Nothing quite illustrated the post-Constitutional struggle the Trump White House is in under his leadership than the pardoning of Joe Arpaio. This sheriff has been reelected for years operating beyond the constraints of law with the laud of, not progressives, but conservatives. The tent cities in which he housed inmates, the degradation of issuing pink underwear to male prisoners, a subsistence diet were one level. When he went beyond targeting to unlawful detention of those targeted, Constitutional lines were crossed that simply cannot be applauded by anyone who has understanding to see where such precedents can lead. His case took ten years, and he was convicted of contempt for ignoring legal orders to cease civil rights violations under the guise of policing illegal immigration.
Stories of those being held for a year without benefit of procedural law, and other overreaches like illegal stops, searches, and detentions are not anecdotal. Therefore, his pardon represents an historic blow to our Constitutional system. It is no harder a history lesson than that contained in the build up to World War II. Frustrated Germans seeking a balm for their various political and economic itches, found easy targets in disciplined, successful, and strongly familial Jews, especially as massaged by the spiteful rhetoric Hitler was screaming out to cheers and chants at his rallies. They stayed silent when Jews were degraded and detained; but then, when the Fuhrer’s ire and paranoia ever widened its subjective circle of who represented the offensive, legal relief had been retooled to the strongman’s liking. His power was absolute. To see conservatives cheer this pardon is to see them cement their own denial of Constitutional protections under the law.
I predicted over two years ago that Donald Trump was post-Constitutional. I described his business dealings, fraught with fraud, legal disputes, and shysterism. He had no loyalty or ethics in his personal life, much less his professional life. I insisted that he would be willing to ignore the constraints of our foundational law, and with this one little pardon, Donald Trump has proven me right. He defended his pardon by iterating a number of Clinton pardons, like that of Mark Rich, made on Slick Willy’s last day in office and greatly objected to in the moment on both sides of the aisle and in the media. It is comical that Trump had to appear at the podium with his cliff notes to read off the low bar examples by which he chose to justify his action. And though he did misrepresent the circumstances of most, though not all, it is understandable he needed a cheat sheet since he had been a vigorous Clintonista at the time, sans any contemporary word of outrage.
Therefore, I will most surely register my outrage at the Arpaio pardon, even though the people Trump hasn’t come for yet, still cheer, and the Grand Old Party morphs into a strongman populist cult willing to surrender liberty for a base bravado and its perpetrator’s gain. It is easier, after all, to numb one’s mind and scream in excitement in the heat of the movement, when law and order is incrementally lost. Like the frog in slowly increasingly hot water, or the Germans, one may not notice how hot it is, until it is too late.
Now, Trump has played his Constitutional disregard by manipulating legality, and where are the Republicans to resist his disrespect for the letter and spirit of the laws of our land? Here is one, just one somebody me, as the old preacher would say. Though there is power in one, we are many more who see the dangers in this president and are throwing cold water.