Our View: Another rash and divisive action

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On a Friday night, with a category 4 hurricane bearing down on Texas, President Donald Trump stormed ahead with another rash and divisive action and pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.

Mr. Arpaio — virulently anti-immigrant and, along with Mr. Trump one of the original "birthers" questioning former President Obama's citizenship — "was convicted in July of criminal contempt of court for disregarding a federal judge's orders to stop detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally," according to a New York Times editorial we ran over the weekend.

Mr. Arpaio for years proudly terrorized brown-skinned people across southern Arizona, catching them up in "saturation patrols" and holding them in what he referred to as a "concentration camp" for months at a time.

A federal judge in 2011 found this activity to be unconstitutional and ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop. He did not stop, placing himself above the law and the Constitution.

Convicted and voted out of office in November, he has not shown any remorse. Rather, much like his benefactor in Washington, D.C., he has whined and painted himself as a victim.

The president has a vast and sweeping power to grant pardons, but this pardon goes against Justice Department guidelines, which call for waiting at least five years before considering a pardon and some expression of remorse.

Though presidents in the past have granted questionable pardons, they were made at the end of a presidency — not seven months in, under cover of an impending natural disaster.

Not surprisingly, Vermont's two senators reacted strongly to the pardon.

"It is disheartening that he set the bar so very low for his first pardon. It is a shame to see the pardon power devalued like this," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in a statement. "The ex-sheriff is a self-aggrandizing braggart who promoted racist law enforcement practices and cost taxpayers millions, and that is a reason they did not re-elect him."

Sen. Leahy noted that after the racism and hate during the alt-right rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., the United States needs unity and healing.

"But that healing will not come from a president who only exploits divisions and fears," he said.

U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders, an independent, also slammed the pardon.

"By pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, Trump has again made clear he will use the powers of the presidency to defend racism and discrimination," Sanders wrote in a tweet.

Also on Friday night came word that aide Sebastian Gorka, a far-right fellow traveler and former Breitbart editor, was either fired or resigned — it's not fully clear which. He follows his better-known far-right populist colleague Steve Bannon out of the White House. Mr. Bannon is back leading the alt-right website.

Though the departure of these two shadowy extremists out of the people's house is good news, it may not make any policy difference at the top. President Trump has made clear in the two weeks since the Charlottesville tragedy that he needs no help in creating division, playing to his supporter's worst instincts and undermining America's institutions.

One wonders if the Arpaio pardon wasn't a warm-up for pardons to come, as the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller forges ahead. Moreover, Mr. Trump may be radicalizing his base with such recent actions as his "many sides" comment about the events in Charlottesville, the ban on transgendered people serving in the military, the inflammatory rally last week in Phoenix and this pardon.

Roger Stone, another extremist and a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, predicted last Thursday there would be a "spasm of violence" should this president be impeached. One wonders if Mr. Trump also is trying to lay the groundwork for this. God help us.

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