Not since Richard Nixon hightailed it out of Washington to avoid impeachment has a resignation by a public official been so welcomed as that of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Cruel and unusual, bombastic and autocratic, Clarke wore out his welcome years ago. Yet Clarke lingered on the local scene—playing a crude politics of division in Wisconsin’s largest county, where he remained an exceptionally controversial elected official until he quit Thursday.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said the exit of the volatile sheriff—who regularly condemns Black Lives Matter activists, immigrant-rights campaigners, liberals, and the media—would free the county to finally have a law-enforcement leader who is “more interested in integrating with the rest of the community and maybe more focused on solutions and allies than enemies and fights.”
Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, thanked Clarke for resigning and said: “After years of abuse at his hands, the people of Milwaukee can sleep soundly tonight.”
Unfortunately, the people of the United States may not be able to rest soundly.
It is no secret that Trump has been interested in appointing Clarke to a position in the administration. Just days ago, the president tweeted an endorsement of a book the sheriff had written: “A great book by a great guy, highly recommended!”
The sheriff’s abrupt resignation was followed by a Politico report that “Clarke is expected to join the Trump administration in a position that is not Senate-confirmed.”
Trump and Clarke know that the scandal-plagued lawman could not stand the scrutiny of a confirmation hearing that would focus on the former sheriff’s miserable record—at least five people have died in the Milwaukee County Jail, which Clarke managed, since 2016—and his authoritarian disregard for civil rights and civil liberties.
It is clear by now that, if Clarke gets any White House post, the threat this administration poses to the Bill of Rights will increase.
Trump has been busy shredding the Constitution since he took office. But he can’t do it on his own. He needs help to advance an agenda that aggressively assaults the rule of law, the separation of powers, freedom of the press, and the basic liberties of Americans.
Trump’s got Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the job of attacking voting-rights and civil-rights protections. He’s got House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell shutting down the system of checks and balances. But the work of undermining basic liberties is a big task, even for an authoritarian president.