President-elect Donald Trump protests that he isn’t really the racist, sexist, anti-immigrant Islamophobe that his rhetorical excesses in the presidential campaign suggested he was.
Then he appoints as his “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a firebrand who published white supremacist, anti-Semitic and misogynist provocations on his media platform. He appoints as national security adviser Michael Flynn, a retired general who calls Islam an ideology rather than a religion. And now he seems intent on nominating Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general, despite racist views that led Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject him for a federal judicial appointment during the Reagan years.
The appointment of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III can only be a calculated insult to people of color and people of conscience. It shows that Trump is itching for a fight with the civil rights community. During his Senate hearing in 1986 it was revealed that Sessions told a Civil Rights Division attorney that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned they smoked pot. Sessions said he was joking. Sessions also called a black assistant U.S. attorney – the only black assistant A.G. in his office – “boy.” He dismissed the NAACP, Martin Luther King’s SCLC, and PUSH as “un-American” and “communist inspired.”
After his rejection, Sessions curbed his tongue a bit. He voted to confirm Eric Holder as the country’s first black attorney general. He co-sponsored the Fair Sentencing Act that aims at reducing the stark disparities in sentencing for black and white drug offenders.
Yet Sessions continues to stand in the doorway against progress toward equal rights. He dismissed the Voting Rights Act as a “piece of intrusive legislation.” As senator, he peddled nonsense about voter fraud and voter intimidation. He’s defended state voter ID laws, part of the voter suppression package that Republican governors have pushed in states across the country.
He opposed hate-crime laws and supported the effort to end affirmative action programs. Even after the murder of nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. led to removal of the Confederate flag across much of the South, Sessions called the criticism of this symbol of slavery and secession an effort by the “left” to “delegitimize the fabulous accomplishments of our country.”
Sessions has also been – no surprise – a venomous advocate for a crackdown on undocumented workers. He opposes any easing of immigration laws, denounces President Barack Obama’s decision to defer deportation of the families of children who have been born here, and even opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court
This appointment comes with the Trump administration threatening a rollback of basic rights – women’s right to control their bodies, gay rights, voting rights, immigration enforcement, drug legalization, and the escalating effort to challenge systemic racism in our criminal justice system. Sessions would lead a reactionary assault seeking to reverse or weaken all of these rights.
“If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said in a news release.
But Trump is about to discover this country has changed. We aren’t going back. African Americans won’t accept a criminal justice system that puts the lives of their children at risk. Latinos and Asian-Americans won’t huddle, frightened that ICE agents may invade their homes. Women and the LGBTQ community won’t give up their push for equal rights.
If Trump goes ahead with the Sessions nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold extensive public hearings on his views and his record. His nomination is more than a disgrace. It is a provocation, a declaration that the Trump administration wants to rollback rights that were won after decades of struggle. The new president isn’t just picking a fight with minorities. He is picking a fight with the vast majority of America – and we won’t go back.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He was a leader in the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was twice a candidate for President of the United States. This article appears here courtesy of Rainbow PUSH.