“For My Friends, Anything. For My Enemies, the Law.”

Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio brings to mind that adage of South American dictators.

The "Yankee caudillo" Donald Trump
The “Yankee caudillo” Donald Trump (The Washington Post)

Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who was found guilty last month of criminal contempt of court, reminds me of that adage of South American dictators: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”

The president can grant clemency to anyone, but Trump’s predecessors used this power carefully.

David Frum writes in The Atlantic that Barack Obama only issued his first round of pardons two years into his presidency. George W. Bush waited until May 2004, six months before his reelection.

Trump, by contrast, appears to have put no formal deliberation into Arpaio’s pardon. He didn’t even wait until the former sheriff could be sentenced!

Strongman tendencies

This is not the first and only sign of Trump’s strongman tendencies.

He has refused to divest himself from his business interests, appointed members of his family to top government posts and surrounded himself with generals. He calls the free press the “enemy of the people”, derided “so-called judges” for blocking a Muslim travel ban and fired the director of the FBI for refusing to stop an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.

This is not how the president of the United States is supposed to behave. This is the behavior we expect from the leader of a banana republic.

It’s not just me saying it. An op-ed in The Washington Post called Trump the United States’ first “Latin American president”. The Weekly Standard called him a caudillo, or Latin strongman. Politico saw similarities with Hugo Chávez and Augusto Pinochet. The Economist described Trump as “a Peronist on the Potomac”.

If you want learn more about all the horrible things Arpaio has done, I recommend this thread from the Phoenix New Times.