In blood and soul, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is as Southern as the day is long: born in Alabama, descended from Confederate veterans, educated in Alabama, married to an Alabamian, schooled in Southern politics at the Alabama Statehouse and sent by Alabamians to Washington as a U.S. senator. His voice drips in the lengthy sound of south Alabama. In less stressful times, his political sensibilities exhibited the state’s conservative values.
His link to President Donald Trump, who appointed him U.S. attorney general, has tainted his resume and glued his name to a host of some of this nation’s most abominable immigration policies. His Justice Department’s zero-tolerance policy at the United States’ southern border that has removed children from their mothers remains an American disgrace, or worse.
That doesn’t remove the fact that Sessions, like many of us, is Southern.
And this is what President Trump thinks of him — and, in a sense, Southerners in general.
Us, in other words.
“This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner,” Trump told former White House aide Rob Porter. “He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
We apologize for using that long-discarded term for people with intellectual disabilities. But that’s the language Trump used to describe Alabama’s former junior senator, according to reporting from journalist Bob Woodward, one half of the famous Washington Post-Watergate reporting team that included Carl Bernstein. Woodward’s forthcoming book, Fear: Trump in the White House, is released next week.
We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Woodward’s reporting. His reputation for veracity and attention to detail is legendary, even if the White House disagrees, which it does. “This book,” Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Tuesday, “is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
President Richard Nixon, if he were still alive, might have an opinion about the quality of Woodward’s White House reporting.
The South, after all, is Trump Country, safe and secure. In 2016, he won every state but Virginia of the old Confederacy, which today still posts some of his highest approval ratings. The paradox is he is the anti-Sessions, the anti-Southerner: born in Queens, educated in the Northeast, a Manhattan billionaire whose fortune is based on the golden brand of his last name. His popularity in Sessions’ South, University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus has told USA Today, is largely based on persona, not politics. He fights, repercussions be damned. “They think, ‘Hey, he’s a guy who sounds just like me,’” MacManus said, while Trump’s vulgar, unpresidential language is “music to a lot of Southern ears.”
Around here, reputation and honor are as valued as August air-conditioning. If anyone thinks the true Donald Trump doesn’t subscribe to the demeaning Southern stereotypes he’s thrown at his attorney general, they’re not paying attention. That’s who this president is. He covets Southerners’ votes. He expects Southerners’ loyalty. But he thinks Southerners like Jeff Sessions are beneath him.