Pres­i­dent may see a bit of him­self in Sher­iff Ar­paio

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - Cather­ine Ram­pell Colum­nist

There are lots of com­pelling rea­sons not to par­don the coun­try’s most fa­mous racist in the mid­dle of a hur­ri­cane.

Maybe, some spec­u­lated, Trump wanted to toss some red meat to his base. Trump’s re­cent Phoenix cam­paign-rally crowd prac­ti­cally frothed at the mouth when he hinted at a com­ing par­don of the for­mer Mari­copa County sher­iff. As Trump’s over­all ap­proval hov­ers around 35 per­cent, a high-pro­file par­don of a no­to­ri­ous racial pro­filer might be a way to shore up his sup­port.

But Trump had also pre­vi­ously pur­sued more be­hind-the-scenes moves to help Ar­paio avoid fac­ing jus­tice, as my Wash­ing­ton Post col­leagues re­ported over the week­end. Which sug­gests that pub­lic credit may not have been the pri­mary goal.

Oth­ers spec­u­lated that the par­don was about re­ward­ing a long­time ally for his loy­alty. Ar­paio was, after all, one of the first politi­cians to board the Trump train. But At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions was also among Trump’s ear­li­est po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers, and loy­alty alone did not shield him from pub­lic tor­ment and hu­mil­i­a­tion at the hands of the pres­i­dent.

Another pop­u­lar the­ory is that the par­don was a sig­nal to other Trump con­fed­er­ates com­ing into spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s or­bit that the pres­i­dent will pro­tect them.

In my view, the most likely ex­pla­na­tion for this stom­ach-churn­ing par­don is much sim­pler: It’s pro­jec­tion. Trump sees him­self — or what he some­times as­pires to ac­com­plish, any­way — in this lo­cal tin-pot dic­ta­tor.

Think about it. Trump has not ex­actly proved him­self to be the for­ward-look­ing, cal­cu­lat­ing mas­ter­mind im­plied by those al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tions. And he makes ev­ery­thing — in­clud­ing the Char­lottesville vi­o­lence, the Hous­ton catas­tro­phe, even the eclipse — about him­self.

Trump and Ar­paio both built their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers by de­mo­niz­ing im­mi­grants. They also both raised their na­tional pro­files by claim­ing that Barack Obama was se­cretly a Kenyan-born Mus­lim, a racist con­spir­acy the­ory that Ar­paio even sent a tax­payer-funded deputy to Hawaii to in­ves­ti­gate.

And more broadly they both seem to use “law and or­der” as code for en­cour­ag­ing law en­force­ment to ha­rass peo­ple of color.

Those are the best-known par­al­lels be­tween the two politi­cians, but they’re hardly the only ones. There are many other ways in which Ar­paio has proved to be Trump’s mini-me.

Ar­paio has, for ex­am­ple, jailed jour­nal­ists who wrote crit­i­cal sto­ries about his hid­den com­mer­cial real es­tate trans­ac­tions.

For years as sher­iff, Ar­paio rode a gi­ant tank in lo­cal pa­rades. Trump hoped (but failed) to em­u­late this in his own in­au­gu­ral pa­rade in Jan­uary. Trump also plans to is­sue an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ex­pand­ing the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of lo­cal po­lice forces, which Obama had rolled back.

Both Trump and Ar­paio also have launched at­tacks on the in­de­pen­dence of our fed­eral ju­di­ciary.

Trump did this by, among other things, ques­tion­ing the abil­ity of a U.S.-born judge of Mex­i­can de­scent to re­main im­par­tial in a Trump Univer­sity case.

Po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated in­ves­ti­ga­tions were ac­tu­ally a main­stay of Ar­paio’s law en­force­ment ca­reer, as well as Trump’s cam­paign ral­lies (“Lock her up!”), while both claim to be vic­tims of po­lit­i­cal witch hunts them­selves.

Trump through­out the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign re­peat­edly ad­vo­cated tor­tur­ing pris­on­ers held abroad; Ar­paio often acted on this bru­tal im­pulse in his own jails. He set up a “tent city,” which he some­times re­ferred to as a “con­cen­tra­tion camp,” hous­ing in­mates in tem­per­a­tures reach­ing up to 145 de­grees; con­di­tions got so hot that pris­on­ers’ shoes some­times melted.

Over the two years of his po­lit­i­cal life, Trump’s in­sults have often been of the I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I pro­jec­tional va­ri­ety.

Turns out his praise and clemency are, as well.

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