Yesterday, the moon’s shadow raced across Middle America, aweing millions who gazed skyward at the eclipse. Today, a less-inspiring darkness will descend upon Phoenix, Ariz. as Donald Trump and a few thousand paid actors cum supporters occupy the Phoenix Convention Center. As his approval ratings plummet, and every week is his “worst week ever,” Trump continues to rely on ‘ego rallies’ as the best medicine for his own incompetence.
Though the 2016 presidential campaign ended nearly ten months ago, Trump is apparently still dazed and confused about losing the popular vote to Hilary Clinton. He typically visits poor, uneducated, and mono-racial strongholds for his post-campaign distraction rallies — places like Huntington, W.V. (median household income of $29,000, 29% with college degrees, and 86% white), Youngstown, Ohio ($24,000, 11%, 47%), and Cedar Rapids, Iowa ($53,000, 30%, 88%). Phoenix shares some of the characteristics of a Trump base, but there is speculation that Trump is going to Arizona for other reasons.
Maricopa County is home to the notorious hardline law enforcement of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio — a vocal Trump supporter who shares Trump’s bigoted policies on immigration and has a plethora of controversial ideas of his own. On July 31, a United States District Judge found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt for violating another federal court’s order to terminate immigration arrests on suspicion alone. For years, Arpaio’s office pursued racially motivated policies targeting the Phoenix Latino population and often arresting law-abiding U.S. citizens merely for racially motivated immigration profiling.
In her ruling, Judge Susan Bolton said that Arpaio abdicated his responsibility as a law enforcement officer and “announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.” Bolton’s statement confirms for many that Arpaio’s national recognition and self-styled fame stemmed from his abuse of power and a belief that he was above the laws that he enforced.
In the narrow overlap of local and federal interaction, Trump and Arpaio share a similar mission: promote their own popularity by exploiting immigrants to instill public fear and fulfill a personal agenda. They are both sick men. Therefore, it’s no surprise that speculation this week is that Trump may pardon Arpaio before the former sheriff is sentenced in October.
Joe Arpaio is the poster-child for what is wrong with America’s criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Abuse of authority grievances against law enforcement and corrections agencies constitute a wide variety of complaints ranging from simple misconduct to brutality. Arpaio has been convicted of criminal contempt, but many of his policies while sheriff carried abusive implications — from his tent city jail to humiliating prisoners by making them wear pink undergarments. Arpaio is a relic of Arizona’s Wild West who had no business in modern corrections because, like many power hungry officers, he did not respect or honor the duty of his badge.
For Trump even to consider pardoning Arpaio sends a significantly negative message to every American in much the same way his wavering on the Charlottesville tragedy became an endorsement of white supremacists and hate groups. If Trump pardons Arpaio, he will be sanctioning the trampling of civil and constitutional rights of every person accused or convicted of a crime. Because of Arpaio’s history of questionable policies, every officer and jailer in the nation will laugh in the face of prisoner complaints.
Unfortunately, Trump is both too obtuse and too bigoted to grasp the impact of his decisions. The only thing that Trump will appreciate in a potential pardon is the spotlight and applause from his paid fans in Phoenix. He will not understand the disheartening message that a pardon will send to the more than 2.5 million people in jails and prisons in the United States; the more than 10 million children who have a parent behind bars; or the countless other family members and friends who worry that their loved ones will be treated humanely.
For Trump, decisions and messages do not create consequences, but only popularity with the hired help in the audience. Joe Arpaio is guilty of a minor misdemeanor for major crimes against the people of Maricopa County and he does not deserve a pardon simply so Donald Trump can listen to a crowd cheer. As Trump stirs hate again in the Arizona desert, he is campaigning in his mind, but the only opponent he is facing is himself. It’s a no-win situation for him and America.