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Trump’s pardon of Arpaio sets a dangerous moral precedent

Cassie Kuhn

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The criminal justice system in the United States has plenty of shortcomings. With horrifying frequency, rapists and murderers walk free or altogether avoid trial while the people who sell them pot are thrown in jail. With unfair trials that target minorities and often result in punishments that do not fit the crime, it’s useful that the President has the power to pardon those who have been wrongfully convicted, or those who are deserving of such a pardon. 

Granting a pardon to someone can obviously have an enormous impact on their future, but a presidential pardon is more than this. When the President of the United States makes it a point to pardon someone, it produces a clear and strong message about what values that President has. There are exceptions, but the majority of Obama’s pardons were used for crimes related to drugs and fraud. By pardoning someone who lied to obtain food stamps, or who conspired to possess and distribute marijuana, Obama was able to help those who may have been wronged by the criminal justice system while simultaneously making a statement about what he believes in. People don’t lie to get food stamps or sell marijuana because they want to hurt people; they do it because they’re trying to help themselves, and perpetrators of these types of crimes are often people with little money who are struggling to make ends meet. This does not mean that selling drugs or lying to the government is acceptable behavior. However, pardoning those who have committed crimes of this nature is a way for the president of the United States to demonstrate a commitment to compassion for others, particularly for those Americans who may be disadvantaged or vulnerable and in desperate need of a little compassion.

So when President Trump uses his pardoning privileges to let former sheriff Joe Arpaio off the hook, he is sending a very clear message about what he values and believes in. Arpaio’s reign in Maricopa County, Arizona was characterized by ceaseless sadism, racism, and dishonesty. The United States has plenty of people rotting in jail for crimes they did not commit or for being caught smoking a joint. Yet our president is using his power to protect a man whose team burned a dog alive for their own personal amusement.

    Arpaio was warned multiple times by a federal judge that he needed to stop his practice of detaining people on the grounds that he or his team suspected they may have entered the country illegally. He intentionally ignored these warnings, and was eventually convicted of contempt of court. Just as Arpaio was finally going to receive a measly six-month punishment for the destructive, sadistic behavior that harmed and killed many people, Trump prevented that punishment from being doled out. This let us know that as long as you have someone with enough power in your corner, there is no limit to how evil you can be or to how many people you can hurt without facing repercussions. 

Additionally, with this decision, Trump told America that racial profiling is acceptable behavior in his eyes. Of all the potential recipients for his first presidential pardon, it speaks volumes that Donald Trump ultimately went with a well-documented racist. Though he continues to tell us that he is anti-racism, Trump can’t seem to stop behaving in a way that indicates he’s all for it. Surely Trump could have selected another person who he felt had been wrongfully convicted of contempt of court. That Trump went with the guy who was willfully ignoring a court order to stop being a racist should be cause for concern among Americans.

Putting Arpaio in jail for half a year wasn’t going to help his victims, but it might’ve at least given those who survived a sense of closure. It certainly would have lent credibility to the idea that in America, nobody is above the law. The problem with Trump pardoning Arpaio is hardly a political one. Rounding up anyone who looks like they might be Mexican and subjecting them to terrible conditions is not a practice very popular with members of any American political party. Arpaio is an obvious example of an ideological extremist, and the majority of Democrats and Republicans alike disagree vehemently with the horrible things Arpaio has used his power to accomplish. For this reason, it’s more important than ever for Americans to remain united as we pursue compassion and ethics in all realms of life, both politically and otherwise. The issue at hand is not one of Democrats vs Republicans. It’s all of us, against a leader who refuses to incorporate anything resembling a moral compass into his decision-making process. 

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Trump’s pardon of Arpaio sets a dangerous moral precedent