John Colson: Arpaio pardon means more than you think
Hit & Run
I first heard about former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, improperly exonerated by presidential pardon last week, when I would visit my dear, departed dad at his home in Prescott Valley, Arizona, starting in the mid-1990s.
A confirmed liberal politically and a firebrand writer of letters to the editor, Dad would fume about Arpaio’s scarcely hidden racist tendencies in dealing with Hispanic residents, who Arpaio’s deputies would profile as possible illegal aliens, then arrest them on any and all charges they could drum up in their zeal to rid the state of this “undesirable element.”
Dad also would describe, in tones of disbelief and contempt, Arpaio’s policy of recruiting area business types and cop-wannabes into a “posse” that numbered about 2,200 men who would periodically sweep through downtown Phoenix in search of prostitutes.
According to Dad, these sweeps sometimes would take place on horseback, allowing the “deputies” to charge around like cowboys rounding up cattle.
Dad maintained — though I’ve found no corporation of this — that the mounted posse often appeared to be half-drunk, whether on their new, unaccustomed power or on booze, as they rode down women on the street.
As late as 2003, Arpaio was in the news for one of these sweeps, though in this instance he also was targeting the “johns,” or clients of the hookers, in his continuing search for easy publicity and admiration from his fans.
Elected in 1992, Arpaio had been in law enforcement for years and in 1982 had retired in Arizona after reaching the top tier of the DEA army of drug agents.
By 1994 he found a way to gain national attention, and had set up his posse, which the Los Angeles Times reported was made up of “lawyers, doctors, politicians, corporate executives and retirees,” who were appointed to “look for prostitutes and mall crime.”
At about the same time, he set up a tent city for county-jail inmates, whom he ultimately would force to wear pink underwear in his non-stop campaign of humiliation and degradation aimed at breaking the will of those same inmates.
Though he pledged during his first campaign to only serve for one term, Arpaio quickly got used to the adulation of his fans and the attention of the national media, and stayed in office until this year, when he was found guilty of contempt of a court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop profiling Latinos.
Along the way, he endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016, having spent years parroting the same vile lie that Trump used to make his own reputation — that President Barack Obama was not a “real American” but had been born in Kenya and was not eligible to be president.
Arpaio went so far as to spend taxpayer money to send investigators to Hawaii to dig up “proof” for the so-called birther movement that Obama was not born there, despite the existence of birth certificates and other documentation to the contrary.
While Trump finally repudiated his “birther” campaign last year while he was running for Obama’s job, Arpaio never did, to the best of my knowledge.
Arpaio also got into repeated trouble with the federal courts, where he was sued several times for his discriminatory acts against Latinos, and where he lost or had to settle out of court every time. The most recent case got him convicted of contempt of court for violating the constitutional rights of his own (Latino) constituents.
So this is the guy that Trump gave a presidential pardon to last week, an act that not only reinforced the nation’s growing conviction that our president has no respect for the law but also is a confirmed racist himself.
Personally, I think Trump pardoned Arpaio because they are cut from the same cloth — rabidly hungry for publicity, narcissistic to a point rarely achieved by the human mind, and completely dismissive of any views but those in lock-step with their own warped image of what it is to be a man in modern America.
They both have amassed a record of contempt of the very rules and laws that they use to shut down those they dislike, rules and laws they feel do not apply to themselves.
The pardon, however, has far greater significance than just another confirmation of Trump’s contempt for the law.
Though it is arguable that Trump lacks the brain power to mount a coordinated, complex effort to dismantle the underpinnings of our federal system of government, this pardon could easily be one step in that direction.
There are arguments that the pardon itself was illegal, because it uses the president’s constitutional authority to forgive a man found to have violated the constitutional rights of others. The pardon also stopped the judicial process in its tracks, as Arpaio had not even been sentenced when the pardon came through.
Even prominent Republicans, including Paul Ryan and John McCain, are saying Trump overstepped the bounds of his office. And people are just now reacting to the news that Trump had been asking for months whether Arpaio could be pardoned, long before he was convicted of criminal contempt.
If a president can override the rulings of the judiciary, what else can he choose to ignore or cast aside?
If Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump team over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, finds Trump guilty of some crime, can the president then pardon himself?
Don’t laugh; the question has been asked by the White House, though it has not yet been answered.
And if the president and his chums can ignore our laws with impunity, how far are we from becoming, not a nation under the rule of law, but a nation under the thumb of a dictatorial class of self-righteous, intolerant thugs whose main interests are not in justice and effective governance, but in getting rich and staying that way, as well as in staying out of jail?
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