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Opinion This is why Pence’s sickening embrace of Arpaio is so important

Opinion: Trump's pardon of Arpaio is reprehensible. And totally legal. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Vice President Pence’s recent welcome for the convicted and pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio, now a Senate candidate, was a new low in the sorry tale of Pence’s self-debasement. He declared at an event for America First Policies (more about that outfit in a moment): “A great friend of this president. A tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.” Pence gushed, “He spent a lifetime in law enforcement — Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I’m honored to have you here.”

Authors of an amicus brief challenging Arpaio’s pardon wrote for The Post:

For more than 20 years, Arpaio ran the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with shocking cruelty and lawlessness, especially against Latinos. In 2011, a federal judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit challenging the practice of detaining and searching people for, in essence, driving while Latino. The judge found evidence that the sheriff’s office engaged in racial profiling and stopped Latinos just to determine their immigration status. He ordered it to cease detaining people without reasonable suspicion of a crime.
Arpaio flagrantly ignored the injunction, and in May 2016, the judge found him to be in civil contempt of court. In July, a second federal judge found him in criminal contempt, which can be punished by imprisonment.

Pence’s groveling before a Trump favorite — a man who personifies abuse of power, racial bigotry and rank dishonesty (Arpaio, for example, remains a birther) — provoked irate reactions from liberals and conservatives. But his eager-beaver praise of Arpaio is par for the course for Pence, whose slobbering over Trump at a Cabinet meeting last December brought on guffaws. (“I’m deeply humbled, as your Vice President, to be able to be here.  Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you’re delivering on that middle-class miracle. . . . I’ll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.  Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more.  And we are making America great again.”) A grown man who would travel to a football game, only to walk act so as to highlight his boss’s vendetta against protesting African American football players, is not someone who is concerned about eroding his own dignity.

Perspective: We were punished for our crimes. Joe Arpaio should be, too. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome, Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post)

I’m not much interested in what motivates Pence, but his willingness to suspend independent judgment suggests problems that go far beyond the loss of one man’s integrity. The bigger problem is the party that Trump has corrupted.

Republicans in office and in influential positions in the Republican ecosphere one day will be held to account for their almost nonchalant adoption of Trump’s racial animosity and xenophobia. Arpaio is now just another Republican candidate, and Trump’s smearing of Mexican immigrants as criminals is no longer greeted with any shock by fellow Republicans. (In fact, they accept it at face value, and have constructed an entire immigration policy around the fictional crime wave caused by illegal immigrants.)

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When Trump announced at a meeting of lawmakers, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” two Republican senators pretended not to have heard him or remembered his words. (It later came out that they were unclear if he said “shithole” or “shithouse,” so they feigned ignorance and kept his racist comment to themselves.) Trump’s party stuck by him after his Charlottesville remarks — which Pence defended.  The party has been acclimatized to the environment of open, unabashed ethnic and racial animus. One cannot get out the words “the party of Lincoln” without triggering a gag reflex.

Let’s not forget that the group Pence was meeting with, America First Policies, hired Carl Higbie as its advocacy director after he resigned from the Trump administration in January over appalling racist remarks he made. USA Today reported:

Carl Higbie, the director of advocacy at the pro-Trump America First Policies, said the comments that led to his resignation from a Trump administration post in January were “statistical observations” that were “taken out of context” and were not racist.
Higbie, a former Navy SEAL, stepped down as chief of external affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which manages the volunteer organization AmeriCorps, on Jan. 18 after CNN’s KFile uncovered radio interviews in which Higbie made remarks disparaging remarks about African Americans, women, homosexuals and Muslims.
Among the comments highlighted by CNN were Higbie saying that black women “think that breeding is a form of employment” and that the “high percentage of people on welfare in the black race” is because of “lax” morals.
Higbie also said, “I believe wholeheartedly, wholeheartedly, that the black race as a whole, not totally, is lazier than the white race, period.”
Although he apologized for the language in January, Higbie appeared to defend the remarks during an interview on the Virginia-based John Fredericks Show Tuesday.

If you want to know how a man espousing such views could remain in a leadership position for so long, welcome to the Trump GOP.

Pence’s conduct is not the least bit shocking to those who’ve been paying attention, but his latest embarrassing display of reverence should remind us that the vast majority of elected Republican officials have rationalized Trump’s conduct in some fashion, tolerated intolerable behavior and/or kept their heads down when Trump spewed lies or invectives, often racial in nature. Republicans up and down the ticket, inside and outside the Beltway, have been compromised, morally and intellectually, because they refused to dissociate themselves from a president whose appeal is rooted in white grievance.

How are any current Republican officials (with only a few exceptions) supposed to lead a post-Trump party? It would take a top-to-bottom housecleaning (and Senate and state party-cleanings) to convince many Americans that it has repudiated Trump and Trumpism. No, the stain Trump leaves on Pence and other elected Republicans will last a good long time — as it should.

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