President Trump dumped news of a presidential pardon of racial profiling king—Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio—on a Friday night just as dangerous category four Hurricane Harvey was about to blast Texas. Hopefully for the country’s sake, this story won’t blow over, because by usurping the court’s authority, the president thumbed his nose at the system of checks and balances enshrined in our constitution. Essentially, the president opened up a dangerous can of worms and it’s going to get interesting as we watch and see who or what stands up to his blatant violation of power.
Back in 2011 when a federal judge heard a lawsuit against the Bull Connor-esque Arpaio, the court ordered him to stop detaining people based solely on the mere suspicion of their immigration status, when there was no evidence that a state law had been broken. In other words, stop arresting people because they “look” Mexican. As most everyone knows, the sheriff, who like our president had attained reality-show-style-celebrity status among the far-right, anti-immigrant community long before Trump got elected, insisted his tactics were legal and that he would do as he pleased and continue to carry out his illegal and race based tactics.
Nonetheless, president’s don’t usually dole out pardons this early on in a term—unless of course they are desperately seeking to fire up their extremist political base or flat out steer attention from the tick tick tick of hovering Russia bombshells. But truth be told, the Arpaio pardon could instead increase calls that Trump is not well suited to be president of the United States.
As Bob Bauer wrote at Lawfareblog on August 24, “An act of this kind cannot fail to affect Mueller and his team as they investigate obstruction of justice and evaluate evidence bearing on the President’s motives and respect for law. Trump will have added more telling detail to the picture prosecutors are piecing together of “how he operates”. Congress may now or in the future also have occasion to conduct its own inquiry.”
That’s a hopeful sentiment, but for now, it seems as if Trump is testing the waters and so far, no one is challenging him. We’ll have to wait and see if an increasingly soured republican leadership and vocal democrats will do something to stop him, beyond the obligatory rumblings, moans and grunts on twitter or official statements.
The fact is, we could be knocking very loudly on the door of a constitutional crisis right now. Stop and take what that means in, because it’s got a real chill to it.
Our democracy relies on the balance of power enshrined in the constitution, and that includes the checks and balances and human rights the courts protect, not the law according to rogue sheriffs or worse yet, presidents. Members of the reality TV sanctioned Trump-world clearly do not respect the sanctity of checks & balances but instead, embrace the leader’s interpretation, policy and laws motivated by populist fervor, similar to the behavior seen in other shallow minded nationalist leaders around the world, even dictators. That may sound alarmist or shrill, but unless we see muscular action by congress or other highers-up in government or courts, the Friday night news dump of the Arpaio pardon could signal we’re heading in a similar direction. Our democracy is standing at the top of a very long, dangerous slippery slope downward into constitutional crisis and it’s time all Americans took in the seriousness of it all.