President Trump spent 18 months as the ultimate law-and-order candidate, promising to rescue an American way of life he said was threatened by terrorists, illegal immigrants and inner-city criminals.
But during seven months as president, many critics and legal scholars say, Mr. Trump has shown a flexible view on the issue, one that favors the police and his own allies over strict application of the rule of law, reported the New York Times.
Over the past two years, in ways big and small, the critics say, Mr. Trump has signaled that taking the law into one’s own hands is permissible, within the executive branch or in local police departments, or even against a heckler at one of his rallies.
The president’s pardon last week of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., and a strong supporter of Mr. Trump’s during the 2016 campaign, illuminated the impulses that shape his opinion.
The case, and the pardon that ended it, involved an assumption that minorities were more likely to commit crimes, a belief in the use of force to keep people in check, and what some of the president’s advisers privately describe as at best a lack of interest in becoming fluent in the legal process.
While Mr. Trump has spoken often of the significance of the rule of law, his actions have raised questions about his commitment to hallmarks of the American system like due process, equal protection under the law, independence of judicial proceedings from political considerations, and respect for orders from the courts.
“I don’t think you have to be a champion of it; all you need to do is comply with it,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who was a solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan.
“And he shows himself absolutely unwilling to respect it,” Mr. Fried said, citing the pardon as a particular thumb in the eye of a judge. “It’s a use of authority specifically to undermine the only weapon that a judge has in this kind of ultimate confrontation.”
Robert Bauer, who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama, said: “It’s very difficult to say that he stands for law and order — in fact, in many respects he’s kind of the president of disorder. He’s lurching around and basically responding to what he sees as his personal or legal imperative at any given moment.”
The historian Douglas Brinkley recalled dining with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago in late 2016, after the election, and hearing the president-elect describe dining privately with Richard M. Nixon in New York after his presidency had ended.
“In his mind, a tough president was Nixon,” Mr. Brinkley said. “He creates a kind of fantasy world, and so he wants to be seen as one of the tough guys.”
The pardon, the conservative Washington Examiner said in an editorial, showed “once again Trump really means ‘busting heads’ when he says ‘law and order.’”
The editorial added: “But ‘law and order,’ if the words have any meaning, has to apply to government actors as well. Lawless sheriffs promote disorder, and that’s what Arpaio did to get himself convicted.”
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