We’re live in interesting times. It’s something that I’ve been looking at and wondering about without a lot of hope, so I’m writing this down. I’m not sure it completely makes sense, but it’s a start.
We have a problem. It started with Nixon. We might be able to solve it with Trump.
Hear me out.
When Richard Nixon made the deal to resign the presidency in exchange for a pardon for the crimes he committed, he changed how we see the president. I’m not talking about Nixon himself, who we, as a nation, saw as a crook and a criminal for a while. That tarnish wore off relatively quickly, and by the 1980s he was mostly viewed as a former president, and by his death, he was almost completely seen as “that guy who might’ve done a thing or two wrong” but mostly he was just seen as the 37th President, the one before Ford.
Because Nixon was pardoned, and there wasn’t an impeachment, wasn’t a removal, and wasn’t a criminal prosecution nor a sentence or jail time, he escaped justice. He was excused from the normal parts of the system, and was given freedom he didn’t deserve. This was done for many reasons, but the biggest was, I believe, to not have a president that we as a nation viewed as shameful. We didn’t want to be embarrassed.
To avoid embarassment, we decided to do far more damage to our republic, damage that continues to this day: the notion that the president is, somehow, above the law.
When Nixon was pardoned, the others in power in Washington D.C. were trying to save face and keep the office from being besmirched by the activities of its current occupant. We don’t have a president in our history books that we look back on and say “and this jerk went to prison for breaking the law” and we, honestly, should. But our national pride got the better of us, and instead of doing the right thing we did the easy thing because we thought that saving face somehow was more important. That’s not true at all, but we did it anyway.
While Nixon was pardonedm, his vice president and many in his administration went to jail. Nixon deserved to go to jail, and would have if all that we now know he did had been presented in a court of law. Would that have made a laughingstock of the U.S. in the eyes of the world? Maybe for a while, but as our government got back to doing its job, it would have been simply one of those things that happened, and we move on from it.
Instead we pardoned Nixon, and in doing so, we made the president above the law. Now, to be clear, I know the president most expressly is not above the law, legally, but in practical terms, they are. And that’s the damage that Nixon wrought. I get that this is unintended, but it’s still very real. That was our mistake, and we’ve been paying for it ever since, although it’s been relatively small payments up until very recently.
In the Reagan administration we saw many people go to jail for their actions, most notoriously the Iran/Contra scandal that took down Oliver North. It didn’t even destroy North’s ability to affect politics, as he’s currently a talking head on cable news, but at least he went to jail.
Reagan was never even charged with anything, because of a certain party’s allegiance to itself over the rule of law and our country. If he’d been charged, would he have been removed? Probably not. But if Nixon hadn’t been pardoned, do you honestly believe that the Reagan administration would have the guts to even attempt that fiasco?
George H.W. Bush was also part of the Iran/Contra, and if the congress had the courage to do its job he would have been charged when he was VP, and never would have been elected to the presidency. While there he didn’t do much worse than pardon some who had been convicted of being involved with the Iran/Contra affair, which is all kinds of ick, but understandable from a certain point of view. I think that he kept his nose as clean as possible during his presidency because someone knew something and it could blow up. But again, had Nixon not been pardoned and instead processed through the legal system as any other citizen, Bush would have been hard-pressed to avoid a much harder investigation into his actions as VP and probably wouldn’t have been able to run, much less win.
Clinton had a stack of scandals, but in the end the worst that anyone can say is that he told a young woman to lie about a beej. The details are not worth going into, but what is worth covering is the fact that congress, emboldened because the president wasn’t of the same party in power, decided to do something. That something included created the legal structures that now hold that a sitting president can be litigated against for his actions, even those prior to becoming president. While I find the partisan attacks on Clinton to be unworthy of praise, I find the irony in the tools created to carry out those attacks being the first line of tools to use against Trump to be delicious. On so many levels.
Obama was, as the saying goes, drama-free. His administration had one incident that took up the airwaves of Fox News for years, Benghazi, but that wasn’t to go after Obama himself, it was to go after Hillary Clinton. Not much to see here.
And for the eagle-eyed among you, you might’ve noticed I missed a Bush. On purpose.
George W. Bush, and his vice president, Dick Cheney, had more controversies than any administration prior to the current one. Rife with plagiarism, theft, embezzlement, violations of secrecy acts, contempt of courts, congress, and so many others, it’s hard to even begin. But the worst was the stack of lies and misdeeds that lead to a vote of war that took the U.S., and several of our allies, into Iraq. This unbelievable act was only made possible by the missteps of the past, where we as a people decided that the president was above the law. That protection had trickled down to the vice president at some point, and even Dick Cheney managed to avoid direct prosecution for his actions.
You can disagree with me on the politics of their actions, but if we didn’t see the president as above the law, the democratically controlled congress of the first two years of Obama’s administration could have easily gone after them for their actions, but didn’t.
Now, here we are with Trump. All the signs are pointed to a collusion with a foreign power, Russia, to win the white house and an administration filled with people who lie for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and then eat their own lies for dinner. The stack of crazy is appalling, and the already known criminal activity, specifically the foreign contact security form lies, is staggering. The GOP is not doing anything, choosing party over the rule of law, and over country, as they did when it came to Nixon. Nothing new there.
The silver-lining that might be present is that with the overwhelming pile of criminal activity that Trump is involved with, there may soon come a time when congress has no choice but to pursue him with impeachment and criminal charges – and if he’s found guilty, he needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In doing so, and being able to do so, Trump may actually give us something we’ve been missing for half a century – a government by the people and for the people that is lead by people who are not above the law.
I might be crazy, but it’d be something to be thankful for from Trump. It sickens me that it takes this staggering pile of crap to fix this issue, but I guess I’m not really surprised.
I hope it happens.