Pardon Me?

There are multiple reasons to be horrified by Trump’s pre-emptive pardon of the despicable Joe Arpaio.

There’s his usual display of legal and constitutional ignorance: By disdaining the process for determining the propriety of issuing a Presidential pardon and by displaying, once again, contempt for the Separation of Powers that is a foundation of our legal system, Trump has again illustrated that he is the perfect Dunning-Krueger model–an ignoramus who  doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Traditionally, Presidential pardons are issued after a person has served some part of his sentence and shown remorse, or alternatively, to correct a miscarriage of justice. There’s a thorough vetting process by the justice department to assess these factors. Trump, of course, ignored these criteria.

If that were the extent of the damage, this typically Trumpian fit of pique would simply be another entry in the extensive list of “reasons we shouldn’t elect people who don’t know what government is or does.” But it’s actually the least significant of the issues involved.

To understand those issues, you need to know some things about Arpaio. From the Guardian, we learn

Arpaio, the self-styled “toughest sheriff” in America, systematically abused his powers during his two decades in office before being voted out last November. Most notoriously, Arpaio commanded his police to detain people solely on the suspicion that they were illegal immigrants, even in cases where the “suspects” had violated no state law. This amounted to a blanket invitation to terrorize the domestic population through egregious practices of racial-profiling.

In 2011, a federal district court judge, a Republican appointee, ordered Arpaio to stop a practice that constituted a flagrant violation of constitutional rights. Rather than submit to the federal court order, Arpaio acted in open defiance, placing himself above the federal judiciary and the rule of law. Last month, he was properly convicted of criminal contempt for his defiance. He faced a maximum of six months in jail, but all that is now moot thanks to the president’s pardon.

From the Boston Globe, we learn this behavior was nothing new.

In 1997, a few years after Arpaio assumed office, the US Department of Justice sued him after an investigation found rampant mistreatment of inmates in his jails and a pattern of excessive force by the sheriff’s staff. Officers hog-tied inmates and used stun guns on them while they were handcuffed or in restraining chairs. The lawsuit was dismissed in a settlement, but Arpaio’s methods of abuse didn’t change at all.

As a result, many prisoners died at an alarming rate without explanation. According to the Phoenix New Times, taxpayers in Maricopa have paid more than $140 million to litigate and settle countless claims of brutality while Arpaio was sheriff.

By the mid-2000s, Arpaio had found another target to terrorize and criminalize: unauthorized immigrants (much like Trump did during the presidential campaign.) Arpaio became obsessed with enforcing federal immigration law, conducting workplace raids and immigration patrols where his staff stopped people who looked Hispanic and arrested those who were illegally in the country.

This history is well known, both to the populations Arpaio targeted and to the White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klan members who supported his behaviors. Trump’s pardon sent a clear message to both groups– especially to the bigots in his base who might have worried about Trump’s continued commitment to their “cause” in the wake of Bannon’s departure from the White House.

This pardon goes well beyond the “dog whistles” and “winks” employed by many Republicans to let bigots know they remain welcome in the Grand Old Party. It is a flat-out endorsement of racism, and I’m sure it comforted Trump’s White Nationalist supporters.

The spectacle of a United States President openly siding with enemies of everything America purports to stand for is nauseating, but even that is not the worst implication of this pardon.

Allow me to explain.

The Bill of Rights protects individual rights against government infringement. When a government agent–that is, someone acting on behalf of the government–violates the constitutional rights of an individual, both that agent and the government are answerable for that infringement. Our legal system punishes people who misuse the power of the state.

This pardon voids that guarantee of accountability. It guts the rule of law that anchors our constitutional system. It is telling government officials who abuse their authority that this President has their back, that they won’t be held to account for their misconduct–so long as their misconduct is consistent with the President’s own “priorities” and interests.

That’s how a constitutional democracy becomes an autocracy.

If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, I don’t know what is.


  1. Thank you for revealing some of the abuses for which Arpaio was held in criminal contempt. The media does a very poor job of reporting the specifics behind the case.

    Some have opined that Trump’s pardon was also a signal to those who may be caught in a net of illegalities stemming from special prosecutor Mueller’s investigation. In essence, if people don’t ‘flip’ on the President (provide incriminating information to save themselves) and suffer contempt or other legal penalties in the process of keeping the President safe from prosecution, the President will pardon them. If that’s true, the Arpaio pardon provided the President a political and legal ‘two-fer’.

