Tag Archives: Arpaio

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.






Putting Its Worst Face Forward

Every day, a new headline paints a picture of today’s Republican Party. It’s a party the Republicans of my era wouldn’t recognize.

First we had Senate candidate Todd Akin asserting that victims of “legitimate” rape don’t get pregnant. (We have “lady parts” that “shut stuff down”…).

Then we had the GOP Rep. from Tennessee who explained that AIDS can’t be transmitted through heterosexual sex. (Tell that to the folks in Africa…)

This morning, Arizona newspapers announced that infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be speaking at the Republican Convention.

Arpaio, who is under investigation by various law-enforcement agencies including the Department of Justice, is best known for his anti-illegal immigration fervor, which tends to extend to the harassment of perfectly legal citizens who have the misfortune of looking Latino. He is also known for maintaining horrific jail conditions, including the erection of a “tent city” that has been compared to a concentration camp, in which he held people pending trial. (Not convicted felons, just people accused of something.) He has also reintroduced chain gangs, pressured inmates to donate organs….Not to belabor this, but he isn’t exactly a poster boy for enlightened criminal justice policies. Most recently, he has become the face of the “birthers,” insisting that President Obama was born in Kenya.

Arpaio’s racism and brutality aren’t exactly a secret. And while he is popular with others of his ilk, his approval rating in Arizona is around 37%–higher than we might wish, but hardly at a level to explain the decision to give him a role at the Republican Convention.

Republican officeholders have tried to distance themselves from Akin, but they undermined that effort with a platform plank confirming their agreement with his position. (That plank: adamant opposition to abortion, with no exception for rape or incest.) I haven’t heard of any efforts to push back against homophobia, or the profound ignorance most recently expressed by the Representative from Tennessee. And now, they extend an invitation to speak at the Convention to a man who is utterly loathed (and with good reason) by every Latino who has ever heard of him.

Add to all of this the Romney campaign’s decision to double-down on a welfare ad that every credible news source agrees is flatly untrue–an ad that is basically a very loud “dog whistle” to racism–and the picture that emerges is pretty ugly.

Some strategist in the GOP has evidently concluded that Romney’s only path to victory is through the mobilization of the old, angry white guys who “want their country back” from the rest of us.