It might be time to reconsider how much time and effort we have been devoting to presidential bashing lately.
No, I’m not even remotely considering pulling back from any previous commentary about the political chaos that is the Donald Trump presidency. Rather, there is an argument to be made that all the attention lavished on every crazy Trump boast (“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich”), childish epithet (“Sloppy Steve”) and sham drama (Fake News Awards) steals precious attention from elsewhere.
Whatever Trump may be doing to coarsen American political discourse, he’s doing much more harm to American government and civil society with the ethically compromised men and women he is helping into office.
I’ll cite two prime examples. Trump pardoned one and nominated the other.
Thomas Farr is cruising toward becoming a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Farr’s nomination was given the green light recently by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Farr’s other claim to infamy is a tie to the 1990 reelection campaign of Sen. Jesse Helms. Farr was the Helms campaign’s legal counsel when more than 100,000 postcards were sent to black voters falsely telling them they were ineligible to vote — and that if they did, they risked criminal prosecution. That’s called voter suppression. And this was a particularly vile and racist example of it.
The Department of Justice, under George H.W. Bush, pursued the abuses.
Before the Senate panel, Farr has claimed he was innocent in the scheme. But other accounts, where Farr himself is quoted, show that he knew of it before the postcards were mailed.
The concern is not one isolated incident from Farr’s past. Rather, he has a track record throughout a long legal career of taking cases that helped undermine voting rights, especially those of African-American voters.
Arpaio, whom Trump has called a “great American patriot,” announced recently that he’s running for the seat being vacated by a fellow Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake.
On Twitter, Arpaio noted that he is running “to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump in his mission to Make America Great Again.”
Well before Trump entered politics, Arpaio was known as a quirky nut job with a penchant for publicity stunts, such as creating an outdoor tent city for prison inmates. Many of these unfortunates were subjected to temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, were fed rotten bologna sandwiches and were forced to wear pink underwear.
Arpaio has long displayed a special dislike of Latinos. His department routinely violated the civil rights of U.S.-born citizens who happen to appear to his deputies as immigrants by virtue of brown skin tone. He became known for ordering his deputies to target Latino drivers.
Arpaio’s wrongdoings didn’t go unchallenged. He cost his county millions in legal settlements. And a federal judge ordered him to stop abusing people’s rights through the roundups. Arpaio refused the order to stop.
Last year, he was convicted of contempt of court and was facing six months in jail.
Guess who pardoned him?
Yes, Trump. His message to law enforcement was clear: Go ahead, go out and bust a few Latino heads. POTUS has your back.
Now Arpaio wants a spot in the Senate, a position that would allow him to influence law enforcement nationwide. He could win.
Arpaio’s supporters may argue that the former sheriff was merely going after immigrants not legally in the country. But it’s also true that dozens of people died in his jail and the Department of Justice substantiated patterns of racial profiling by his deputies that targeted U.S. citizens as well.
The presidency of Donald Trump will not break American democracy. We will survive him.
But Trump has emboldened and legitimized people who have twisted views and deplorable records on voting rights, civil rights and basic human rights.
No doubt about it, there is damage brewing in Trump’s wake.