  2. While we pour our disgust on Arpaio and his benefactor, let us not forget the majority of those living in Phoenix who year after year voted this horror into office. It isn’t that those voters did not know what they were voting for, they did.

    I use to wonder who the Germany people were who put Hitler into power. I don’t waste my time on those thoughts anymore. I know. They are the same sorry folk as the majority population in Maricopa County, Arizona.

  3. Like Trump’s “newsworthiness” has been evidenced nationally for years, Arpaio’s fewer years than Trump’s illegal fiascoes have been national news. Anyone in this country who watches news regularly has been well aware of Arpaio’s illegal activities as sheriff. As Theresa pointed out, the voters who repeatedly elected to keep him in office, are almost as much to blame as the man himself.

    And Nancy Papas’ “thank you” to Sheila is appreciated for pointing out these facts to those who missed them as they occurred…or DISmissed them as irrelevant because he wasn’t their sheriff.

    The Arpaio pardon is part and parcel of the continuing constitutional crisis we are being forced to endure due to inaction by the entire Congressional body.

  4. One of my first thoughts was “shame on the people who kept voting Arpaio into office”. A few seconds later I wondered if he kept getting elected because there was no one running against him. It could be just like the Red power here in Indiana, where the ‘terribles’ keep their elected positions because anyone who would like to run against them doesn’t have a chance. The extreme right has access to a lot of money that enables them to choose ‘our’ government representatives.

  5. “This pardon goes well beyond the “dog whistles” and “winks” employed by many Republicans to let bigots know they remain welcome in the Grand Old Party.

    Yes, it does.

    In effect, President Obama “pardoned” thousands of bank executives who defrauded Americans – many defrauded were people of color. Our Elite Media wasn’t appalled, so no coverage.

    The Bundy Clan who occupied a federal park with guns were recently found not guilty of wrongdoing by a jury of their peers. It was on national television. One man was killed by the police for pulling a gun and resisting arrest.

    Arpaio is a slime ball. As Matt Taibbi coined them, Banksters are slime balls.

    Our justice system has been a joke for a very long time.

    James Clapper testified at a congressional hearing that in no uncertain terms, the federal government was NOT spying on Americans. This caused the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, to steal documents and leak them to Glenn Greenwald proving the CIA/NSA had been spying for years and used private companies to assist.

    Whether you call it a republic or democracy, this country is a fraud. If the government is corrupt, so is the justice system. Look at SCOTUS’s decisions over the years. Citizens United and Voting Rights for instance.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s local, state or national levels. They’re corrupt.

  6. You have made very important points, Todd Smekens. I agree that our justice system has failed to deliver equal justice under the law ever since our constitutional republic was founded. It is the age old story that some people are more equal than others. The ambition that there be legal equality for all in our newly founded nation was a failure from the outset. Good people would want to see this corrected, but more frequently than not we contribute to growing the problem. We have only ourselves to blame.

  7. Thank you, Dr. Kennedy, for giving me the link “Dunning-Krueger model” and these other links to which Wiki led me. When I study these links I may better understand what is going on in the minds of Ted Smekens and Trump:
    • Curse of knowledge
    • Four stages of competence
    • Grandiose delusions
    • Hanlon’s razor
    • Hubris
    • Illusory superiority
    • Impostor syndrome
    • Narcissism
    • Narcissistic personality disorder
    • Not even wrong
    • Optimism bias
    • Overconfidence effect
    • Peter principle
    • Self-deception
    • Self-efficacy
    • Self-serving bias
    • Superiority complex
    • Ultracrepidarianism
    • Law of triviality

  8. Sheila, “If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, I don’t know what is.”

    When Fascism confronts Democracy you better believe you’re in a CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS. As Professor Albert Einstein once said, my words might not be exact, “Democracy doesn’t have a chance against Fascism.” More to the point, you better come up with something much more than a political debate, if you want to save the Republic.

  9. Interstate Highway I-10 runs between Tucson and Phoenix. Every time I head in that direction, I see police that have pulled people over and are inspecting their vehicles. Some are families with children waiting outside of their vehicle in the heat. Now, I just refer to them as “Driving While Mexican” even if they have AZ plates. The vehicles with Mexican plates are the slowest drivers on the road. I’m sure they are so afraid of getting pulled over or stopped for nothing more than having brown skin and black hair. It’s disgusting to me.

