Trump’s absurd olive branch offer to NFL protesters

I understood from the beginning that the Trump presidency would be a circus, but I didn’t expect a sideshow this bizarre. President Trump has asked NFL players to recommend which criminals he should pardon.

Suddenly, the NFL kneelers have been transformed from unpatriotic sons-of-bitches to Trump’s partner in doling out justice and righting wrongs. I never thought the players were sons-of-bitches (unpatriotic, yes at least in some cases), but they certainly deserve no special standing when it comes to the clemency process.

Being the homey of an NFL player should not qualify a criminal for consideration for clemency. Indeed, the mindless, knee-jerk quality of the players’ protest (remember, it started with the shooting of Michael Brown whom even the Obama administration could not find to be a victim) suggests they are the last people Trump should seek guidance from.

Trump is on a clemency kick. Recently, he pardoned long-dead boxer Jack Johnson and commuted the sentence of drug entrepreneur Alice Johnson.

He is also talking about pardoning Muhammad Ali, a draft-dodger. That’s a ridiculous idea. Ali’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court decades ago. There’s nothing to pardon.

In addition, Trump says he and his staff are considering 3,000 cases of people who might deserve clemency. I wonder how much analysis Trump and his staff are devoting to each case. Hopefully, it’s more than he devoted to the Ali matter.

I strongly suspect it’s less than what should be required to reverse the outcome of the judicial process. I also wonder about the expertise of Trump’s “staff” on these matters. He seems to be cutting out the U.S. pardon attorney and the experts on that team.

President Obama commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 drug felons. Trump seems intent on outdoing Obama. (Did Obama really miss 3,000 people wronged by a criminal justice system he held in low regard?)

Obama’s jail break was understandable. He believed our criminal justice system is racist. In particular, he felt that drug laws oppress blacks.

Does Trump believe this? He didn’t campaign as a critic of the justice system. Rather, he campaigned as a champion of law enforcement. Moreover, as president he has advocated harsh penalties for drug dealers, even suggesting the death penalty.

Yet, suddenly Trump seems to buy the left’s narrative (and that of the Koch Brothers) that the criminal justice system is badly flawed if not inherently unjust, and that thousands of drug felons might be victims of it. I doubt all those law enforcement groups that backed candidate Trump feel this way.

Personally, I don’t think Trump’s leniency kick has much to do with his views on criminal justice. I see at least three different forces at work.

First, clemency is something Trump can do all by himself. He’s not constrained by the forces that have made it so difficult for him to accomplish so many of the things he campaigned on doing — building a wall, a travel ban, repealing Obamacare, etc.

Second, fancying himself as the deliverer of justice feeds Trump’s massive ego. It’s part of the “I alone can fix it” syndrome.

Third, and most importantly, I think Trump is pursuing a political agenda — breaking the Democrats’ stranglehold on the black vote, especially the black male vote. Trump already has reason to believe he can make inroads with black male voters. The strength of the economy and the force of his personality are on his side.

Delivering clemency for African-American icons like Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali (if it were possible) should add to Trump’s appeal to black males. So would clemency for thousands of African-American criminals.

Trump doesn’t want to alienate his base, though. That’s why he insists that NFL players should have to come on the field and engage in expression they say violates their beliefs.

Trump is trying to thread the needle on the NFL protesters. There’s something for his base and something for African-Americans.

It might work. Until the first felon Trump lets out of prison murders someone.

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