Who would have thought six months ago that the fate of America – the idea and the nation – would lie in the hands of the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a far-right conservative, who did little in the Senate than become first to support Trump, gleefully donning a red ball cap at rallies and lying at his Senate confirmation hearing?
Who would have thought that this ancient and earliest of Trump-enthusiasts, an elf-like creature with a soft voice and outward pointing ears, portrayed as Forest Gump on Saturday Night Live and reminiscent to many in the U.S. of their blissfully out-of-touch grandfathers, would ultimately be the one to draw the line against Trump while the Senate and Congress caved in?
Yet, it is happening.
It is widely confirmed that Trump wants to fire Sessions and hire a new Attorney General – one who will fire the special prosecutor – in a kind of repeal and replacement of justice itself.
With every Tweet and press conference for the last few days, Trump has doubled down on his attacks on Sessions, harassing his own appointee by using his signature weird logic: Sessions should never have recused himself in spite of being caught in the commitment of perjury, besides the conflict of interest implicit in running an investigation of a campaign Sessions, himself, participated in.
Still the crazy goes on in Tweet-form: Sessions should be prosecuting Trump’s political rivals. Sessions should be prosecuting leakers who are whistle-blowing on administration lies. And, implicitly, Sessions should be controlling, if not firing, the special prosecutor.
So how is it that Sessions has been able to hold the fort of Justice, literally, against the world’s most famous political bully?
The answer is simpler than it looks. One way to look at the new political spectrum is to see it not as liberal versus conservative, but rather from a populist perspective, based on the values of anti-establishment and exclusivity.
If you drew a graph, with the Y axis is anti-establishment values, less to more and the X axis is values of exclusivity, less to more, on a napkin, both Sessions and Trump would both be on the right end of the graph: High exclusivity.
But on the other axis, Trump would be at the top of the spectrum for high anti-establishment, while Session at the very bottom. He is an establishment guy.
They don’t actual share the same values at all.
Sessions joined Trump’s campaign because he agreed on the principles of kicking out immigrants and tightening law enforcement, code to the base for locking up people of color. But he is the kind of Republican who is also a true believer in the system, the constitution, the law and the office he now holds.
Trump, on the other hand, rebuilt his fortune by doing deals with Russian mobsters and money-launderers, after ruining his fiscal reputation with U.S. banks.
It is as if the author of the screen play and the director of the movie found out, once on the set, they really agreed on a couple of characters, but not really what the movie was about, or even why it was being made.
So now confronting the loud, over-sized six foot bully addicted to the camera and Twitter, we have a singular hold-out at Justice: A small, diminuitive southerner, quiet in voice and deeply committed to a few principles he shares with Trump, but also as much to the institutions he works for.
When he raised his right hand to be sworn in to office, and defend the constitution, he looked bigger and he looked like he meant it.
Could this be the guy who actually, for all his flaws, believes in the constitution enough to singularly prevent, by refusing to leave, the ultimate obstruction of justice: A rogue president trying to drive out the head of Justice so as to fire the special prosecutor looking into criminal acts by the president’s campaign?
A president whose election may have been pushed over the top by Russian disinformation efforts, efforts which Sessions probably knew something about, if only vaguely?
Is it possible that Sessions has just enough respect for the law and his office to hold out? Or is it just that he loves his job, and knows it is his last chance to work at something he believes in and make a difference at the pinnacle of his career? Or is it that he won’t allow his reputation, built in a lifetime of service to the law, to be tarnished?
In any case it is beginning to look like Sessions may be an unexpected fighter.
And everyone, both on the left and right, are hoping that he sticks to his convictions.