had “used the power of his office as U.S. attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot.” Sessions had opposed the Voting Rights Act, made racist statements and falsely prosecuted black civil rights leaders seeking to register people to vote in Alabama. He was an ardent and unrelenting opponent of civil rights. The Republican Senate rejected his nomination.

 

Sessions views have not changed. He opposed Supreme Court decisions striking down laws banning homosexual sex and same-sex marriage. He voted against equal pay for women and against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and he argued that it would be a “stretch” to call grabbing a woman’s genitals — as the president boasted of doing — assault. He is a leading opponent of immigration reform and supported Trump’s ban on Muslims. On civil rights he learned, as Strom Thurmond’s late operative Lee Atwater put it, that “you can’t say ‘n—–’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like … states’ rights and all that stuff.”

 

Sessions remains a fierce advocate of states’ rights over civil rights. Even as he joined 97 senators in voting to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, he gave a speech declaring its enforcement sections unconstitutional. When the Supreme Court’s conservative gang of five gutted the law, he praised their decision, saying preposterously, “(I)f you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.”

 

Even as he was saying that, states across the South were preparing a raft of laws to make voting more difficult for African Americans and the young. Striking down the voter ID law in North Carolina, the federal appeals court found that the new provisions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” while providing “inept remedies” for an alleged problem of voter fraud that is nonexistent.

 

Now Sessions will take his states’ rights views to the Justice Department. He will have more power than George Wallace ever had. Wallace had state power. Sessions has national power with a state agenda, with thousands of lawyers under his command. He will help shape the Supreme Court. And simply by inaction — by refusing to enforce the Voting Rights Act as states act to restrict voting — he can do more to undermine civil rights than Wallace could by standing in the schoolhouse door.

 

Every senator who voted for this nomination shares the shame. This isn’t or should not have been a partisan question. This is a question of whether the Constitution that Lincoln fought a Civil War to forge and Dr. Martin Luther King led a movement to enforce will be respected. Donald Trump and the Republican Senate have put in office someone who is committed to undermining that Constitution. He is in position to poison the well of justice for a long time.

 

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump wooed African American voters, saying given disproportionate unemployment and poverty, they should vote for him. “What have you got to lose?” he asked. By making Sessions attorney general, Trump has shown us what we have lost: a Department of Justice committed to equal rights, ready to defend the right to vote. People of color, immigrants, the LGBT and women are likely to experience justice denied directly, and the country as a whole will suffer as justice is defiled.


Trump shows he revels in dangerous chaos

By Jesse Jackson Sr.

President Donald Trump’s most recent provocation — suddenly issuing an order banning the admission into the United States of refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries — created chaos and fury that had to be expected.


Airports across the world were engulfed with demonstrators. Judges issued emergency orders staying enforcement of parts of the order. Families found their children studying abroad unable to return home, or their loved ones attending a funeral stranded in an airport. Translators who had risked their lives for American soldiers in Iraq suddenly found their green cards useless and their lives at great risk. Both intelligence professionals and State Department diplomats have protested the order.


Trump clearly revels in this chaos. He proves to his voters that he’ll fulfill his campaign promises, despite opposition. He shows them that he’s getting things done. He postures strong on securing Americans against foreign terrorists. He defines his opponents as bleeding heart liberals, more concerned about rights than security, more internationalist than nationalist. He views this all as a win.

Trump’s act is based on a lie: that America is not careful in vetting those refugees from battle zones that seek refuge in our country from violence or persecution. In fact, our vetting is already among the most stringent in the world. Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians would be given preference over other religious groups, asserting falsely that under Obama, “If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” In fact, last year we admitted virtually as many Christian refugees as Muslims, despite the fact that far more Muslims are at risk and seeking refuge. But this president has shown that he’s prepared to act on the basis of “alternative facts” when he so chooses.


The real problem is that the unintended consequences are likely to be far more dangerous than doing nothing. For ISIS and al-Qaida, the order is gift. It feeds their argument that the Muslim world is facing a war on Islam led by the Great Satan (the U.S.) intent on persecuting Muslims.


The anger and hatred generated will make it more difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to cooperate with the U.S. At home, a Muslim community under siege — and faced with rising hate crimes — is likely to become more closed, not less, and less cooperative, not more. If we will not respect their rights and security, they will be less likely to be concerned for ours.


Across the world, the order reveals an America that is frightened, not strong, and insular, not expansive. Trump has just mocked his own argument that our allies should bear a fair share of the defense burden, for he’s made it clear the U.S. will not do its part in offering refuge to the displaced — many of them driven from their homes by wars that we started or continue. And America’s claim to be a champion of human rights has just been weakened by our own actions once more.


The irony here is that Trump gets the threat wrong. Seven countries were singled out for special prohibition — a ban on all travelers, not just refugees for 90 days, visa or no visa. Not one person from those countries has killed any Americans in a terrorist attack inside the U.S. The perpetrators of American terrorist attacks in Boston, San Bernardino, Calif., Fort Hood in Texas, and Orlando, Fla. — did not come from the countries banned, and all were radicalized homegrown individuals.


Similarly, the hijackers of 9/11 did not come from the countries that are banned. They came from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, none of which are on the list.


There must be some other reason than terrorist threat for the selection. It may not simply be coincidental that the countries listed for bans are those where Trump’s company does no business, while the nations from which the 9/11 attackers came — and yet are exempted — are places where Trump has done or tried to do business.


Democrats have said they would try to get the order rescinded for its trampling of human rights, its lack of preparation and confused definitions. The real question is whether Republicans embrace this action or make their opposition known. Trump is happy to mock Democrats. His aides know that he has to learn to work with Republicans who control majorities in both houses of Congress.


Thus far, Republicans such as Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake have risked Trump’s wrath by objecting to the order. It is revealing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to duck — saying the courts would decide whether the order is constitutional — while House Speaker Paul Ryan chose to embrace the order rather than criticize it. These are not profiles in courage.