Nobody can say for sure that the current massive backlash could have been avoided had President Donald Trump treated criminal justice issues with less cynicism. But his conduct undermines any sunny notion that his regime seeks to execute the nation's laws without political favor.
Trump's attitude toward those in uniform who commit transgressions shines through clearly. Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff, was rewarded with a presidential pardon after unwarranted searches, inmate abuse and defiance of a federal judicial order. Arpaio campaigned for Trump in 2016.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served time for corruption-related felonies, won the same favor from Trump. In contrast, the president's first FBI director, James Comey, was baselessly derided at the White House as a "dirty cop" after refusing to kill an investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump's ally and former national security adviser who was later convicted of lying to the FBI.
Convicted Trump associate Roger Stone is expected to be pardoned, too, as Trump has launched partisan attacks on the federal judge and jury forewoman in the case. It will not matter that Stone posted to his Instagram account a photo of Judge Amy Berman Jackson near what looked like the crosshairs of a gun sight.
Trump never has signaled interest in reforming police practices in hopes of averting such acts as the video-recorded death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Quite the opposite, in fact. The current Justice Department ditched earlier policies of investigating police-custody deaths. Trump backers grandly proclaimed the government's "war on cops" to be over.
The president regularly expresses extreme hostility toward intelligence professionals, including the CIA, the FBI and others he calls part of the "deep state." That raises special doubts about his talk of designating the amorphous far-left antifa a "domestic terrorist" group, as Trump often comes off as squishy when condemning right-wing violence.
In the case of public health measures to restrict the coronavirus, Trump has winked at the pro-reopening protesters, even those who brandish weapons at rallies. His posture of tolerance is shaped by whether the demonstration is useful to him. Kneeling during the national anthem to protest police abuse never qualifies.
When he was inaugurated in 2017 amid low crime, Trump blamed his predecessors for rampant disorder. He vowed to end "this American carnage." Now even military leaders see Trump as going rogue on the Constitution.
He says he seeks "law and order." But nearly four years into his less-than-orderly administration, it's unclear whom he seeks to help, except himself.