There was a moment last week - in between the coverage of Donald Trump's mob of fanatics breaking into the US Capitol - that at any other time at any other point in history would have been noted.
Jim Acosta, CNN's veteran political reporter, was quoting an insider source and Trump loyalist who spoke frankly on the pardon's list. "I'll be pissed if that dipshit does make the president's list of pardons and my client doesn't," Acosta quoted with requisite solemnity and poise. More focus was put on the fact that he said 'dipshit' on live news television that the context of his quote's statement.
The client to which Acosta's source was referring to is so far unknown. The dipshit in question, however, was very well known.
It was Joseph Maldonado-Passage, born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel. Most people know him as Joe Exotic, the "star" of Netflix's bizarre documentary series, 'Tiger King'.
In April of last year, Donald Trump was asked from the press room podium in the White House if he would consider pardoning Joe Exotic. Prior to being imprisoned in a murder-for-hire plot, Exotic was a candidate for public office and unsuccessfully ran in a primary for the Libertarian Party, hoping to be a candidate for Governor of Oklahoma. When asked, Trump said he'd "take a look", but the seed was already sown.
Numerous buses, promotional stunts, Twitter hashtags, and Facebook events had sprung up imploring and outright begging Donald Trump to pardon Joe Exotic. Indeed, there were frequent comparisons drawn between Exotic's long-running battle with Carole Baskin, and how Trump fought against Hillary Clinton. To the Tiger Team and Joe Exotic's fiercest supporters, the battles were one and the same.
After the election saw Trump lose to another Joe, the campaign to free Joe Exotic never flagged for a second. If anything, it appeared to be gathering momentum. On January 6th - the very day that white supremacists and domestic terrorists attempted an insurrection to halt the ratification of Joe Biden's victory over Trump - a private plane took off from Meacham Airport in Fort Worth, Texas, bound for Washington DC.
That plane carried, among others, Eric Love - Joe Exotic's manager. Their objective? To secure a pardon for Joe Exotic, by meeting with members of Trump's administration somewhere in the US capital. Love sent a video to a local news anchor in the Texas area a few days later, explaining that Trump "sees that Joe has been targeted."
"We were able to prove that in the documents we provided to the White House," Love continued. "So I think he can identify with Team Tiger and the Tiger King and I think we’re going to get the pardon. I’m 100% sure." A limousine pick-up truck was chartered to collect Joe Exotic from prison, the biggest in all of Texas. It was only a matter of time. News helicopters hung over the Federal Medical Center, waiting only for the word. The limousine pick-up truck idled in the parking lot of Exotic's legal team. Supporters had lined the roadway up to the Federal Medical Center, hoping to catch a glimpse of Joe Exotic as left the prison to undeniable freedom.
Media & fans alike are gathering outside the Fort Worth, TX prison where #TigerKing #JoeExotic is being held after rumors swirled of him possibly being considered for a #presidentialpardon @CBSDFW is on the scene and also working to confirm any details. https://t.co/KcoiQ4oHXA
— Ken Molestina (@cbs11ken) January 19, 2021
On Trump's final day, January 20th, at 1 AM, a list of 74 pardons and 70 commutations was released. Among those pardoned included top Trump henchman Steve Bannon, who was indicted of allegations of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to a fundraising campaign to build a border wall between the US and Mexico - the very same wall that Trump had promised Mexico would pay for. Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black were also pardoned. Of Bannon's pardon, Congressman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee said the following.
"Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves."
11 hours later, Trump was removed from office. No pardon was given, and the limousine pick-up truck never made its journey to the Federal Medical Center to collect a free man. The crowds of supporters dispersed. Two hours later, the Twitter account belonging to Joe Exotic posted a scathing rebuke, claiming he was "too innocent and too gay" to receive a pardon from Donald Trump. "His corrupt friends come first," the tweet concluded.
If ever there was an ending written for a documentary, this was it. It was all leading to this. Like in the first season, there is a surreality that covers it all. Donald Trump, the highest power in the land seriously considering a pardon to Joe Exotic. After all, they were one and the same. Joe Exotic saw in Trump a fellow traveller to his cause - one who was unfairly hounded by a woman, had grievances with the federal establishment, embraced reality television as their medium, and only wanted to be the centre of attention at all costs.
Grievance has been at the heart of Trump's pitch since he took office, and Joe Exotic's constant complaints throughout the first season of 'Tiger King' of how he'd never recover financially, how Carole Baskin was out to get him, how everyone was against him, were in no way any different.
Much like how Trump's exit from public life went relatively unremarked, so too is Joe Exotic's ultimate fate of serving out his 22-year sentence in prison. If there is to be a second season of 'Tiger King', that's how it must begin and end. Sure, cover the campaign, the craziness of it all, the desperation, the buses, the private jet, the self-convincing of Trump's pardon, the merciless end - but end it, knowing that Joe Exotic was, is, and continues to be guilty, and that Donald Trump never intended to help him.