Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Friday night, Breitbart tweeted out its story about Donald Trump’s pardon of sadistic former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio with these lines: “Look what you just made me do Look what you just made me do.” It was a reference to the new Taylor Swift song, but it was also a celebration of Trump’s unhinged abusiveness.
The Arpaio pardon was monstrous for many reasons. It sent a signal of impunity to racist police all over this country. It spit in the face of people who were targeted and even tortured by a sheriff who once proudly referred to his Tent City jail as a “concentration camp.” Trump circumvented ordinary Justice Department review procedures, which both demonstrates his contempt for the rule of law and ensures that next time he issues a precipitous pardon—say, to his son—it will be slightly less shocking. He sent a message to his cronies under pressure in the Russia probe to stay strong, by demonstrating his willingness to defy all normal political constraints in letting criminal conduct off the hook. Trump supporter Don Surber, a former West Virginia newspaper columnist fired for describing the dead teenager Michael Brown as an “animal” who had to be put “down” by police, exulted on his blog: “In pardoning Arpaio, President Trump sent a message to those under investigation by two dozen Democratic lawyers. …The message of his pardon is: Donald Trump has your back.”
But one of the most revolting things about the pardon was captured in Breitbart’s taunting tweet. The president was furious about being criticized for being a racist, and so, like a violent father smacking around his wife and children, he took it out on the majority of the country that fears and abhors him.
The Arpaio pardon should be seen in concert with the news, also breaking Friday, that Trump is planning to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to apply for work permits and protection from deportation. Just two months ago, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security announced that DACA, which protects about 740,000 people, would continue. Polling showed that even broad majorities of Trump voters supported letting the DACA beneficiaries—sometimes known as Dreamers—stay in the country. What changed between now and then? Well, John Kelly, the new chief of staff, is an immigration hard-liner. But the previous policy on DACA was instituted under his auspices at Homeland Security. More significant, I think, is that the president had his feelings hurt.
Also Friday, U.S. Border Patrol refused to close immigration checkpoints along Hurricane Harvey evacuation routes, saying, “CBP will remain vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.” This means that undocumented immigrants would have to choose between waiting out the hurricane or risking arrest. As Dara Lind reports at Vox, this is very different than the way the George W. Bush administration handled evacuations for Hurricane Ike, which hit Texas in 2008. Then, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff instructed agents, “We’re not going to be bogging people down with checks or doing things to delay the rapid movement of people out of the zone of danger.” We’ll find out in the coming days if Trump’s unyielding attitude on immigration has actually started to kill people.
Trump cannot deliver almost anything he promised during his campaign. He’s not going to get rid of Obamacare, much less replace it with something at once cheaper and more generous. He will not bring back American manufacturing, or make the country respected in the world, or extricate American troops from Afghanistan. He probably won’t be able to build a wall on the Mexican border, and has already conceded that Mexico won’t pay for it. But there is one promise he can deliver on, and it may be the central promise of his maggot-hearted campaign: revenge. If his supporters felt humiliated and dislocated and eclipsed by an urbane black president, Trump would make that president’s voters feel even worse. Outside Trump’s rally in Phoenix last week, a middle-age blond woman held a sign saying, “Trump Won Go Ahead and Cry.”
One of the uniquely horrifying things about the presidency is that Trump was put there to torment us, and by us, I mean the majority of Americans who voted against him. His strongest supporters revel in his instability, in the terror he evokes and the suffering he causes. He is, to use one of his own epithets, an enemy of the American people. We’ve all lived through presidents that we hate. (The irony of referencing W. and a hurricane in a positive light is not lost on me.) But this is the first president who hates us even more, and that may be the ultimate source of his power. Surber concluded his celebration of Arpaio’s freedom: “At any rate, pardon my laughter.”