Trump Pardons Sheriff Joe, Signaling The Rule of Law is Negotiable
While the nation watched as Hurricane Harvey approached the Gulf coast on Friday evening, the president unleashed a storm of his own in Washington, pardoning the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The move has been widely condemned by members of both parties, and is aimed solely at pleasing his core constituency.
Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court after ignoring a court order prohibiting him from detaining individuals based on suspicion of being in the country illegally. The practice amounted to racial profiling, and the brash sheriff did little to dispel that notion.
One of the original birthers, along with president Trump, Arpaio has long been a champion of anti-immigration fervor. And like many of his cohorts on the far right, he appeals to the presidents worst instincts. Ostensibly, this looks like red meat for the base, who view Arpaio as hero. Trump, who fashions himself a “law and order” president, will certainly play up his support of law enforcement as part of his plan to “MAGA’. But it is worth examining the overall message that is being sent.
Blurring the Thin Blue Line
The pardon raises major concerns, as it green-lights the clearly unconstitutional practice of targeting individuals based on ethnicity. This is Trump’s way of saying to law enforcement that he has their back in the event that the courts prevent their ability to do so. From The Atlantic:
It sends this message to American law enforcement: if you violate the civil rights of Latinos while enforcing immigration law, the president of the United States approves—and even if you’re one of the vanishingly few sheriffs or police chiefs that the Department of Justice charges with a crime, he’ll intervene to spare you.
Aside from his message to police, the president is signaling to the country that his decrees are not subject to the checks and balances of the courts, and he is willing to circumvent them if necessary. And while the actions of the president may fit within the scope of what he is legally allowed to do, they call into question whether he understands how government works. From U.S News:
The real issue in Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is not whether it was legal, but whether it was a wise or appropriate thing for him to do. It was neither, and signaled the president’s lack of commitment to a central tenet of the rule of law, namely equal treatment before the law. As Sally Yates, the deputy U.S. attorney general who was fired by Trump for not to defending his executive order on travel and immigration, put it, “With his pardon pen, POTUS reveals his own contempt for our Constitution, our courts, and our founding principles of equality and justice.”
This was clearly done as a nod to his base, with no regard whatsoever to the divisions it would cause, and with absolute knowledge of the message that it sends to the country.
Arapaio, For the Record
For those who may be unaware of Sheriff Joe’s misdeeds, the Phoenix New Times have been covering this case for years, and have released an excellent Twitter list documenting his shameful actions throughout the years. The list is long, but is worth reading through. It can be found below.
Perhaps the great irony of the Arpaio pardon is that conservatives, who claim to be the party of limited government, would grant the state such broad discretion in determining who is or is not a citizen based solely on appearance. This amounts to an enhancement of its power to a degree that defies the logic of conservatism. It suggests another motivation is at play entirely.
Nativism, not conservatism, is the guiding principle of this president, and by proxy, his party. The message is loud and clear, and for now at least, the deplorables have scored a big win.
Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Joe Arpaio) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons