Under the headline “Trump’s debut as commander-in-chief,” Mike Allen at Axios reported last Friday:
The White House sees this as “leadership week”: the decision to order a missile strike on Syria after its deadly nerve-agent attack on its own citizens, including children; a prime-time announcement to the nation from Mar-a-Lago last night, in which Trump said, “God bless America and the entire world”; his assertive stance on North Korea, with the rogue state testing him by firing a ballistic missile; and meetings with the heads of state of Egypt, Jordan and, continuing today, China.
The whole week went just swimmingly for the White House, with the bombs bursting in air giving Beltway insiders big thrills and compelling them to declare that Donald Trump had finally become president. Apparently ordering airstrikes are a sort of manhood ritual that confers legitimacy on a new president.
The decision to drop the bombs has been widely seen as a result of the Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump faction (aka “Jivanka”) rising in influence as the Steve Bannon wing loses steam, which shows the success of what Allen referred to in another piece last week as “Operation Normal”:
Operation Normal — the steady, loud accumulation of power by Jared Kushner and his allies, at the expense of the more ideological force of hardline ideologues, led by Steve Bannon — keeps winning.
Bannon’s demotion from the from National Security Council was covered as a demotion and therefore cost him juice. Drudge bannered: “BANNON LOSES POWER IN WHITE HOUSE SHAKEUP.”
Since then, Bannon was marginalized by the president himself in interviews with both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, in which Trump acted as if he barely knew the guy. (As I noted on Monday, Trump’s biographers all saw this coming a mile away.)
But Trump’s critics and his fans who are seeing this as the latest evidence of the long-awaited “Trump pivot” are missing the point. Bannon’s leaving the White House could very well cause serious political trouble with his right-wing base, but it will make no difference in policy. That’s because Trump has always been a bellicose imperialist, no matter what Bannon may believe about “globalism.” He isn’t building up the military to obscene levels for no reason; he believes the world should do America’s bidding on America’s terms. If “Operation Normal” is encouraging Trump to take an interventionist approach, all the Jivanka forces had to do was remind him that he has promised his ardent followers on the campaign trail that he would “bomb the shit out of ’em.”
When it comes to domestic policy, Bannon’s alt-right agenda is being carried out efficiently by someone who is far more experienced at it. That would be the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. He’s been talking about white nationalism since Bannon was a fresh-faced college kid listening to the Grateful Dead and rambling on about Arnold Toynbee. And unlike Bannon the political gadfly, Sessions is an experienced bureaucratic infighter.
As the Washington Post reported on Wednesday night, Sessions told Laura Ingraham’s radio listeners that all was going according to plan:
“I’m an admirer of Steve Bannon and the Trump family and they’ve been supportive of what we’re doing,” said the attorney general, who in recent days has unveiled tough policies aimed at illegal immigration and drug crimes. “I’ve not felt any pushback against me or on anything I’ve done or advocated.”
That same article points out that Sessions’ former protégé Stephen Miller has been aligning himself with the Kushner cartel, so even if Bannon goes, there will be a keeper of the flame right there in the White House.
Earlier this week I wrote about Sessions’ decision to disband the Forensic Science Commission, a decision that can only be seen as a desire to convict more innocent people with junk science. But that was just the beginning. On Tuesday, the attorney general traveled to Arizona and declared “This is a new Trump era,” laying out in chilling detail the Justice Department’s draconian new plans on undocumented immigration. He apparently wants to fill up some prisons. Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast reported:
All federal prosecutors, Sessions said in his slow Alabama drawl, must now consider bringing cases against people suspected of the “transportation or harboring of aliens.” Those prosecutors must also look to bring more felony prosecutions against some immigrants who illegally enter the country more than once and should charge immigrants with document fraud — which includes using a made-up Social Security number — and aggravated identity theft when they can.
One veteran federal prosecutor told The Daily Beast these changes are generating significant concern.
“It’s fucking horrifying,” the prosecutor said. “It’s totally horrifying and we’re all terrified about it, and we don’t know what to do. The things they want us to do are so horrifying — they want to do harboring cases of three or more people,” the prosecutor continued. “So if you’re illegal and you bring your family over, then you’re harboring your kid and your wife, and you can go to jail.”
While Beltway reporters were all gushing over Ivanka Trump’s emotional appeal for her father to bomb an airstrip, they didn’t notice that right here at home Trump’s administration is turning the country into a dystopian nightmare for immigrants, Muslims and African-Americans. They also didn’t note that Jivanka failed to change the president’s mind about allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S., and quite likely didn’t even address the matter. Apparently that’s just normal now too.
Meanwhile, Sessions has some allies coming on board to help as the Department of Homeland Security announced the hiring of two extremist anti-immigrant advocates and according to the Washington Post has drawn up plans to “assemble the nationwide deportation force that President Trump promised on the campaign trail.”
“This is an administration that very much is interested in setting up that mass deportation infrastructure and creating the levers of a police state,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
So while everyone applauds the alleged “moderating influence” of Ivanka and Jared — as they encourage Trump to do what he already wanted to do with national security and foreign policy — Jeff Sessions and company are enacting the white nationalist agenda that Bannon pushed on the pages of Breitbart before he joined the campaign. The attorney general is Trump’s Dick Cheney, and he’s not going anywhere.