It was a foregone conclusion that Donald Trump would pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio after a federal court found him in contempt of court for continuing to racially profile Latinos. After all, Arpaio was Trump before Trump: a bombastic, paranoid, unethical elected official who relishes media attention and the adoration of fans while ruthlessly trying to quash all real and imagined opponents.
No wonder Trump embraced him years before his presidential campaign. Nor is it a surprise that the 45th president called the 85-year-old an “American patriot” in an official White House statement on the pardon.
Arpaio’s decade-long, illegal campaign against undocumented folks was just the guacamole on top of the racist taco salad for Trump. And this pardon exposes better than anything the white-supremacist foundation of the Trump administration and his supporter base. It’s also an opportunity for the left and right to finally unite in a common cause and defeat Trump.
The mainstream media has only recently covered Arpaio’s evil ways after – much like Trump – giving him years of free publicity for stupid stunts like creating chain gangs or issuing pink underwear to male inmates. But Arpaio didn’t just pursue immigrants. He was a civil liberties and fiscal-conservative nightmare.
Hundreds of sex abuse cases languished under his watch, even as he had a deputy visit Hawaii to “investigate” President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Inmates died at alarming rates inside his jails, and guards took sadistic glee in beating up black, brown and white inmates.
When the Phoenix New Times printed his home address online in 2004 in the context of a story regarding Arpaio’s shady real-estate dealings, “America’s Toughest Sheriff” launched an investigation that led to the paper’s founders, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, being arrested (the subsequent lawsuit filed by Larkin and Lacey, my former bosses, ended in a $3.75m settlement in their favor).
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department Arpaio was so out of control that an innocent man once languished in jail for four years because deputies framed the man in a fake murder plot against their boss.
(Quick aside: All of the above, and so much more, came from the Twitter feed of the Phoenix New Times, which has covered Arpaio better than anyone for nearly 25 years. In the wake of the print death of its former sister paper, the Village Voice, support your local alternative-weekly!)
What finally got Arpaio in legal trouble – illegally targeting Latinos – was actually the least of his crimes, only because racially profiling minorities is the default setting for most law enforcement. That battle alone cost over $44m in court fees. Add that to the more than $50m in legal settlements (as of 2008) that Maricopa County taxpayers had to pay out to victims of Arpaio’s regime, and you have a bigger money pit than Trump’s Atlantic City casino.
Set aside the constant law-breaking for a second. The mantra we’ve heard from conservatives for decades is that they want less government overreach and waste – fair enough. Arpaio is the antithesis of that. Yet his record of ineptitude doesn’t matter to Trump or his troglodyte fans. The ex-lawman pursued Mexicans (with a bona fide posse, no less) – and that was penance enough. Such a stance is hypocrisy at best, and outright racism at worst (and most likely both).
But there’s an unexpected opening in all this bad news: a chance of redemption for the right that helped Trump win and keep Arpaio in power for so long. No good conservative can possibly support the pardon of a government leech, and should be deeply disturbed that, on the eve of a horrible hurricane, Trump decided to use his powers to help out a pal and shore up support among the most lunatic of his supporters.
Thankfully, there are good conservatives sickened by this development. On Twitter, Senator John McCain wrote that the pardon “undermines [Trump’s] claim for the respect of rule of law” while his junior colleague, Jeff Flake, tweeted that he “would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.”
But more need to emerge. The left cannot effectively take on Trump without members of the right, and the right needs to realize that the Arpaio pardon is their come-to-Jesus moment and unite with the side that has opposed him all along.
That unlikely coalition is actually what led to Arpaio’s decisive defeat last year, even as Trump took the Oval Office. May the pardon serve as motivation for the two sides to work together to take our country back.
We can only hope that Trump and Arpaio will one day find themselves in one of the sheriff’s old tent prisons (which he once described as a “concentration camp”), gagging on green bologna sandwiches under the unforgiving sun, rotting in their own fetid hate.