Trump’s pardon of Arpaio fits a pattern: A divider, not a uniter – Washington Post

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President Trump has set his presidency on an unambiguous course for which there could be no reversal. He has chosen to be a divider, not a uniter, no matter how many words to the contrary he reads off a teleprompter or from a prepared script. That’s one obvious message from Friday’s decision to issue a pardon for controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump has been a divisive force from the very start of his campaign for president, a proud disruptor of the political status quo. His swashbuckling contempt for political correctness and the rules of the game endeared him to millions of Americans who were fed up with Washington, with career politicians, with liberal elites and with the mainstream media. The more he is under fire — as he is now — the more he returns to that strategy.

There is little doubt that his decision to seize on the issue of immigration, particularly illegal immigration, helped fuel his successful run to the White House. It’s an issue that resonates far beyond the nation’s southern border.

Accidentally or intentionally, Trump tapped the fears and anger over immigration that existed in many parts of the country, including Midwestern states whose electoral votes gave him the presidency.

His willingness to use issues of culture and identity to rally supporters, even as his words and actions repelled critics, was a strategic success. There are other reasons he won the election, but immigration symbolically is a central factor.

President Donald Trump reacts before speaking at a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Illegal immigration long has been a divisive issue in American politics. Securing the border, fulfilling the needs of many businesses for migrant workers and deciding how to justly treat the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country — some have been here for decades and are rooted in their communities — has defied political solution. Politicians in both parties have tried and failed for years to find a middle-ground compromise and thereby tamp down the conflicts that have arisen.

Trump’s views have not been in doubt. As a candidate, he condemned Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. He called for a ban on Muslim immigration. He attacked a federal judge overseeing a suit against Trump University, claiming the judge could not be impartial because he was of Mexican heritage.

His policies in office have brought a sharp change from those of the Obama administration. From his travel ban aimed at six Muslim-majority countries to raids that have shaken immigrant communities, Trump has had a demonstrable impact.

It is a promise he made that he is keeping, even though he has yet to get Congress to fund the border wall that was a rallying cry during his campaign. The Trump administration is now weighing whether to end the Obama administration’s policy designed to protect children from deportation — known informally as “Dreamers” — who were brought to the country illegally, the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

In pardoning Arpaio, the president has again linked himself to the most extreme elements of the immigration debate, inflaming an already highly volatile situation. The pardon was an extraordinary act coming so early in a presidency and sets a tone both on immigration and on the president’s willingness to use this power to take care of those who have been loyal to him. That is something that could come into play in the future, depending on the outcome of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Arpaio made his reputation as an uncompromising sheriff whose harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants over many years drew criticism, condemnation and eventually legal action. He became a national symbol in the immigration debate — loved, reviled and unrepentant. He defied a judge’s order to stop racial profiling of Hispanics in his state. When he kept on with the practice, he was eventually convicted of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor. Now he has been pardoned.

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