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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Trump's fringe loyalists take over

Instead of reaching out to be more inclusive, President-elect Donald Trump has fully embraced the most troubling aspects of his dark campaign.
Instead of reaching out to be more inclusive, President-elect Donald Trump has fully embraced the most troubling aspects of his dark campaign.
Published Nov. 21, 2016

Instead of reaching out to be more inclusive, President-elect Donald Trump has fully embraced the most troubling aspects of his dark campaign. His trio of national security appointments would have been dismissed a month ago even by many Republicans as outliers from the conservative fringe. Now they are poised to direct national security for an inexperienced president, and unless they are restrained by more rational voices their hard-line views could lead the nation down a dangerous, uncharted path.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who will be nominated by Trump to become attorney general, was an early supporter of the campaign and an outspoken advocate of the harshest treatment of undocumented immigrants. He was among those Trump followers who were open to a ban on Muslim immigrants, which surely would be unconstitutional. His hostility toward gay marriage and voting rights is well-documented and prehistoric.

Three decades ago, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to confirm Sessions after President Ronald Reagan nominated him to be a federal judge following testimony by former colleagues that he had made racially insensitive comments. Now a man who has derided the Voting Rights Act, continued to support tough prison sentences for minor drug offenses and would not look favorably on the decision by Florida voters to approve medical marijuana is poised to become attorney general? The Senate should be just as skeptical of Sessions and his ability to treat all Americans equally as it was in 1986.

Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Trump's choice to become director of the CIA, is less familiar than Sessions but no better. He was one of the harshest questioners of Hillary Clinton during the House Select Committee hearings on Benghazi, a circus show that produced no new revelations, and still insisted there had been a State Department cover-up. Pompeo wants to resume the bulk collection of Americans' domestic phone call records, a terrible affront to personal privacy. He also has praised the CIA's secret prisons and interrogation programs that included torture and have been abandoned. Fortunately, Pompeo also has to be confirmed by the Senate.

There will be no similar reality check on retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's choice for national security adviser. Flynn, once respected by colleagues for his roles in steering military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, became unhinged after the Obama administration fired him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. His narratives are often at odds with the facts, and his fiery attacks on all Muslims and Islam fanned fears as he and Trump taunted Clinton about "radical Islamic terrorism.'' This is not the sober, well-regarded adviser an inexperienced president needs in an uncertain world that needs reassurance rather taunts.

Mix those appointments with Stephen Bannon, a champion of the alt-right who will be Trump's senior adviser and chief strategist. This is exactly the inner circle that sends chills through Americans who believe in diversity, equality for all and constitutional protections for religious freedoms. No wonder there was celebrating over the weekend at a Washington meeting of the fringe white nationalist movement that is anti-Semitic, often racist and always xenophobic. Yet Trump remains unconcerned with the atmosphere he is creating, preoccupied over the weekend with tweeting his unhappiness with the casts of Hamilton and Saturday Night Live.

The president-elect has made a big production of meeting with more credible Republicans such as Mitt Romney. Let's hope that wasn't just another reality television show and that Trump can round out his administration with more qualified conservatives — and someone other than white men — who better reflect mainstream America.