Trump's racist hypocrisy: Sessions scandal exposes double standard behind dog-whistle calls for "law and order"

Despite Trump's "law and order" rhetoric, it's increasingly clear his administration has no respect for the law

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published March 3, 2017 10:00AM (EST)

 (Getty/Win McNamee)
(Getty/Win McNamee)

Whenever Donald Trump makes a pronouncement, it's safe to assume that the opposite it true. Never has this been more apparent than in the president's repeated declarations that he is about law and order.

"In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate," Trump declared last summer, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

He used the phrase "law and order" four times during that speech, promising that "when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order on our country" and "we will also be a country of law and order." He also declared, "There can be no prosperity without law and order."

The phrase is famously associated with Richard Nixon, who ran one of American history's most corrupt and criminal administrations; his time in office ended only when he was forced to resign in disgrace. Nixon might have also faced obstruction of justice charges, if he had not been quickly pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.

As with Nixon before him, it appears that Trump has no commitment to either law or order. He's been in office only six weeks and the entire time it's been a chaotic explosion of corruption scandals. Trump is under fire for not properly divesting himself of his business interests and continuing to profit from foreign business deals that appear to be direct violations of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution. He came into office under a cloud of criminal suspicions, accused of self-dealing through the Trump Foundation, running a fraudulent scheme under the name of Trump University and committing sexual assault (something he bragged about doing during a taping of "Access Hollywood").

Then there's the Russia scandal. It now appears that numerous people in the Trump campaign made contact with the Russians while Vladimir Putin's agents were stealing private emails from Democratic Party officials and, via WikiLeaks, promoting the misleading notion that the emails contained scandalous content. This scandal has already taken out one Trump official, Michael Flynn. Now Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is getting sucked into the vortex.

Sessions is supposed to be the nation's head law enforcement official and he has spent the past couple of weeks openly licking his lips at the opportunity to crack down on petty, victimless crimes like marijuana possession, with the explicit goal of drastically increasing the number of people incarcerated in this country. But it now appears Sessions did something far worse than a little reefer smoking: He apparently lied under oath during his confirmation hearings, which is pretty much the textbook definition of perjury.

"I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it," Sessions told a Senate committee on Jan. 10.

This was flatly false. Sessions met twice during the past year with a Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, a man who American intelligence officials believe is heavily involved in spy recruitment for Russia. One meeting was in Sessions' U.S. Senate office in September. The other meeting was at the Republican National Convention in July, which means that Sessions was, in fact, working in his capacity as a Trump surrogate at the time.

Between the time of these two meetings, multiple reports appeared that strongly suggested Russia had hacked into Democratic National Committee computer systems in an effort to influence the American elections.

Taken together, what all this suggests is that the phrase "law and order" does not mean that Trump and his team are committed to lawful or ethical behavior for themselves. Instead, the phrase should be understood as a racist and sexist dog whistle. The "order" that Trump is committed to is one where conservative white men are in charge and everyone else is pushed out of power. The "law" he speaks of is not the rule of law, but the idea that conservative white men should be empowered to rule by fiat.

As Baratunde Thurston pointed out on Twitter, the actions of Trump and his team suggest they are enforcing a racist order, not upholding the laws of a democratic nation:

What's important to understand is that using the term "law and order" as a racist dog whistle isn't new. Nixon adopted the phrase as a way to appeal to the racism of white voters without embracing the more openly segregationist rhetoric that was becoming stigmatized in the late 1960s. Trump was simply reaching into the racist bag of tricks, and he didn't really put much effort into hiding what he was doing.

Cracking down on communities of color, immigrants and oppositional protesters while embracing widespread corruption and even criminal activity in the Trump administration is part of a larger agenda of asserting conservative white male dominance over everyone else. It's about the abandonment of the rule of law for a brutal might-makes-right agenda. Trump and people who look and act like him are given broad license to do whatever they want, but the rest of the country, especially nonwhite people, are to be heavily policed and criminalized, even when they haven't done anything wrong.

That's why it's critical to not let this whole deal with Sessions and the Russians be swept under the rug, as other Trump corruption scandals involving possible fraud and even sexual assault have been. The only way to fight back against the racist, corrupt Trump agenda is to insist on the rule of law. If Trump wants to be like Nixon so badly, he needs to follow in his predecessor's footsteps and be forced out of office in disgrace.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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