Friday, September 1, 2017
In a depressing, but not surprising move, last Friday Donald Trump pardoned convicted Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was famous for his racially motivated profiling of latinos in the state of Arizona. In a typical lack of sympathy and human emotion, the following Monday Trump admitted that he picked the day that Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas to make his announcement of the pardon because, “Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally.” Yes, that is the President of the United States saying that he wanted to use the media hurricane warnings to help raise the ratings of his controversial announcement. Once again, Trump has shown that his only interest in office is the same as it is in the rest of his life: to pump up his own bloated sense of self worth!
The Arpaio pardon is just the latest chapter in Trump's long string of playing to white supremacist attitudes, from saying that Barack Obama was not an American citizen to calling Mexican immigrants rapists. But the Arpaio pardon is particularly galling in that his crimes were so horrible; known as "America's toughest Sheriff", he was actually far worse: he and his men would round up anyone that was Latino, demand citizenship papers, and jail anyone without such papers. The conditions of his jail were so bad, he himself referred to it as a "concentration camp". The prisoners were routinely brutalized and humiliated. One woman claimed that she was shackled during her pregnancy, and not allowed to hold her baby after giving birth. All in all, the legal bills the state was forced to pay out during his reign of terror ran into the tens of millions of dollars. The final straw came when he refused to follow a court order that he stop racially profiling people who were not accused of committing a crime, an order that he publicly said he would refuse to follow. Can we just sit back and take a minute to gawk at the spectacle of a self styled law and order candidate pardoning someone who openly broke the law?
Now let's look at the recent history of white supremacy in this country: the Klu Klux Klan, which had mostly disbanded in the 1870's, began their second reign of terror around a hundred years ago. The number of Americans involved in that movement, or others like it, has waxed and waned over the last century. A real spike in their membership began in the year 2000, when the gallup poll reported for the first time that white Americans were projected not to make up more than 50% of the population within forty years. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 also sadly led to an increase in their numbers.
Given all of this, Trump's successful sowing of white resentment was really more an inevitability than many of us thought: Trump is much worse than a terrible president, he is a negative reflection of the racist attitudes of country, attitudes that so many of us wished were at the very least in decline. Recently, in the wake of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, a recent poll found that 9% of Americans are OK with people having pro Nazi or white supremacist views. While that may not sound like a lot, remember that in a country that has around three hundred and twenty million people, that 9% amounts to somewhere around thirty million. Look at the math, Trump won the presidency with sixty three million votes; assuming that all of those thirty million people who are OK with Nazi views voted for him (a safe assumption, given his campaign) and we can see that almost half of his voters were racially motivated bigots, who will never turn on him, no matter what he does, as long as he continues to do things like defend Nazi marchers and pardon people like Arpaio. Those thirty million are single issue voters of the worst kind. (Clinton was right, half of Trump's supporters were from a "basket of deplorables"!) All we can do is hope that we can sway the remaining thirty million not to support him next time. Assuming he isn't impeached or resigns before then, which, given his erratic behavior, is a possibility.