Democracy & Government

A Fire Bell in the Night

Contemplating the grave ramifications of the Arpaio pardon.

A Fire Bell in the Night

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action's annual Leadership Forum on April 28, 2017. Trump is the first president to address the meeting since Ronald Reagan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Thousands of you responded positively yesterday to Charles Kaiser’s column about how Donald Trump’s pardon of the notoriously bigoted sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona — convicted of criminal contempt — reveals once again the president’s seemingly endless appetite for undermining the rule of law. Among the responses was this one from historian Bernard Weisberger, a frequent contributor to these pages.

— Bill Moyers



Dear Bill:

I think that Kaiser is really ringing the fire bell in the night. If Trump can get away with this — and I do believe he might by the method Kaiser suggests of promising to pardon anyone who may incur criminal penalties for refusing to testify against him — he’ll walk away clean. Personally I think he will, but I also believe that he is at some time going to fire Mueller no matter what shield law Congress passes and that could be the final straw. Maybe.

I also note with real dismay (if I can be any more dismayed than I really am) an ominous conjunction. The gun lobby has convinced many deluded states to pass “open carry” laws, which means that thousands, even millions, of potential members of private militias could be walking around. If that isn’t tinder in a dry forest I don’t know what it is. Of course such paramilitaries wouldn’t stand a chance rebelling against the government, the dream of some of the truly nutty right-wingers. But if employed by the government against its fancied enemies they could complete the devastation of democracy.

Friends say to me that I shouldn’t exaggerate and see black- or brown-shirted thugs under every rock. And my answer is: “Could you really have imagined even a year ago that Donald Trump would be elected president?”

— Bernie

Bernard Weisberger

Bernard Weisberger is an American historian now in his 9th decade. A frequent contributor to this site, he is the author of more than a dozen books, including The LaFollettes of Wisconsin, They Gathered at the River, and America Afire. He collaborated on documentaries with Bill Moyers and Ken Burns.