On Sunday, while the president was fielding advice about what, if anything, to say concerning lethal racist violence in Charlottesville, he was also facing another quandary: whether to pardon former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said Sunday, during a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court a couple of weeks ago for his serial defiance of a court order aimed at stopping his department’s eager use of racial-profiling methods. He was probably lucky he was only popped for a misdemeanor, since the racial profiling went on for years and Arpaio at one point admitted his lawyers had hired a private eye to investigate the wife of the judge he was battling. Then there’s the fact that his fight with the courts cost his county’s taxpayers well over $50 million. He could have been ordered to make restitution.
Trump likely does sympathize with the old nativist demagogue — and not just because Arpaio was an early and avid backer of Trump’s own campaign, and a big-league fellow birther. In October of last year, candidate Trump made it clearly known he didn’t think racial profiling by cops was a problem:
“They [police officers] see somebody that’s suspicious, they will profile,” Trump said. “Look what’s going on: Do we really have a choice? We’re trying to be so politically correct in our country, and this is only going to get worse.”
Perhaps that’s why Trump thinks Arpaio “has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.”
Given his age (he’s 85), it’s unlikely that Arpaio will draw jail time when sentencing rolls around next month. But the president seems determined to make a gesture, saying he “might [pardon Arpaio] right away, maybe early this week. I am seriously thinking about it.”
Maybe he’ll issue the pardon to make sure his alt-right supporters don’t misunderstand today’s condemnation of racism as applying to good patriotic Americans like Arpaio. What’s racist about a little racial profiling? Latinos being pulled over for what they look like have nothing to worry about so long as they haven’t broken any laws, right?
No, the president’s much-delayed and apparently grudging denunciation of racism today is not going to allay doubts about his ability to look at nonwhite Americans and see fellow “patriots.”