We Americans look at other countries: Italy, Syria, Argentina, take your pick, and smugly call them corrupt. But the corruption that surrounds us has reached the very pinnacles of our democracy, and we pass judgment on others while ignoring it here at home. It’s nothing new, either; but it’s more blatant today, less surreptitious than it once was. So we have Agnew opening his pockets to all comers, and Nixon hiring thugs, or allowing them to be hired on his behalf, to break into opposition offices. We have Reagan determinedly ignoring Congress’s dictates and selling arms to Iran in order to finance illegal operations in Latin America. We have William Jefferson stashing bribe money in his freezer, and Duke Cunningham using it to buy his yacht, the tragically named Duke-stir. We have Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia refusing to recuse himself from the Bush v. Gore case that handed the 2000 election to the candidate who didn’t win, even though his son worked for the law firm representing Bush before the court, and Justice Clarence Thomas likewise staying in although his wife was engaged in the vetting of candidates who would work in the administration her husband was about to will into existence. More recently, of course, Thomas declined to recuse himself from the Affordable Care Act decision, even though that same wife had been paid for lobbying against the ACA (and, true to form, he had not declared her income, $150,000 apparently being beneath his notice). Justice Elena Kagan, who served as the Obama administration’s Solicitor General when the law was passed, similarly stayed in the fight, presumably to provide counterbalance to Thomas. But Thomas has a long history of corruption, while Kagan’s record is relatively clean. (No, "relatively" understates the case; relative to Clarence Thomas, Al Capone's record was uncheckered. Putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court is like handing Willie Sutton the keys to the bank vault and a guard's uniform.)
The stink of corruption lies as thick upon our nation as flies on spoiled meat. But it is thickest here in Arizona, because here we have Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Arpaio is as vicious as he is dishonest, and that’s a lot of mean. He’s truly Shakespearean in his pathetic, small-minded but grandiose, all-encompassing hatred for anyone or anything that doesn’t genuflect in his direction, preferably twice a day (and anyone who is not white and straight and well off, whether or not they perform the required ritual). This article in Rolling Stone provides the details of his reprehensible record; it’s good reading for anyone interested in crime literature or the depraved depths to which a single man can exercise his hatred for others and his absolute disregard for the law. The sheriff is a caricature of all that’s worst about law enforcement officers; generations of sputtering, small-town southern cops of the silver screen might have influenced his behavior, but he has taken it to extremes they (or the scriptwriters who invented them) never dreamed of.
Martin Luther King Jr. told us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And so it does. Sheriff Joe is currently facing federal charges for his outrages. If there is justice in this universe, he’ll be stripped of badge and gun, abandoned by the “friends” he exploits and those who exploit him, and his infamous Tent City will be emptied out. He will be sent there, to spend the rest of his miserable life wandering in solitary exile through the vacant tents, windblown, sun-baked, and scoured by sand, with images of Napoleon at Elba and Nixon at San Clemente flitting through what passes for his mind.
I don’t think of myself as a vengeful person, and Arpaio has never done anything to me. But I believe we need to stem the tide of corruption, to rescue our country from those who would use our democracy against us—which, in this election year, includes all those advocating for laws that will steal the right to vote away from citizens who have earned it by simple virtue of that citizenry—and the sight of Sheriff Joe, rotting in his own desert purgatory, would be a significant step in that direction.
And it would warm the hearts of honest people everywhere. Sounds like win-win to me.