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How Right-Wing Success Destroyed David Clarke

May. 23, 2017
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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

David Clarke says he’s about to be promoted to a big, important job in the Trump administration that could possibly spread the public destruction from Clarke’s apparent abusive personality disorder far wider than his job as Milwaukee County Sheriff.

That’s frightening since the most recent horrific consequence of Clarke’s cruel policies was the dehydration death of a mentally ill Milwaukee County Jail inmate after Clarke’s jailers shut off water to the man’s cell to punish him for his annoying irrational behavior.

Clarke’s unfitness for public office has been well documented in this column and elsewhere. Clarke has a lucrative moonlighting career in right-wing media entertaining white extremists who cheer an African American official for viciously attacking other black politicians and all those bothersome black demonstrators protesting deadly police shootings and other racial inequities.

Conscientious Milwaukee leaders and citizens are simply relieved that Clarke may soon be leaving local law enforcement regardless of the problems he might create in Trump’s government. That’s constantly on the verge of destruction anyway from the actions of all its other unqualified misfits including the president himself.

I’ve written plenty about the damage Clarke has inflicted on the lives of other human beings. With his merciful exit, I still remember the early days when many people thought Clarke would be a much better, more decent public official than he turned out to be.

I met Clarke in 2002 shortly before most people ever heard of him. It was at a public forum on policing. Clarke went out of his way to introduce himself to me and profess admiration for my work. That was about to end.

Not long after, Republican Gov. Scott McCallum named Clarke sheriff to replace Lev Baldwin, who’d resigned in the midst of the Milwaukee County pension scandal, fleeing with a big chunk of money.

A rare African American appointed by a Republican who immediately declared he would run as a Democrat. A department outsider promising to dismantle embarrassing Baldwin excesses that included an airplane and a boat. What was not to like? Little did we know.

Democrats were encouraged that Clarke’s first campaign strategist beginning immediately (“There’s a New Sheriff in Town”) was Bill Christofferson, who’d run high-profile Democratic campaigns for Sen. Herb Kohl and Mayor John Norquist. “He looked me in the eye and lied to me when he asked me to do that campaign,” Christofferson wrote later. “Who would have guessed that he would turn out to be an egomaniac who would run the department like Captain Queeg of the U.S.S Caine, lashing out and punishing anyone who dares to disagree with him?”

Clarke’s Political Dirty Trick

Clarke wasn’t remotely a Democrat. Running as one was a political dirty trick to win election in low-turnout Democratic primaries with the votes of some black Democrats and many right-wing Republicans. Republicans had no reason to run a strong challenger against Clarke in the higher turnout general elections.

It didn’t take long after that first election for Clarke to begin showing his extreme right-wing politics. I watched his actions and views grow increasingly outrageous over the years. One of our most memorable encounters was on my friend Eric Von’s radio show where Clarke and I debated an op-ed column he’d written for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel advocating destruction of Gov. Tommy Thompson’s W-2 welfare reform because it was socialist coddling of the poor.

There were many problems with Thompson’s “workfare” program depriving poor women of assistance to feed and clothe their children, but excessive kindness was not one of them. And Tommy Thompson was one of the worst socialists ever.

My wife, Kit, was the citizen representative on the Milwaukee Community Justice Council with Clarke and other officials controlling the criminal justice system including the mayor, county executive, district attorney, police chief, chief judge and others. All but Clarke supported ways to reduce racial disparities and over incarceration while increasing community safety.

The more Clarke appeared on right-wing talk shows, the more cruel and inhumane his political views became. Now they’ve reached the point Clarke thinks he’s on the brink of achieving his dream of a national pulpit from which to bask in the applause of a riveted nation. That is, of course, an absurd fantasy version of what is far more likely to be total evaporation into an enormous, anonymous federal bureaucracy.

The last-minute revelation of a plagiarized master’s thesis is unlikely to cause Clarke any problems. This administration plagiarized the first lady’s speeches from Michelle Obama. Clarke would have a far bigger problem in a Trump administration with Trump himself. The only real talent Clarke has developed in politics is his ability to create a public spectacle by calling attention to himself with ridiculous, bombastic pronouncements.

In Trump’s presidency, only one man is allowed to attract the national spotlight by doing that.


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