The Arpaio Pardon: One More Shake of the Wobbly Pillars of our Republic

As you all probably know there is a huge storm lashing and flooding the Texas coast.  It is creating mass destruction but at least it will blow over in a few days.  What will remain are Donald Trump’s efforts to corrupt our political system, a growing storm of a different kind.

It would take a book to portray the numerous incidents whereby Trump has weakened the pillars of our political system, lambasting the press as fake, our intelligence agencies as politicized and/or incompetent, the judiciary as overreaching and the congress as impotent.  Of course,  many of us may share such sentiments as the public image of all of those institutions has suffered for some time now.  However, it is one thing to be critical of them and another to have no respect for them at all, to act with impunity as if the health of those institutions is not vitally important to the maintenance of our Republic.

Trump’s basic message is we cannot trust anyone but him.  The basic message of all demagogues.

The pardon Friday of Sherriff Joe Arpaio  exemplifies this attitude.   As described by Yahoo News, Arpaio, a Trump supporter, had  “been convicted of criminal contempt last month for failing to obey a federal judge’s order to stop targeting Latinos on the basis of their suspected immigration status.”

Trump’s position is Arpaio was just “doing his job.”   In other words, it is fine for law officers to ignore laws they find inconvenient.   Senator John McCain reacted by charging Trump with undermining the “law and order” emphasis of his campaign, but Trump has always emphasized order over law, contemptuous of legal niceties.

Arpaio’s tactics suit the Donald to a Tee.  That is really what the “president” has in mind by law and order.   I imagine police across the land have taken note.

Besides an ignoring-civil-rights tone to police work, the pardoning of Arpaio sends a message to all in Trump’s immediate orbit that the Donald is basically free to pardon any of them if they get in a tight spot.   How reassuring.

So often we hear of the wisdom of the founders in setting up the institutions of American government, but Trump may have found a loop hole.   The founders seem not to have imagined the possibility of a president pardoning with abandon.  Even using the pardon as a negotiating tool for his own self-protection.

I have heard some discussion as to whether the president can pardon himself.  I have no idea if the matter is clear cut.   Certainly if he thinks it might be of help, he’ll give it a try.

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