Why Trump pardoned Arpaio and reinstated a militarized police.

A convoy of armored personnel carriers carrying county police arrive during a protest on Aug. 15, 2014, over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Friday night, as Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, President Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who had been convicted of criminal contempt of court for disobeying a 2013 order by a federal judge to stop racial profiling. By shielding a rogue official from legal sanction and accountability, Trump once again asserted just how much he fetishizes the shallow, brutal image of “law and order” that Arpaio represents—at the expense of actual rule of law. But it wasn’t just the pardon. On Monday, the president rescinded an Obama-era directive restricting the sale and transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement, a move made in the wake of several widely publicized police abuses. This too represents an attack on accountability, and together with the Arpaio pardon, they show a key priority for this administration: impunity for those with state authority and attendant disregard for the people that authority is wielded on, often cruelly.

Jamelle Bouie is Slates chief political correspondent.

It’s this commitment that prompted Trump to pardon (and praise) a man infamous for his dehumanizing treatment of inmates, subjecting them to deprivation and humiliation for reasons that had little connection to actual law enforcement. He was held in contempt for refusing to stop actions such as canvassing Hispanic neighborhoods and detained people his department merely suspected of being undocumented. Although the Constitution gives presidents broad discretion to issue pardons, it’s still possible to abuse the power. In the days before the pardon, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman argued it “would be an assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution, and the rule of law itself.” He continued: “Arpaio didn’t just violate a law passed by Congress. His actions defied the Constitution itself, the bedrock of the entire system of government. For Trump to say that this violation is excusable would threaten the very structure on which his right to pardon is based.”

This authoritarian vision of “law and order” not only condones the lawlessness of Arpaio, it celebrates it. And in turn, it sees virtue in militarized, heavily armed police…

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