The Sad Truth Behind the Arpaio Pardon

Perhaps the most distressing message coming out of the Arpaio pardon is this: Trump can do whatever he wants. He can do so with impunity.

Many have found actual comfort up until now reducing Trump in their minds to a small, petty, insecure, and soulless man while assuming that we’d some day see his demise play out dramatically through impeachment. But the power of the presidency is immense. With the stroke of a pen, through both symbolism and legal order, Trump legitimizes practices antithetical to any moral or Constitutional vision for a nation. Plus, the pardon itself now points to a future where neither Trump nor any key figure in his administration will face consequences for their corruption and exploitation of the Oval Office. It’s profoundly demoralizing.

The absence of any widespread opposition to Trump immigration actions or any renewed commitment to our historic orientation, as a nation of immigrants, is a damn shame.

This feeling of powerlessness might prove instructive for anti-Trump white Americans who have paid far closer attention to Russia than to the nuances of Trump’s sweeping immigration actions. At best, we hear little more than schadenfreude. After all, the wall hasn’t been built and Mexico (and now even Congress) refuses to pay for it. But behind the scenes, Trump and Sessions have quietly and effectively redefined what it means to be an immigrant — their logic and language slowly seeping into our national subconscious. Moreover, their decisions, gaining shockingly little media attention, have wreaked havoc on our nation’s most vulnerable families. And too few others are fighting back.

Small groups of activists, mostly from communities of color, are doing smart, courageous, and strategic work to oppose these moves and offer solidarity and support to those targeted. But the absence of any widespread opposition to Trump immigration actions or any renewed commitment to our historic orientation, as a nation of immigrants, is a damn shame. The so-called “resistance,” which can explain every detail about the Trump dossier or Paul Manafort’s work with the Ukrainian government, can’t even begin to tell you how ICE enforcement has changed under Trump or what DACA means. Instead, nearly 2 out of 3 Americans support the Trump-backed immigration bill, including a majority of Democrats.

Maricopa County Tent City

Treating Arpaio as merely a small, petty, insecure, and soulless man was a mistake. He was uniquely dangerous, damaging, and effective. Even now, I suspect millions of white Americans are becoming familiar with the details of Arpaio’s record, not out of compassion for the Latinos he profiled as criminal immigrants, but because his pardon illustrates just how far Trump will go. The impunity ahead is sure to frustrate every Trump hater. It almost feels hopeless. And if that powerlessness feels overwhelming, it might just provide some modicum of insight into how it likely felt to be Latino in Maricopa County over the past 2 decades living under a repeatedly reelected sheriff who was never once held accountable to the same rule of law he imposed so arbitrarily on others.