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Est. April 5, 2002
July 19, 2018 - Issue 751

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Trump’s Strategy
Politicizing Pardons
Commutations, Etc.

"By issuing a pardon and commutation to two well-known
African American figures and forgiving loans of four HBCUs,
it is hoped that black voter turnout in the midterm elections
will be depressed as there will be less anger toward Trump. 
In addition, Democrats have yet to put forth a galvanizing
message or coherent strategy to increase
black enthusiasm to vote."

Trump Updates to the Midterms:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin went to Helsinki earlier this week to make a political ‘booty call’ on U.S. President Donald J. Trump at their alleged summit. Although Putin was two hours late in arriving, his date was not concerned because Putin had already paid Trump for his services which he delivered with a smile on his face.

  • Trump’s performance at the supposed summit was so disgraceful that several of his Republican allies privately labeled him Putin’s bi**h, c**t, and belly warmer. Putin has taken control of Trump’s mind and body, turning him into a Manchurian candidate that he has unleashed on America.

  • D.C. Federal Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, was selected because he will serve the same flunky role for Trump as Trump is serving for Putin.

  • Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively, have refrained from criticizing San Bernardino, California Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem for a Facebook post urging violence against Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she encouraged civil disobedience against Trump’s staff and cabinet members, stating, “you would think someone would have shot the bitch by now.”

Donald Trump has added a new tool to his political arsenal—pardons and commutations of those charged and convicted of crimes. He has reached out and distributed them to several members of his rabid white base: pardons for former Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court; and E. Scooter Libby, chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury.

Trump also commuted the sentences of Harney County, Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of starting fires on public lands; Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of illegal campaign contributions, who is a highly regarded conservative commentator and filmmaker; and Sholom Rubashkin, convicted of money laundering. These efforts were widely praised by Trump’s working- and upper-class supporters, energizing support for Trump-backed local, state, and national candidates.

In an attempt to improve his image among African Americans, who only gave him eight percent of their votes in 2016, Trump pardoned the deceased Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight boxing champion who won the title in 1908. Johnson was falsely convicted of transporting a white woman across state lines for sexual purposes, under the Mann Act in 1913, a law designed with him in mind. White America’s rank and file and power elite were angry at Johnson for violating the racial norms of that time by openly dating and marrying white women. Trump also commuted the life-without-parole sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time offender, who had served twenty-two years in prison for her peripheral involvement in cocaine trafficking. He also eagerly pointed out that former President Obama had refused the clemency petitions of both individuals.

After Trump’s apparent show of compassion, Kwame Kilpatrick, former Mayor of Detroit, Michigan, who is serving a 28-year term for committing 24 federal felonies, while in and out of office, posted a thousand word petition on Facebook asking Trump to commute his sentence. An emissary of Ray Nagin, former New Orleans Mayor, convicted of wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery followed suit with a request for a commutation of Nagin’s 10-year sentence. Neither request was acknowledged after Trump’s advisors determined that these two men are largely reviled in the African American community for their crimes.

But the recent proposal of the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the investigation of the 1955 kidnapping and lynching of 14-year old African American teenager, Emmett Till, in Money, Mississippi has generated positive feelings in the black community. Like Jack Johnson conviction 42 years earlier, Till’s abduction and murder was based on his alleged flirting with and supposed proposition of a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, a clerk in a general store in violation of the existing social code.

It is indeed ironic that Emmett’s father, Louis Till, was court martialed and hanged in Pisa, Italy in 1945 by the U.S. Army towards the end of World War II for the professed rape and murder of an Italian white woman (see John Edgar Wideman’s book, Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File, in which he questioned the sentence). The information on Emmett’s father’s outcome was later used to “… to tar (him) with his father's (claimed) crimes … and … essentially portrayed Emmett as a serial rapist after the fashion of his father, thereby justifying his murder.”

Dr. Harry Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and Dr. Timothy Tyson, Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, who got Carolyn Bryant Donham to admit that her accusations against Emmett Till were untrue, have concluded that the Justice Department’s reopening of the Till case is “… a political mirage of Trump racist regime’s hucksterism and fraud” and “… a calculated attempt on behalf of the Trump administration to improve its civil rights profile in the face of negative news about immigrant children … and with continued efforts to undermine minority voting rights,” respectively. Meanwhile, Cedric Richmond, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has endorsed the Justice Department’s action.

Emmett Till’s murder is broadly credited as the event that launched the 1950s civil rights movement. It has been written that Rosa Parks was thinking of him when she sat down in the white section of an Alabama bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

As an add-on, the Trump Administration’s Education Department has fully forgiven loans granted to four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Dillard University, Xavier University, and Southern University in New Orleans and Tougaloo College in Mississippi that were substantially damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. They had collectively taken out more than $360 million in loans in 2007 to recover from the destruction caused by these storms.

Trump had earlier used HBCU Presidents as a photo-op when he invited them to the White House to discuss HBCU funding (which he did not do) during the first months of his Presidency. Perhaps, this action was a belated payback. All four HBCU Presidents praised Trump for his forgiving their loans which removes pressure from their cash flow.

Trump has a two-pronged political strategy with these pardons and commutations and loan forgiveness. The first is to gin up voter turnout among his white working-class voters, the white economic elite, and those white independents and moderates who provided him his victory margins in 2016 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, ensuring his election by the Electoral College. He and his advisors believe that these actions will further endear him to these groups and enable him to stimulate fundraising for House, Senate, and state legislative members standing for reelection in the 2018 midterms and to enable Republicans to retain political control at the federal and state levels.

The second component of the political strategy is to neutralize African American anger at Trump for his harsh anti-black statements and toxic policies in social welfare and public education (spearheaded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos). By issuing a pardon and commutation to two well-known African American figures and forgiving loans of four HBCUs, it is hoped that black voter turnout in the midterm elections will be depressed as there will be less anger toward Trump. In addition, Democrats have yet to put forth a galvanizing message or coherent strategy to increase black enthusiasm to vote. However, their biggest missteps are to treat several of their minority and female candidates with disrespect in terms of financial and human resource allocations and the failure to invest funding in getting out the vote.

There is an opportunity for Democrats to take back the House, but that possibility is fading quickly as the Democratic leadership remains in disarray.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 

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