    I’ll never forget the first time my spouse and I went to the mall here in Tucson and heard all of the Spanish walking around. I felt like I had left the country but you know what? I am so used to hearing foreign languages, it didn’t bother me, it just made me smile. Most of the locals here are bi-lingual and that is an amazing fact and something that Americans should respect, not discourage. One of my neighbors is a 95 yr old from Cuba. These people are harmless and the rhetoric from right wingers is disgusting to me. When I lived in Phoenix in the 90s, I did not vote for Sheriff Joe. He made me sick long ago even before I knew I was a bleeding heart liberal.

    By the way, the tent cities are gone. We can celebrate that.

    The pardon is a dangerous slippery slope. How much longer are we going to have to suffer this POS POTUS?

  10. Corporations are people. Money is speech. A fascist oligarchy could not do it better. Once we accept that, we will begin to understand.

  11. AgingLGrl; just saw a post of Trump’s latest Tweet on Facebook. He comments on the worst flood in 1,000 years, said it is exciting and he is going to see it for himself tomorrow.

    Pardon me but…where was General Kelly and why can’t he stop this madman. Then again, should he be stopped or allowed to continue till someone forces action to rid this government of his mental illness?

  12. AgingLGrl,

    “The pardon is a dangerous slippery slope. How much longer are we going to have to suffer this POS POTUS?”

    Answer: Until Mike Pence comes into the forefront to accomplish the Republican Party rescue mission.

  13. OMG I agree with you and others. The Dunning link helps me understand Mr T’s fan club. They are “Ignorant of Ingnorance.”

  14. Looks that way Marv.

    JoAnn, I have twitter but the last thing I want to do if follow #45. His antics are so disgusting to me that I can’t watch him anymore. I watched the ‘rally’ in Phoenix last week and that was the last straw. I could not believe what I was watching. That 90 minutes should be enough evidence that that man is unfit. I’m sick of the Republicans that won’t do anything about it. Must we suffer that fool another week? ugh.

  15. Charlie,

    “Corporations are people. Money is speech. A fascist oligarchy could not do it better. Once we accept that, we will begin to understand.”

    Unfortunately, by then it will probably be too late.

    A new good read: WARNINGS: Finding Cassandras To Stop Catastrophes by Richard A. Clarke and R. P. Eddy (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2017).

  16. Trump will probably go to Houston and brag about how he defeated that Crooked Hillary while blaming Harvey on Obama. He is essentially out of it as he bounces backwards and forth from his narcissistic otherworld and the one we inhabit. He has no understanding of the Equal Protection Clause and how it applies to just that, i.e., equal protection of the laws to all people within its mantle. Marv is right to call our attention to the apparent fascist state for which we seem headed, and probably would argue that this is a wrong tense of the verb – since we have already arrived. Sheila is right that we are in a constitutional crisis, but it appears we haven’t recognized it yet. What to do? Keep hammering away for equal protection of the laws every minute of every day, hoping to be rescued by the judiciary since the legislative branch is doing nothing to save our democracy.

  17. And Theresa; does anyone believe the rescuers are asking the victims if they are transgender…or Muslim?

    If we can come together in the worst of times, in times of crisis and catastrophic flood or earthquakes; why can’t we get along when the sun is shining and we are safe in our homes with no threats?

    Per the news from Houston on MSNBC at 1:00 p.m.; there had not yet been a sighting of one government truck with supplies for the victims. But…as they did after Katrina and the levee collapse and before Bush’s FEMA help showed up, WALMART has again opened it’s door to all stores in the area and told people to come TAKE WHAT THEY NEED.

  18. Dearest Ms. Kennedy,
    I have been following the matter of ‘sheriff joe’ for years. HIs brand of bigotry has raised its head over a growing segment of the ‘police world’ for years now and exponentially of late. No, trump is fully aware of what he is doing, he is determined to destroy this nation, its Constitution and its entire system – ‘THIS IS FOR REVENGE!’… don’t you remember him saying that? Ms. Kennedy the revenge is for the fact that he was found not to pay his bills and he never repaid loans…the banks let him hang… and of course most of those banks were headed by Jews(!) ring a bell?.. He turned to the Russians who were more than willing to get him aboard… look what they did with Steven Segal… (He trained some of our most elite forces… and just before trump took office – he became a RUSSIAN citizen. There are worms in this pile that have been at it for years. And now they have the perfect WORM in office. He has a mission – ‘revenge’… and don’t you ever think for one moment that sick mind is not on that program 24/7 so ‘he’ can ‘win’… and he lauds bigotry and fascism.

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