Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Sun editorial:

In pardoning Arpaio, Trump takes stand for institutionalized racism


Mary Altaffer / AP

In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix, at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa.

When Donald Trump was accused of dog-whistling racist messages on the campaign trail and criticized for defending white nationalists after Charlottesville, his supporters were quick to contend his words were being twisted or misconstrued.

But there’s no way to misinterpret his pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

It’s a show of support for institutionalized racism, a green light for authorities to abuse their power when dealing with nonwhite people and a display of contempt for the rule of law.

It was also a disturbing sign that Trump’s blitzkrieg on America’s values and sense of decency will continue despite the departure of Steve Bannon, the architect of his nationalist agenda, and the emergence in his Cabinet of supposedly stabilizing influences like John Kelly.

In pardoning Arpaio, a star among the alt-right and anti-immigrant extremists, Trump offered yet more emboldenment for the same type of hate groups who drew strength from his “very fine people” remarks on Charlottesville. Arpaio, the former sheriff, was convicted of contempt of court for civil rights violations, which makes the pardon materially different than others.

Arpaio’s abuses of authority are legion, especially against people of color.

This is a man who once called his Tent City incarceration facility a “concentration camp,” who once ordered about 200 people accused of being illegal immigrants to be marched in chains to a segregated part of Tent City as a publicity stunt, who was accused of ignoring hundreds of sexual abuse cases yet assigned an investigator to look for Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and burned through millions of tax dollars in litigating lawsuits related to racial profiling and mistreatment of jail inmates.

In pardoning Arpaio, Trump thumbed his nose at a respected federal judge who held Arpaio in civil contempt and another who convicted the sheriff of criminal contempt. Issuing the pardon before Arpaio was sentenced — and then claiming Monday that Arpaio was treated “unbelievably unfairly” — were added insults to the prosecutors and judges who had sought to bring Arpaio to justice.

More disturbing yet, the pardon came after Trump reportedly asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drop the Justice Department’s criminal contempt case against Arpaio, another attempt to completely undermine the justice system.

In trying to justify his action, Trump invoked the Obama pardon of Chelsea Manning last year and former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich in 2001. But those pardons weren’t defensible, either, and repeating a wrong doesn’t make a right. In lumping the pardons together, Trump is essentially arguing for institutionalizing abuse of pardon power.

It’s also interesting that the pardon came on the same day officials investigating alleged Trump-Russia connections reportedly issued subpoenas to consulting firms tied to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. Trump couldn’t have picked a much louder way to remind Manafort, Flynn and others that he had pardon power and was unafraid to flaunt it.

But more than anything, the Arpaio pardon is an indication that Trump is interested in serving only his most ardent supporters, not the nation as a whole.

A president who cared about all Americans, and whose approval ratings are historically low and sinking lower every day, wouldn’t have made that move. Instead, that leader would have taken steps to unify the nation, not tear it apart even further along racial lines.

Although much of the reaction to the pardon focused on Hispanic immigrants, it was really an issue that affects all Americans regardless of skin color or ethnic heritage.

Especially in communities like Las Vegas, Hispanics and other minorities are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, our fellow church congregants, the parents of our children’s schoolmates, a critical part of our economy and a vibrant component of our culture.

Immigrants who commit crimes other than simply being undocumented can and should be punished, but vilifying peaceful immigrants and making them fear for their safety is un-American and inhumane.

Should Trump follow the pardon by rescinding the Dream Act, as reports suggest he may do this week, it will be another black day for America during a presidency that has been full of them.

Trump called himself the “law and order” candidate during the campaign, but his actions threaten to bring about the opposite — condoned violence against people of color, police abuses and more.

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