Under President Trump, Americans are entering an historical conjuncture in which intolerant and racist ideologues are ascending to top White House posts.
Some of the most egregious appointments thus far have included Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist, Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA and Tom Price as secretary of health and human services. All of these men are poised to promote policies that will increase the misery, suffering and policing of the vulnerable, sick and poor.
In increasingly overt ways, racism is becoming the major ideological force for establishing terror as a weapon of governance. Not only did Trump make "law and order" a central motif of his presidential campaign, he also amplified its meaning in his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and his depiction of Black neighborhoods as cauldrons of criminal behavior.
The repressive racial state is certain to intensify and expand under Jeff Sessions -- a strong advocate of mass incarceration and the death penalty, and a white nationalist spokesman for the Old South. The Nation's Ari Berman observes that Sessions is "the fiercest opponent in the Senate of immigration reform, a centerpiece of Trump's agenda, and has a long history of opposition to civil rights, dating back to his days as a US Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s."
Sessions has a long history of racist rhetoric, insults and practices, including opposing the Voting Rights Act and addressing a Black lawyer as "boy." He was denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s because his colleagues claimed that he made racist remarks on a number of occasions. Sessions has also called organizations, such as the ACLU, NAACP and the National Council of Churches "un-American" because of their emphasis on civil rights, which he has portrayed as being shoved down the throats of the American public. He was also accused of falsely prosecuting Black political activists in Alabama for voting fraud.
Sessions' racism often merges with his religious fundamentalism. As Miranda Blue observes, he has "dismissed immigration reform as 'ethnic politics' and warned that allowing too many immigrants would create 'cultural problems' in the country. Earlier this year, he cherry-picked a couple of Bible verses to claim that the position of his opponents on the immigration issue is 'not biblical.'"
Under Sessions, a racist militarism is set to serve as an organizing principle to legitimate ultra-nationalist endeavors to create a society strongly shaped by white nationalists. As Andrew Kaczynski points out, Sessions made his racist principles clear while appearing on the Matt & Aunie talk radio show on WAPI.
Sessions has praised Trump's stance on capital punishment by pointing to Trump's "1989 newspaper ads advocating the death penalty for five young men of color accused of raping a jogger in Central Park." Sessions made these comments knowing full well that the Central Park Five were not only exonerated by DNA evidence after serving many years in jail, but were also awarded a wrongful conviction settlement, which ran into millions of dollars. Moreover, Sessions was aware that Trump had later criticized the settlement calling it a disgrace, while suggesting that the Central Park Five were guilty of a crime for which they should not have been acquitted in spite of the testimony of Matias Reyes, who confessed to raping and attacking the victim.
Sessions' racism was on full display when he stated in the interview that Trump "believes in law and order and he has the strength and will to make this country safer." He then added: "The biggest benefits from that, really, are poor people in the neighborhoods that are most dangerous, where most of the crime is occurring." Trump's tweets falsely alleging voter fraud in order to defend the ludicrous claim that he won the popular vote is ominous because they suggest that in the future he could allow Sessions to make it more difficult for poor minorities to vote.
At the same time, Sessions is far from an anomaly and only one of a number of prominent officials appointed in the Trump administration who are overtly racist and run the gamut in arguing for a Muslim registry, to suppressing voter rights, to producing social and economic policies that target immigrants and Black people.
For example, Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon as senior counselor and chief White House strategist is deeply disturbing. Bannon is an incendiary figure whom critics as politically diverse as Glenn Beck and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have accused of being a racist, sexist, anti-Semite. While the head of Breitbart News, Bannon courted white nationalists, neo-Nazi groups and other far-right extremists. In doing so, Amy Goodman points out, he helped to rebrand "white supremacy [and] white nationalism, for the digital age" under the euphemistic brand of the "alt-right."
Bannon is on record stating that only property owners should vote; stating to his ex-wife that he did not want his twin daughters "to go to school with Jews;" calling conservative commentator Bill Kristol a "Republican spoiler, renegade Jew;" and publishing incendiary headlines on Breitbart's website, such as "Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?" and "Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy."
What we see in Trump and his advisers and appointees is an America that embraces the values and ideals of an ultra-nationalist and militarized white public sphere. Even before Trump takes office, the threat of authoritarianism is becoming visible, "exploding in our face, through racist attacks on school children, the proliferation of swastikas around the country, name-calling, death threats, and a general atmosphere of hate," in the words of Rebecca Gould.
Given the vice-president-elect's abysmal record on women's issues, there is also little doubt that the war on women's reproductive rights will accelerate under the Trump administration. As NARAL Pro-Choice America Senior Vice President Sasha Bruce has observed, "With the selection of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donald Trump is sending a clear signal that he intends to punish women who seek abortion care. Tom Price is someone who has made clear throughout his career that ... he wants to punish us for the choices we make for our bodies, our futures, and our families."
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