The Petty Bigotry of the Trump Administration

The Trump administration is insulting basic decency even at the smallest levels.

Donald Trump and his allies don’t try to hide their contempt for pluralism and respect for the rights of the downtrodden. It’s written in bold face over their entire political project. But there has always been some question as to whether the right-wing populist rhetoric is just a show for the deplorable elements of the Republican base so that the people in charge can further enrich their powerful friends, or whether the bigotry is genuine and deep-seated at all levels.

The best proof of the latter would come in the implementation of petty bigotries in small ways that the public wouldn’t necessarily find out about. And as it so happens, Trump apparatchiks are implementing an array of pointless microaggressions that don’t even have a policy effect and aren’t designed to grab headlines, just to twist the screws a little more on anyone not privileged enough to be a white Christian man in power.

One instance of this was reported today by Buzzfeed:

In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled, “Need for Free Press and Public Trial.” References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone. Language about limits on prosecutorial power has been edited down…

The part of the manual addressing the Justice Department’s civil rights work was revised in March. In a section discussing enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the new version removes previous references to redistricting and racial gerrymandering.

The previous version stated: “The Voting Section defends from unjustified attack redistricting plans designed to provide minority voters fair opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and endeavors to achieve racially fair results where courts find, following Shaw v. Reno, 113 S.Ct. 286 (1993), and Johnson v. Miller, 115 S.Ct. 2475 (1995), that redistricting plans constitute unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

That section is gone from the new version, and there are no direct references to redistricting or racial gerrymandering. References in earlier versions of the manual to other types of voting rights issues that fall under the purview of the Civil Rights Division — from the bans on literacy tests and poll taxes to language access protections — are included in the new version.

Will this change have any real effects on prosecutorial conduct and gerrymandering? That seems doubtful. Was it intended to get media attention as a way to rally the racist base? Almost certainly not.  It was removed simply as an insult to decency, and as a signal to people working within the department about what the Attorney General would and would not be emphasizing.

But there are even pettier examples, like this remarkable bit of churlishness:

This is just spite for its own sake.

Or this:

The agency in charge of US immigration services has updated its mission statement to no longer include the phrase “nation of immigrants.”

Instead, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ new mission statement emphasizes “safeguarding its integrity” and “securing the homeland.”

There’s no substantive reason for any of this. It doesn’t help the administration carry out its policies. It doesn’t motivate voters one way or another. These are the actions of cruel adolescent boys playing at adult governance in ways large and small.

After all, what kind of person directs their staff to rip out a tree they had just planted in a formal ceremony, without explanation and for no other apparent reason than petty spite? [UPDATE 4/30: it appears the tree was simply placed in quarantine. So at least that one has a decent explanation.]

These guys aren’t doing this for show. It’s a nastiness that pervades the core of their beings.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.