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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

The Worst Side of Trump

Culture Culture & Society

His torture of Sessions reveals the putrid power of the President's example

The most appalling spectacle of the Trump presidency — Trump’s relentless humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions — shows no signs of abating. Last week, Trump tweeted that he wished he had never appointed Sessions, continuing a pattern of gratuitous attack that began last summer.

Trump’s treatment of Sessions is bad enough for his administration. But it is even worse for the country at large, since it models some of the basest traits a leader can display.

Trump blames Sessions for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia. The President’s logic has never been clear, but he seems to think that if Sessions had not recused himself in March 2017 from the Russia investigation, which was then being conducted by the FBI and Justice Department attorneys, Mueller would never have been appointed.

But the proximate cause for Mueller’s appointment was Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey in May 2017. Perhaps Trump feels that Sessions would have resisted calls for a special counsel out of loyalty to the President, whereas Rod Rosenstein, second in command of the Justice Department, was more easily swayed.

This is all speculative. Sessions might have appointed a special prosecutor anyway, for the same reason that he rightly recused himself: to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Sessions had been a close adviser to the Trump campaign. His oversight of an investigation into that campaign would have left its outcome vulnerable to partisan attack. As for the appointment of a special prosecutor, Trump has only himself to blame for his intemperate firing of Comey, which introduced a new obstruction of justice angle into the investigation.

Trump’s latest twitter salvo at Sessions was occasioned by a comment by S.C. Rep. Trey Gowdy that there were “lots of really good lawyers” that Trump could have picked for attorney general instead of Sessions.

Gowdy is as ignorant as Trump. Trump’s most powerful campaign promise was to restore the immigration rule of law. No one was better positioned to do that than Sessions. As a U.S. senator, he had spent decades documenting the pernicious effects of unchecked mass illegal immigration. He knew the myriad ways that the federal government evaded its duties to enforce the law.

If Trump is reelected, it will be because Sessions has been tireless in his focus on immigration reform, even as Trump has taken his eye off the ball. In the last few months alone, Sessions has started prosecuting illegal border crossers for the crime of illegal entry, ending the corrosive practice of catch and release, and has sued California for its sanctuary policies, which protect convicted criminals from deportation.

Yet in his mad rush to find someone else to blame for the out of control Mueller investigation, Trump seems to forget why he was elected.

His attacks on Sessions might be understandable if there were any evidence that he recused himself out of disloyalty. Patently, however, Sessions recused himself out of a good faith assessment of his duties to the office of attorney general.

In recent weeks, debate over Trump’s fitness for office has broken out again among conservatives. The Claremont Review of Books argues that bad men have made good Presidents and that the checks and balances of the Constitution can compensate for a President’s character flaws. The Weekly Standard counters that Trump’s flaws are uniquely egregious and impossible to ignore.

These debates miss the point, since they focus largely on Trump’s alleged sexual peccadillos. Absent commission of a crime, a politician’s sexual behavior is irrelevant to his public performance. If James Madison, say, turned out to be a skirt chaser, that fact would have no bearing on his accomplishments as statesman and political thinker.

A leader’s public virtues are the ones that matter, and there Trump falls dismayingly short. His petty vindictiveness, impulse to shift blame and lack of self-control set a corrosive example to children. Ironically, some of Trump’s supporters hail him as a refreshing rebirth of manliness in politics. To the contrary, his treatment of Sessions is the antithesis of mature masculinity: petulant, pointlessly sadistic, and disloyal to someone who is taking political fire for realizing Trump’s agenda.

At a time when males are under relentless left-wing attack in academia and the media, it is all the more important to have an example of noble manliness before the country. Instead, Trump seems to confirm the left’s worst stereotypes of “toxic masculinity.”

Trump should shut up and let Sessions do his job. And Trump’s supporters, having made a defensible decision to accept so repellent a personality for the sake of needed political change, should stop whitewashing the President and turning him into a paragon of far-sighted leadership. While the administration’s policy choices have been salutary, conservatives must nevertheless attend to the country’s moral fabric and disown Trump’s dishonorable behavior whenever it occurs.

This piece originally appeared at New York Daily News


Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal.

This piece originally appeared in New York Daily News