Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
For nearly two years since President Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015 I have been warning that if elected he would become an authoritarian leader. After seven months in office many of his strongest supporters are beginning to discover that I and others were more accurate than any of us wanted to be. In fact I often said that I hoped more than anything that I was wrong about the President, but nearly every day his words or actions confirm my initial predictions of him becoming a true authoritarian leader.
Following President Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio the Washington Examiner, one of the most conservative publications in the United States with a history of supporting Donald Trump declared “Trump, once the law and order candidate, embraces lawless disorder with Arpaio pardon.” The editorial went on to mention that “But “law and order,” if the words have any meaning, has to apply to government actors as well. Lawless sheriffs promote disorder, and that’s what Arpaio did to get himself convicted.” They properly understood that what Sheriff Joe did was lawless and that the President’s decision to pardon him outside the normal channel for granting pardons was an act that will cause the rule of law to break down and that in the case of this pardon “it’s clear Trump has abused that power for a friend and political ally.”
Senator John McCain released a statement condemning the President’s action. He wrote:
“No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sworn law officers should always seek to be beyond reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold. … The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”
But the abuse of power has been a hallmark of the President and in this case it is ominous because it sends a signal to prosecutors and the courts that if a friend of the President is charged with or convicted of a crime that this President will trample judicial decisions just because he can. In fact it was revealed that months before Arpaio was convicted that Trump pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find a way to drop the prosecution. This is not the action of a man who respects the Constitution, the law, or the separation of powers, it is the action of an authoritarian who has no respect for the law who will use is capriciously to enhance his own power at the expense of the country. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote, “The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”
The problem is that most people in the United States are still trying to understand the President’s actions and words through the lens of traditional American political norms. Gary Kasparov, the Russian chess champion and political dissident noted the error of this reasoning. He tweeted “People are still trying to see Trump through the framework of democracy. But he doesn’t understand them or care to. This was a display of power.” He went on to note that “dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”
There are many people who did not believe, despite his words during the campaign about disrupting and destroying the institutions of the country that the President would do little harm, that he would be restrained by the courts and the Congress. While the courts have checked some of his unconstitutional actions, and the Congress has passed very little of his legislative agend, the President shows few signs that he respects the rule of law. In fact he attacks the courts, the Congress, the press, and individual citizens on a daily basis when they oppose him. Likewise he shows no respect for the Constitution that he swore to uphold, proving those who believed that he would act in accordance with our system of law and government wrong.
Yale historian Doctor Timothy Snyder wrote about those who make such assumptions when dealing with authoritarian leaders: “The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”
When President Trump pardoned Sheriff Arpaio he crossed a political Rubicon. His course is set. I just hope those who know better in his political party finally, if belatedly, show the moral courage to stand against what he is doing to our political system. If they do not he will do lasting damage to our form of government that will long outlive him or his presidency. Former Republican Senator John Danforth has urged responsible Republican leaders to stand. He wrote these words in the Washington Post:
“In honor of our past and in belief in our future, for the sake of our party and our nation, we Republicans must disassociate ourselves from Trump by expressing our opposition to his divisive tactics and by clearly and strongly insisting that he does not represent what it means to be a Republican.”
The President is fast becoming an existential threat to both the party of Lincoln and the Republic. No matter how he and his surrogates try to exhaust his opponents, and to break them by the shear volume of his lies, and actions against so many in this country, to include the leaders of his own party, it is not time to retreat. We must all continue to speak, and we must begin again to that together as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to hold him accountable and preserve a Rupublic that holds promise for all of us. If we don’t he will slice us up like salami into our little groups to dilute our power.