In the grand scheme of things, President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is no big deal, especially as tens of thousands of Texans in Harvey’s wake are suffering.
However, the pardons usually come as a president’s time in office is winding down, so Trump’s pardon of the former Arizona lawman is unusual, and could be interpreted by Trump’s detractors as a sign that this presidency could soon be over. We can’t say, because we don’t know Trump’s intentions, or if he even has intentions.
There is something far more important that begs to be explored and explained, if for no other reason than to delineate President Trump’s overall interest in and concern for the rule of law.
Usually, when a president issues a pardon, he has little or no connection to the felon being pardoned. In this case, however, Arpaio was an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy. So, this pardon could easily be construed as politically motivated — and not the first time such motivation has been demonstrated in pardons by previous presidents.
There is another unusual and interesting twist — Trump appointee Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommended the president not pardon Arpaio, in part because of the aforementioned concern about the rule of law, which a U.S. attorney general is sworn to uphold.
So, what exactly is the rule of law. The definition goes as follows: The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by decisions of individual government officials. Or as Aristotle wrote: “Law should govern.”
In that context, President Trump has crossed a line. His pardon of Arpaio was within legal guidelines, but it clearly violates the rule-of-law concept.
That probably doesn’t matter to Trump, an unorthodox president by any measure. But it should matter to the majority of Americans.
The crime for which the self-styled “Sheriff Joe” was convicted involves ignoring federal directives with regard to handling immigration problems in Arizona. In short, Arpaio promoted racial profiling, specifically of Hispanic people or anyone who may have looked Hispanic.
Racial profiling is not uncommon in this country, but that does not make it right or legal. Demanding a citizen produce his or her “papers” based on the way they look is among the reasons this nation was founded in the first place, as people fled such oppression in their own countries.
It’s also what sent citizens of Germany running for safety in the mid-1930s, as Adolf Hitler’s plan for the “master race” profiled German Jews, millions of whom failed to escape.
So, racial profiling directly contradicts the rule of law, and Trump’s pardoning of a law enforcement official who not only condoned, but demanded his officers profile people of a certain ethnicity runs counter to every legal principle upon which this United States of America was and continues to be based.
Perhaps the president’s pardon of Arpaio is a pre-emptive strike, preparing for the outcome of the special counsel’s investigation into the Trump campaign operatives’ connections to Russian intelligence agencies. Having pardoned one law-breaker might be seen in Trump’s inner circle as preparing American citizens for the president pardoning those found guilty of colluding with a foreign government.
One thing is certain, there is never a dull moment with the Trump presidency, nor is there likely to be. Each morning’s barrage of presidential tweets opens a new can of worms for America to consider.
We believe in the concept of a united America. This brand of leadership isn’t living up to that ideal.