“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
--Donald Trump, January 2016
The more offensive President Trump is to the rest of America, the more popular he becomes with his core supporters. They believe he “speaks his mind” and are willing to go along with his misguided, undemocratic behavior. In fact, Trump preaches to his base that there is a enormous conspiracy against them fueled by what he calls “fake news.”
While feeding his polarized supporters, Trump goes out of his way to do what he wants to do. Since he took office, Trump – despite advice from officials in his own party – continually follows the drum of his unmeasured ego. This week he proved his impetuous behavior in two such actions.
1. Pushing Transgender People From the Military
Trump wants transgender individuals to go back into the closet to join the military. In a long-awaited directive that followed up on a series of tweets he wrote last month on the issue, he ordered the military to stop accepting transgender men and women as recruits. He also prohibited the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgeries for active duty personnel unless the process has already begun and stopping it would put the individual's health at risk.
Trump left Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the discretion to decide whether those who are already in the armed forces can continue serving. Mattis now has six months to lay out a plan to implement Trump’s policy, weighing issues such as “military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law.”
Mattis appears to have little interest in devoting energy to the battle over transgender service members. The new ban reportedly stems from a fight among House Republicans over Pentagon-funded sex-reassignment operations (Little more than a rounding error in the Pentagon's annual budget – an increase of 0.04 to 0.13 percent or one tenth of the annual $84 that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction). But, that threatened a spending bill that included money for Trump’s southern border wall, so Trump announced transgender troops would be banned completely – though that was far beyond what the lawmakers were pushing for.
Legal experts say banning people from the military because they’re transgender is unconstitutional. The first lawsuit over the transgender ban has already been filed and many more are expected. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to Mattis containing 45 signatures that urged him not to impose a ban on transgender troops in the military – at least until he’s completed a thorough internal review.Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke up shortly after Trump’s directive, saying that pushing transgender individuals out of the military would be the wrong move. “It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense personnel policy.”
McCain added,“The Pentagon's ongoing study on this issue should be completed before any decisions are made with regard to accession. The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to conduct oversight on this important issue.”
“Imagine, if you would, if the president tried to pull the same prank on Jewish soldiers or gay and lesbian soldiers or Chinese soldiers or African-American soldiers,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center. “To pull the rug out from under a group of service members who have been defending our country is inconsistent with two centuries of American history.”
2. Pardoning Joe Arpaio
Two weeks after Trump claimed “some very fine people” were marching in Charlottesville, Va., alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists and three days after staging a rally in Phoenix, he took it on himself to pardon controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona– self-proclaimed “America's Toughest Sheriff – for a criminal contempt conviction. Trump did this without the customary advisory review by the Justice Department’s special pardons division.
Arpaio’s twenty-four-year career in Maricopa County was a direct affront to the immigrant community. He gloated over the fear he caused. More than a hundred inmates died in his jails, and there were countless lawsuits filed against him.
Arpaio reportedly brutalized Latinos, and he had flagrantly ignored a federal judge who had ordered him to stop. To the troubled community, his conviction served as proof the justice system could work – the sentence most symbolic of equality.
Lydia Guzman, an immigrants-rights advocate on the front lines for more than a decade, said, “Arpaio is no longer the sheriff, and his legacy is that he was a convicted criminal. Only criminals need pardons.”
But, Trump wanted to put his birther conspiracy buddy back on his pedestal. This is evidence Trump is more interested in protecting his allies than the people of color they harm.
Bob Bauer, a professor at New York University School of Law, said, “It all seems to come down to that: Trump disrupted the operation of the criminal justice process to score a political point, and he believes that the ‘complete power to pardon’ gives him all the space he needs for this maneuver and requires of him only the most pro forma, meaningless explanation of his action.”
And the timing of Trump's pardon must be questioned. All over the country, police are under scrutiny for the fairness with which they use deadly force on white- and non-white subjects. Latino groups, in particular, are on the alert for raids and excesses by newly energized local law-enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials.
Racist groups will be empowered by the pardon.
“If President Trump uses his power to pardon a discredited law enforcement official who persistently engaged in illegal racial profiling of the Latino community, it will not be a dog whistle to the so-called ‘alt right’ and white supremacists, but a bull horn,” said Vanita Gupta, who previously headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “No amount of tweets or forced remarks read from a teleprompter could undo the damage.”
A pardon for Arpaio would “sow hate and division” and excuse “racist and illegal policing policies,” said Gupta, who now serves as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Arpaio “personifies the same bigotry and intolerance we witnessed in Charlottesville,” she added, referencing the recent white supremacist rally in Virginia.
“It’s a message to the country,” Carlos Garcia, the executive director of Puente, an Arizona-based human-rights organization, told me. “What Arpaio did—that’s coming to you, wherever you live.”
Margaret Hartman. “White House Finds Solution to Transgender Military Ban: Delay, Then Let Mattis Decide.” New York Magazine. August 24, 2017
Zeke J. Miller. “President Trump Has Taken a Key Step to Implement His Transgender Military Ban.” Time August 25, 2017.
Jonathan Blitzer. “Why Trump’s Arpaio Pardon Is a Nationwide Call to Political Arms. The New Yorker. August 26, 2017.
Sandy Fitzgerald. “Arizona's Largest Paper: Arpaio Pardon an 'Insult' to Latinos.” Newsmax. August 26, 2017.
Daniel Politi. “Trump Orders Military to Start Rejecting Transgender Recruits. The Slatest. August 26, 2017.