The Dangerous Implications of the Pardon of Joe Arpaio

August 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


On August 25, Donald Trump issued a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was facing a six-month sentence for criminal contempt of court.

Trump and Arpaio have been like-minded fascists for years. Both were powerful forces behind the “birther” movement that sought to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama under the pretext of challenging the legitimacy of his birth certificate, but really on the basis that no Black person belongs in the White House. Trump’s original political claim to infamy was calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, young Black and Latino teens bullied and tricked by the police into false confessions, and falsely convicted of rape. Arpaio’s was essentially criminalizing the entire Latino population of the Phoenix, Arizona area.

During Arpaio’s 24 years as sheriff in the Phoenix area his pigs conducted vicious sweeps and raids in the Latino community, stopping and arresting anyone who looked Latino. He locked them up in a draconian “tent city,” where temperatures inside reached into the high 100s in the summer and down to the low 40s in the winter with holes in the tents that let the wind and the rain in. People died due to these conditions.

So, then, what does it say that Trump, speaking to a fascist rally in Phoenix, said that Arpaio was being punished “for doing his job”? On one level, Trump blurted out a basic truth about the nature of all pigs in America: they are violent enforcers of a system of exploitation and oppression and when they do that, they are doing their jobs.

But on another level, it marked a major move to tear up norms, to tear up what thin restraints there have been on how that is supposed to be done. To attack the rule of law. With very ominous implications.

Joe Arpaio was defiantly overt in using racial profiling to stop people because they were Latino. That is blatantly unconstitutional. Arpaio was the focus of years of resistance and struggle. In 2010, between ten and twenty thousand people marched in Phoenix under the slogans “Stop the Hate!” “Stop Arpaio!” “Stop the Raids!” Arpaio was the subject of thousands of lawsuits, and the subject of a scathing report by Amnesty International. In the context of this outrage and protest, the Justice Department investigated and “discovered” that Arpaio was racially profiling in violation of people’s constitutional rights. A court order was issued demanding he stop.

Arpaio openly defied that court order for 17 months. As a result, he was charged, tried, and convicted of criminal and civil contempt in late July of this year. For all his massive crimes, he would likely have been sentenced to just six months in jail. But before he could even be sentenced Trump pardoned Arpaio.

In pardoning Arpaio (after first, unsuccessfully leaning on his attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, to drop the case), Trump is sending a message that this racist, xenophobic fascist thug is a model for law enforcement. And, tearing up any pretense of everyone being equal under the law. This is of a piece with things like Trump’s Muslim ban which overtly targets people based on their religion, and his calls for imposing “stop-and-frisk” style racial profiling in Chicago and nationwide.

And on another level, issuing a presidential pardon this early in the term of a president, in the way this was done, sends a message in its own right. Trump ignored and stepped over the normal processes where someone convicted of a crime applies for pardon and there is a lengthy review process, including input from victims of the crime. Some people have pointed to the possibility that in issuing this pardon for Arpaio, in the way he did, Trump is sending a message as to how he might deal with criminal convictions of people resulting from the FBI investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia. That’s possible. But the message being sent here goes way beyond that: Trump is flaunting a willingness and determination to subordinate the rule of law, including the courts and what are supposed to be civil and legal rights for people, beneath the powers of the executive. That is: the president above the law, and fascism above the law.

Revolution has written:

Fascism is the exercise of blatant dictatorship by the bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) class, ruling through reliance on open terror and violence, trampling on what are supposed to be civil and legal rights, wielding the power of the state, and mobilizing organized groups of fanatical thugs, to commit atrocities against masses of people, particularly groups of people identified as “enemies,” “undesirables,” or “dangers to society.” (See “What is Fascism”).

The Trump/Pence fascist regime is not about doing what is “normal”—it is about shattering the old governing and social “norms” of how things are done in the service of creating a powerful fascist state. And the pardon of Joe Arpaio was another in an escalating, rapid-fire series of moves by the Trump/Pence regime to radically tear up the rule of law and respect for what have been considered basic, constitutional rights, and replace that with a fascist order.

This outrageous pardon is one more, urgent, compelling reason for people to throw everything into driving this regime from power.


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