There once was a time when Donald Trump looked like he was going to be the presidential candidate to finally move the Republican Party away from senseless obsessions over culture war issues. He seldom discussed LGBT issues or the drug war on the campaign trail; his campaign message was almost entirely protectionist economics and building a border wall.
Then along came Jeff Sessions.
Trump won the GOP nomination as a very moderate candidate, socially speaking. He said Caitlyn Jenner could use whatever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower, he said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage and paid little attention to ramping up the war on drugs.
However, since taking office, it’s become clear that the social conservatives Trump has surrounded himself with are going to have a tremendous amount of pull with regard to where the administration goes on social issues.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced it would rescind an Obama-era guidance directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The New York Times reported that the directive came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was opposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who feared it would do harm to transgender students.
It seems odd that an administration that seemingly ran a campaign not at all focused on social issues is addressing a hot-button social issue after only a month in office. Sessions is stoking the flames of an issue that has nothing to do with the Department of Justice and should have nothing to do with the government in the first place.
This highlights the amount of leverage Sessions is going to have on domestic policy in this administration. The transgender bathroom “issue” is one that frankly has far more to do with DeVos’ department than with Sessions’, and even then Sessions ultimately decided the administration’s stance, overruling DeVos.
The attorney general and former Alabama senator was outspoken against the Obama administration when it stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, so it comes as no surprise that he would take a socially conservative stance on any LGBT issue.
The very next day, Sessions’ social conservatism was seen shaping the Trump message again. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced Thursday that the administration was considering cracking down on the use of recreational marijuana.
Spicer said, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement,” and that the DOJ would be “further looking into,” the use of recreational marijuana in the eight states and the District of Columbia where the substance has been legalized.
According to Spicer, the decision on if and how to enforce federal laws on legal pot states, would ultimately be left up to Sessions, an ardent drug warrior. Session described the progress made on marijuana as a “tragic mistake,” and has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” During his confirmation hearings for his attorney general post, Sessions said he, “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law.”
When Obama was still in office, Sessions criticized then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey for not going after legal pot industries, and said the administration should be doing more to combat the issue. That’s the same Obama administration that actually led crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries and pressured states to follow suit.
So much for states’ rights.
While Trump may believe gay marriage is settled law and hasn’t wasted time harping against legal marijuana, some of the leaders who will be endowed with the most power in his administration aren’t ready to give up on culture fights. The president should be more mindful of policies enforced by his administration that conflict with the limited-government values he claims to hold.