December 12, 2019
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Don’t cry for Jeff Sessions. He’s no martyr.

J. Scott Applewhite | AP
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Jeff Sessions, ousted last week from his job as attorney general by President Donald Trump, smiles as he exercises Monday during a brisk walk across the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington where he served for 20 years as a Republican senator from Alabama.

Shed no tears for ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He formed an unholy union with Donald Trump that nearly robbed our country of humanity.

When we think of Sessions, let’s not praise him for being the shield that kept special counsel Robert Mueller from Trump’s angry wrath. Let’s not act as though his recusal from Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia had anything to do with the rest of us.

That decision was about Sessions’ determination to carry out a mean and uncompromising ultra-conservative agenda. He always had bigger things on his mind than Russia. His priorities were to make sure that immigrants didn’t take over America, to undo civil liberties and to see to it that all the noise about police brutality was silenced.

When we think of Sessions, we should remember how he inhumanely separated young refugee children from their parents at the U.S. border. We must think of his “zero tolerance” policy — a vow to federally prosecute every person who crossed the southwest border illegally, regardless of the circumstances.

We must never forget his attack on sanctuary cities such as Chicago that try to shield immigrants from unfair deportation. We cannot ignore the brutal lengths he went to make sure that Trump’s cruel policies were carried out. We must remember that he tried to pull federal funding from cities that refused to help federal authorities round up immigrants, ban transgender people from the military and make it harder for people to exercise their legal rights.

Sessions may have been the last man standing between Trump and the Mueller investigation, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before the president would cut him off at the knees.

From the moment Sessions recused himself, Trump did everything he could to intimidate him, invalidate him and humiliate him. But even as Sessions left last week, he made it clear that it was not his own choice. In his resignation letter, he indicated that Trump had forced him out.

If you wonder why Sessions hung around as long as he did, just look at his long list of accomplishments at the Justice Department.

While Trump was busy distracting us with his name-calling and threats against Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement official was busy working his way through a conservative checklist.

During the past 21 months, he rolled back a number of Barack Obama’s administration’s policies. For example, he pushed to abandon the requirement that universities use race as a factor to bring more diversity to their campuses.

For nearly two years, Sessions had free rein to turn America into a nation that shows no mercy. It is now easier for police to put Americans behind bars, whether they belong there or not. It is easier to lock up immigrants seeking refuge here and is acceptable to fire someone from a job because of sexual orientation.

Sessions reversed a Justice Department policy that gave transgender workers protection from discrimination under federal law, stating that private employers and state and local governments would not be required to do so under the Civil Rights Act.

He also directed federal prosecutors to use the most severe penalties possible in sentencing drug defendants. Among those penalties are mandatory minimum sentences — a tool that was used to fill U.S. prisons with African-Americans more than 30 years ago.

On his way out the door, Sessions proved that he wasn’t yet done. He made another swipe at cities that are trying to implement police reforms by signing a last-minute memorandum diminishing the use of consent decrees. The decision could have serious implications for cities such as Chicago, where such court-approved agreements have been made to curtail police misconduct and improve community relations.

The bottom line is that Sessions has spent his entire time at the Justice Department clearing the way for legal discrimination and stripping away humanity from minorities. His goal has been to severely punish rather than offer a chance for redemption and hope.

When he stepped into the job, the former U.S. senator from Alabama knew exactly what his right-wing cohorts wanted him to do. And it had nothing to do with Russia.

There is no doubt that he accomplished in 21 months what many other attorneys general could not have done in four years: turn back the clock.

So if you are thinking about honoring Sessions for having the courage to fend off Trump’s sword for two years, please don’t.

Sessions is no hero. He’s a Southern demagogue who used the Justice Department to legalize bigotry.

Dahleen Glanton is a Chicago Tribune columnist.


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