Monday, August 28, 2017


In one sense, the headline for this piece by The New Republic's Brian Beutler -- "Republicans Completely Own Trump’s Arpaio Pardon" -- is fairly accurate:
Arpaio was a public figure in good standing on the right for two decades, not in spite of the fact that he made life hell for prisoners and immigrants living in his jurisdiction, but because of it. Republicans stood by as Arpaio built his infamous “tent jails,” where temperatures sometimes exceeded 115 degrees. They stood by as he made a woman give birth while shackled to a bed. As the country’s demographics shifted over the years, some Republicans started treating Arpaio less like a celebrated hero and more like an embarrassing racist uncle, but by then, their lots had been cast.

Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio, like Trump’s success in the Republican primary, is an outgrowth and an emblem of the GOP’s decision to foster the intellectual and cultural climates of Fox News across the country—concentrated in heavily gerrymandered congressional districts—to help them win elections. On its own terms, that project has been an incomparable success, but it has also been a moral abomination, forcing one of America’s two major political parties into complicity with the worst actors in the country. Conservatives finally discovered a vocal distaste for Arpaio after Trump pardoned him, but for decades they have done nothing to kick Arpaioites out of the coalition. Some Republicans may be genuinely uncomfortable with this arrangement, but nearly all of them represent parts of the country that are walled off from dissent.
I wholeheartedly agree with Beutler's assertion that the entire Republican Party shares the blame for Arpaio's misdeeds (though Beutler's recounting of those misdeeds is woefully incomplete -- go here and here for more). I don't agree, however, with the word "forcing" -- nobody held a gun to the heads of Arpaio's fellow Republicans and compelled them to tolerate him.

They did so because they knew they'd benefit as Republicans from the brand-building aura of "toughness" directed at non-white people, but they also knew that no voter who was in any way squeamish about what Arpaio was doing would blame them personally for it, because they'd be regarded as the "nice" Republicans, the ones with couth and good manners who piously declare that all men and women are brothers and sisters even as Republican policies brutalize and disenfranchise black and brown people. This is the same deal they have with Trump -- all but a handful of them support him, and yet they have much of the public (and the political press) persuaded that his worst behavior has nothing to do with them.

In this sense, they absolutely don't own Trump's pardon of Arpaio, any more than they own the other awful doings of Arpaio and Trump. Their pious tut-tutting is accepted by much of the public (and a substantial portion of the media). The sanctimonious claptrap offered up by former senator John Danforth last week in The Washington Post -- Danforth asserted that Trump is the antithesis of a Republican because the GOP is the party of national unity -- is plausible to much of the political world and the public even though Trump and Arpaio's good standing within the GOP mocks every sentence Danforth wrote.

The vast majority of Republicans always get away with seeming like decent people. Nothing ever sticks to them. That has to change.

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