Giving Racism A Pass: The Arpaio Pardon
Shall we begin with some rational discourse? Despite rabid chattering from the left, granting a pardon to former, now disgraced and un-reelected Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not an impeachable offense. The President can pardon whomsoever he wishes, with or without prior review by the Department of Justice or review by Congress or review by you or me or anyone else. Nor is he prohibited from pardoning those not yet sentenced or before sentence is served or partly served. The pardon power is essentially unfettered.
“…and [the President] shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2 paragraph 1.
While not an impeachable offense, Trump’s pardon of Arpaio certainly rises to the level of a moral offense. In that regard it still lacks uniqueness. President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich might easily bear the label of rising to the level of a moral offense. Rich was on the run, having fled the country to avoid serving two consecutive life sentences based on the 65 criminal charges that had been brought against him. That his wife was a major contributor to the Democratic Party was never proven to constitute a quid pro quo for the pardon, though many suspect that it was.
What sets the Arpaio pardon apart is that its immorality is based on a shared racism and a totalitarian bent between pardoner and pardonee. The laundry list of racially delineated offenses by both Arpaio and Trump has been much covered these last few days. Indeed Arpaio’s conviction was for criminal contempt of court related to racial profiling and false arrest based on immutable racial traits. ..appearing to be of Hispanic origin. What intrigues me is what has not been reported. The arrogant authoritarianism of both men in pursuit of racist objectives and personal power.
Having lived for five years in Maricopa County, Arizona, I have some perspective on the person and operating style of Joe Arpaio. Having lived under a Trump presidency these seven months, I have some familiarity with his style as well. For clarities sake, I saw “Sheriff Joe” twice during my time in Arizona. Once he was on horseback with the mounted division of the Sheriff’s office. The other time I observed him riding high in a militarized armored personnel carrier…his choice of seasonal transport for the Carefree, Arizona Christmas Parade. For fair reporting, he was quite popular – a considerable celebrity – in north Maricopa County, including Scottsdale (where I lived), Cave Creek and Carefree.
It is possible that I have disclosed before that I once met Donald Trump at a charity gala in NYC in the late 90’s. I didn’t like him then, and my opinion hasn’t changed. We did, however, cash his check and send him a thank you letter which likely went out over my signature as board chair.
Arpaio’s infamous immigration raids reached the point that the Department of Homeland Security revoked Maricopa County’s section 287(g) contract which had for years allowed Arpaio to assist ICE in detaining “illegal aliens”. Revocation of the contract was in 2011 and based on a years’ long investigation at that point. That it wasn’t until 2017 until he was found in contempt is amazing in itself given the extent of knowledge about his racist activities. From personal recollection, he sent a full squad of officers to raid Mesa City Hall to round up the cleaning crew to determine whether they had “illegals” cleaning public toilets. Meanwhile serious crime in Maricopa County went unattended.
Racism was enforced, and Arpaio’s power enhanced, in Maricopa County by use of threat and intimidation. If a government official questioned the Sheriff’s budget or operations, that official might find his/her residence surrounded by Sheriff’s deputies late at night serving a search warrant on trumped up charges as the neighbors watched. Judges who ran afoul of Arpaio would soon learn that the Sheriff’s office was unable to deliver prisoners from the County Jail to that judge’s courtroom for hearings. More than $40 million was paid by Maricopa County during Arpaio’s reign for violations of prisoner’s civil rights as well as race based discrimination. People lived in fear of Arpaio, and he was not afraid to ladle out reasons to fear him and his deputies. Sound like any presidential attempts at intimidation and governance by fear?
These two, Trump and Arpaio, go back together at least to the birther movement. Both were prominent proponents of that racist meme. Arpaio actually opened an investigation and assigned detectives. He also supported the Arizona legislature’s attempt to force presidential candidates to present birth certificates in order to be placed on the ballot. Trump and Arpaio have one other thing in common. They are both publicity hounds. Both love the spotlight and the celebrity.
They are kindred spirits, in their racism, in their threatening style of governance, in their love of public attention, in their bombast. It is no surprise that one would pardon the other, but it is a damn shame that people like these two are setting a racist and incendiary tone for so many gullible Americans.