As old-fashioned Republican conservatives we have long argued for strict border enforcement, “law and order” more generally, and a reasonable tolerance for whatever unpleasantness that might necessarily entail, and for just as long we’ve insisted that there’s nothing the least bit racist about that, but President Donald Trump’s pardon of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t make the chore any easier.
Even before his presidential pardon “Sheriff Joe” was nationally known as the strictest border enforcer of them all, and he widely publicized the unpleasantness he inflicted on the suspects arrested by his department, so of course to a certain type of old-fashioned Republican he was widely celebrated as a sort of western movie hero. He was the staunchest of the “birthers” insisting that President Barack Obama had not been born in the United States, too, and flouted “political correctness” more defiantly than anyone on the political landscape up to that point.
To almost any sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative there was a certain appeal to it. There were law enforcement officials in more fashionable districts who were defiantly refusing to do their duty to the country’s immigration laws, often with disastrous consequences to their citizens but always with no harm to their own careers, and it was hard not to like a guy who seemed intent on protecting the citizenry by bucking fashionable opinion. Lodging jailed suspects under tents in the Arizona heat and forcing them to wear pink undergarments was undeniably harsh, but there were always stories about some more fashionable jurisdiction where they undeniably lax. There was never any reason to buy into the “birther” nonsense, but there was plenty of reason to believe that Obama was more cosmopolitan than American in his world view, with disastrous consequences tot he citizenry, and by now almost everyone admits that much of that “political correctness” is an even more ridiculous load of nonsense.
To a certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republican, though, Arpaio always seemed more problematic than heroic. The reason he was offered a presidential pardon is because he was convicted of violating the order of a duly appointed court of law to stop violating the constitutional rights of citizens in his jurisdiction, his cocky acceptance of the pardon is as acknowledgement that he was unrepentantly guilty, so for our certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republicans the pardon can’t reconcile with all the talk about law and order. We’re quite willing to buck fashionable opinion when it comes to a suspect who has been properly arrested with probable cause and turns out to be legitimately suspected of violating the immigration laws, and we heap Republican scorn on those law enforcement officers who won’t report that to higher authorities for merely fashionable reasons, but Arpaio’s department was systematically was stopping motorists and pedestrians just because they looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and we never signed up for that.
Maricopa County encompasses almost the entire metropolitan Phoenix area, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to be there in the winter you know it’s a lovely and very up-to-date big city with a lot of illegal immigrants and a lot of people who might look like they might be illegal immigrants but whose families have been living in the state for much longer than anybody named Arpaio. The Arpaio policy wound up snaring a lot of illegal immigrants who might otherwise have escaped justice, some of whom might well have otherwise done something awful, but it also wound up subjecting a lot of taxpaying and law-abiding American citizens of long generational standing to some entirely unnecessary and sometimes extreme unpleasantness. We enjoy bashing those squishy liberal judges as much as any old-fashioned Republican conservative after their all-frequent crazy rulings, but in this case we have to admit that an honest reading of the plain language of the Constitution says you can’t stop and detain people just because they look like they might be illegal immigrants.
That’s the Constitution, too, which is the highest law of the land and the one most needed to maintain our still somewhat civilized order.
To a certain certain sort of new-fangled Republican this makes us “RINOs” and “cuckservatives,” mere Beta Males too timid to undertake the harsh measures required for the current crisis, but by now we think they’re all crazy. We’re as law and order as ever on border enforcement and pretty much everything else that old-fashioned Republican conservatives care about, but only so long as it’s lawfully enforced with due respect for those law-abiding but darker-hued citizens who are just trying to get home after a hard day’s work, and our day-to-day encounters with all sorts of fellow citizens are pleasant enough we don’t see any pressing need to suspend the constitution and impose martial law.
We are now forced to admit, though, that there’s another sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative out there who openly yearns for such authoritarian measures. There’s also an authoritarian impulse on the left, to be sure, and the authoritarian right will always present itself as the last defense against its disastrous consequences, but if it comes down to one of those street fights you saw in the last days of Germany’s Weimar Republic we’ll probably sit it out in the comfort of our home. We’re still hoping the center will hold, and that law and order can be achieved lawfully, but the Arpaio pardon doesn’t help.
Trump oh-so-coyly promised the pardon to a raucous campaign rally crowd a few days earlier, saying Arpaio had been “convicted for doing his job,” but he actually granted the pardon just before a historic and headline-grabbing storm fell on Texas and Louisiana, and a raucous crowd that didn’t seem include anyone who might look like an illegal immigrant cheered on the idea that violating the rights of certain taxpaying and law-abiding citizens is just part of a lawman’s job. The governments of Poland and Turkey and the Philippines have lately expanded their authoritarian rule over the press and local officials and other troublesome members of the civic society, each got congratulatory calls from Trump, who also ran on recently repeated campaign promises of war crimes, and we can no longer deny there’s a certain authoritarian streak within our Republican party.
We’ll continue to argue with our Democratic and darker-hued friends that immigration law should be enforced within the strict limits allowed by the Constitution, and without any racist intent, but it’s going to harder to argue that our Republican party is on board with that. We’ll also continue to argue with the Black Lives Matter movement that some indulgent degree of rule of law is needed to keep a lot of black lives from being lost to murder, but we can no longer promise that the inevitable provable cases of police brutality won’t be tolerated. Trump did joke to a gathering of law enforcement, after all, that they shouldn’t be so careful not cause head injuries when putting suspects under arrest.
At least we can take some comfort from knowing we’re not the only old-fashioned Republicans who are uncomfortable with all this Alpha Male stuff. At that Phoenix rally Trump also railed against the state’s two Republican Senators, but both defied the insults by steadfastly denouncing the pardon, as did the Arizona governor and Phoenix mayor. The Republican Speaker of the House stated his disagreements, too, along with several other Republicans and the most old-fashioned of the Republican media. Most of the law enforcement community also criticized the jokes about police brutality, too, few elected Republican officials seem on board with all that authoritarianism abroad, and so far the opinion polls show the center holding.
Arpaio is 85 years old, the misdemeanor charge he’d been convicted of but not yet sentenced for carried a maximum of seven months that he never would have been forced to endure in a tent shelter while wearing pink undergarments, so he’s neither a heroic figure nor a pitiable victim at this point. What matters is the clear message that his pardon sends to both Trump’s most ardent admirers and his most fierce critics.
— Bud Norman