Donald Trump's pardon of convicted racial profiler Sheriff Joe Arpaio is largely being seen as yet another sop to his immigrant-hating, heavily white supremacist base, and for good reason. But there's another school of thought emerging that says Trump's secondary, or even primary, motivation is something else entirely.
On Friday night's “Real Time with Bill Maher,” former Clinton aide Paul Begala made the case that Arpaio's pardon was really a message to witnesses and targets in the Mueller investigation:
Now, I'm not as convinced as Begala that the Mueller investigation was top of mind with this pardon, relative to the racism, but Trump has been sending loud and clear signals about pardoning Mueller investigation figures (including himself) for a very long time now.
As such, the time is long past for Democrats and Republicans, but especially Democrats, to quit pussyfooting around and tell Trump that if he tries to pardon any Mueller investigation figures, they will impeach him for abuse of power.
Similarly, they must tell Trump that if he tries to fire Mueller without cause, they will impeach him for obstruction of justice.
Impeachment is a political process, and it does not require a criminal standard of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. How can Republicans be expected to tell Trump that it is possible for him to go too far if Democrats won't even do that?
The time for talk of “norms” is over, as Maher expressed elsewhere in his show. Democrats should also begin pressing Republicans to support constitutional amendments explicitly constraining the president's pardon power, and clearly laying out the process for dealing with a president who could be subject to criminal indictment.
Those matters must now be dealt with either politically or judicially, or both, but future Americans deserve protection against someone like Trump. Amendments like these wouldn't likely go far in a Republican Congress, but they would serve as a vivid reminder of just how far we've strayed from where our founders began.