Sessions’s view is telling because he is not merely a supporter of the president’s, but one of his clearest ideological antecedents, the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential run, then his first attorney general. Trump eventually expelled Sessions from the administration because of tension over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference, and the president’s endorsement of Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University head football coach, is a top reason why Sessions may lose a July 14 runoff. But Plott notes that Sessions’s fervor for the project of Trumpism has not cooled: “Even in his exile, perhaps no one is as eager as Sessions to hold forth on why he likes Trump, why his party—why the country—so desperately needs him.”
A huge majority of evangelical Christians has lined up behind Trump, as have white Catholics. (A May poll by PRRI showed the president’s standing slipping among both groups.) Trump has repaid them with devoted attention to issues such as abortion, school vouchers, and religious liberty. There’s little outward sign of any kind of religious devotion on Trump’s part, and seldom any indication of inward reflection on any topic by the president, but leading Christian figures, writers, and ministers, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Eric Metaxas, and Franklin Graham, have defended his Christian bona fides and insisted that he is not only an ally of evangelical Christian causes but also a true believer.
Peter Wehner: There is no Christian case for Trump
A few prominent, though isolated, evangelicals have been highly critical of the president. They argue that Trump shows none of the signs of Christian devotion or morality, and that Christians who align themselves with the president are making a crude bargain with a flawed man in an attempt to obtain safe harbor. Michael Gerson, in a 2018 Atlantic cover story, criticized the habit of “evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.”
Sessions, in effect, is saying he agrees with Gerson’s description—but thinks that what he identifies is a perfectly fine arrangement. “There’s a difference between freedom and democracy,” he told Plott. “You need to understand this.”
The yearning for a strongman doesn’t necessarily end with religious issues. Sessions also mused on his childhood in Camden, Alabama. “It was an idyllic period,” he said. “Sort of a window. End of an age.” His memory is that things were “ordered and disciplined,” Plott writes.
Of course, the idyll depends on who is living it, as does the judgment of whether the dying age was good or bad; some people get to enjoy order, while others bear the brunt of discipline. Sessions’s childhood came during the waning days of Jim Crow, in a deeply segregated community where African Americans were starving, disenfranchised, and physically threatened. For this minority, a group that experienced genuine, rather than merely perceived, discrimination, there was neither freedom nor democracy.