Yesterday the Republicans by a voice vote, formally denounced white supremacists and all racist groups, which included, I suppose, the KKK and the Nazi party. This is a positive step, but one which puts them further at odds with their putative leader Donald Trump.
But now that the party has begun to think independently and maybe fall out of lockstep with the president, it’s time for thinking Republicans to declare formally that reporters are not bad people, not evil, and not un-American. The party might add that the free press is not the enemy of the United States.
They can also say, if they want to, that they feel the press often leans left, or liberal, or progressive—that’s fine—but they must also admit that the reporting of events is an important aspect of any democracy; and they should also affirm that the people who carry out this function should not be verbally abused or physically threatened—not by a puerile president, and not by the mindless rabble who follow him.
It’s especially important today for Republicans to rally around the basic tenets of their party because their nominal leader has now officially placed himself above the law. When the president pardoned Arizona ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio yesterday, Trump tacitly declared that the Bill of Rights is subservient to the whims and vagaries of the president. The pardon was purportedly based upon “his [Arpaio’s] life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” That explanation does not quite jibe with Arpaio’s conviction for criminal contempt in a racial profiling case and the subsequent sentence of six months in jail.
But let’s remember, Arpaio’s crime—and it was a crime—violated basic Constitutional rights. His lifelong antipathy toward Latinos (he regularly stopped and detained them on suspicion of their being in this country illegally) was a clear violation of rights granted to all by the Fifth Amendment—that’s the one with all that due process stuff that says you can’t be deprived of liberty without a court ruling upon the legality of the detention. Stopping someone and detaining him based on skin color is an obvious violation. The fact that Arpaio was told to desist from that activity and his further defiance of a court order was reason enough to charge him. The fact that he remained unrepentant probably earned him jail time.
You may believe that Arpaio was just doing his job as an anti-immigration zealot. I think he’s just another bigot in a country replete with them. We can disagree, but Trump’s act threatens both of us. If the president can pardon a public official who willfully violated the Constitution, what’s to stop any government employee from overstepping? Couldn’t some Trump henchman with a badge arrest a reporter who writes an unflattering story about the president? Or a protester who carries a sign in the street? Or a senator who refuses to sign off on a piece of legislation, Or a blogger who every day points out the president’s mental unbalance and his complete lack of wisdom?
Today the answer is no, but a better answer may be not yet. After all, nothing can prevent a vindictive, thoughtless, and ignorant president from secretly promising a pardon to agents who undertake illegal activities. Welcome back to 1984, our new police state run by generals and overseen by an incompetent.
The pardon of Joe Arpaio signals a new and even more dangerous test for all Americans who believe in the rule of law. If Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on this danger and work to stop it, then they will become superfluous: an absolute monarchy does not require political parties.