No Rationalizing Allowed


Reading time – 4:05  .  .  .

Arguments abound about whether to prosecute Donald Trump once he’s out of office for his alleged extensive and nefarious lawbreaking both before and since becoming President. He may be Dear Leader to his MAGA nation followers, but in the eyes of the law he is, at best, a suspect in numerous felonious activities. What are we to do with this?

If Trump is indicted and prosecuted for his many crimes like extortion, multiple counts of obstruction of justice, money laundering, tax fraud, bank fraud and so much more, his angry followers will become yet more enraged and our national divide will surely widen. Some of the hot heads may commit violent acts including vandalism and maybe murder. After all, they are well armed and many believe that the Second Amendment is their Constitutional protection against the evils of government encroachment and is the right tool to use when they feel aggrieved. They may believe it’s their patriotic duty to violently overthrow the government, having been told repeatedly that anything that looks different from Trump World is unpatriotic. Use your own imagination to conjure what red-faced angry people might do if their cult leader is indicted. Preventing such dangerous events is a strong argument against prosecuting Trump. I think, though, that it fails to persuade and is, in fact, negotiating against ourselves. Here’s why.

Richard Nixon was clearly guilty of obstruction of justice of the congressional investigation into the Watergate “Plumbers,” the burglars who broke into the Democratic National Headquarters in what was labeled a “third rate burglary.” Nixon finally left office when Republican senators told him the jig was up and he had to resign or he would be impeached and removed from office. In other words, he was so plainly guilty of having broken laws that even Republicans couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him, so he resigned. That was good. It was also the beginning of a lot of bad.

In a tortured piece of logic that flew in the face of the rule of law, Gerald Ford granted a “full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in  .  .  .  ” That logic was:

”  .  .  .  the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

In other words, jeez, some people might become upset over Nixon being held to account for his criminal acts, so we should simply do nothing. So much for accountability.

Do you really want Presidents to have one of these?

Ford took a lot of heat for that pardon and was defeated in the next election, but Nixon went on a tour to rehabilitate his public image so that he could be seen as an elder statesman, rather than the felon he truly was. And that surely cranked up the get-out-of-jail-free card that we’ve issued to all tenants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since then.

Reagan negotiated with the Iranians before his 1980 election and persuaded them not to release our people who were being held hostage. He convinced the Ayatollah with promises favorable to Iran, to hold the hostages until after the election so that Reagan would more easily defeat Carter. That’s illegal, but there was no accountability.

Reagan had his fingerprints all over the Iran-Contra crimes. As close as he got to being held accountable was a reporter calling out to him as he and Nancy walked across the White House lawn from Marine 1. He cupped his hand to his ear and mouthed, “I can’t hear you,” and the scandal slipped off him as though he were coated with Teflon. No accountability.

When he was president, H.W. Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra criminals, which was doubly interesting because Bush was part of the criminal conspiracy and the cover up, so he benefited from those pardons and escaped accountability.

Clinton lied to a grand jury and got away with it. Of course, the circumstances were muddy because Ken Starr had spent 4.5 years looking under every rock for anything Clinton had ever done that might be indictable and found nothing but illicit sex in the Oval Office, which isn’t a crime. So, Starr set up Clinton by forcing him to embarrass himself by telling the truth or lying.

W. Bush got away with the torture of prisoners and lying us into 2 wars. Torturing was and is illegal. I don’t know if lying to Congress to get us into wars is illegal. It sure ought to be.

W. Bush and Cheney got away with awarding massive, no-bid contracts to Halliburton.

Obama got away with refusing to prosecute CIA people who did Bush’s torturing.

And now we have Trump violating the law over and over.

The point is that none of the perps has been held accountable , resulting in violations becoming so ordinary that we no longer expect anything to be done, other than some partisan gnashing of teeth. Refusing to hold wrong-doers accountable guarantees we’ll have more and worse wrong-doing in the future. As horrid as Trump is, I fear the felon who follows him even more.

If Trump is allowed to get away with his noxious crime spree, we can be certain that some future President will do far worse, safe in the knowledge that there will be no accountability. And in our refusing to act properly and hold leaders accountable, invoking any of our rationalized reasons in the manner of Gerald Ford, we are eliminating – demolishing – the rule of law and our very democracy that we say we hold dear.

Caving into threats from MAGA cultists would amount to that very thing. In fact, it amounts to caving in to terrorists. Absurdly, any argument against holding Trump accountable now is caving into the fears of our imagination.

Perhaps you share my preference not to have terrorists running our country. Perhaps you agree with the Founders who refused the divine right of kings and declared that this nation will never have a king. It’s why they set us up with presidents instead. Indeed, read the Declaration of Independence, specifically to review the list of abuses of power of King George III, who was never held to account except by losing a colony. That’s what we will have and perhaps far worse if we neuter the rule of law.

If we want accountability from our leaders, we must hold them accountable. No rationalizing allowed.

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7 Responses to No Rationalizing Allowed
  1. Maureen Reply

    Agree- we have to prosecute, otherwise where does it stop? He is so blatant and so beyond the others in his crime spree.

    Also- what you said is so true- if we don’t prosecute, the (domestic) terrorists win.

  2. David L. Lindgren Reply

    The dethroning of Trump is not complete and may take quite awhile. Whereas every historical violation by previous Presidents is likely true, this situation with Trump is entirely more dangerous in HOW the new administration deals with him. The potential backlash is just waiting for some faltering. Banishment might be the most effective movement and perhaps later on charging him. What needs to happen now is not just administering justice but calming the country down. What you said in the beginning about a potential insurrection is more important to deal with. We need to learn our lessons as a country and there are so many. Thanks for all you do, Jack. Happy New Year!

  3. John Calia Reply

    There are a couple of historical corrections due here. Nixon didn’t order the Watergate break-in. He was guilty of the coverup not the crime itself. As for Reagan’s people negotiating with Iran before the election, it’s true but one-sided as you have portrayed. Neither the Israelis nor the Iranians had a clear POV about which president they would prefer — Reagan or Carter. So, they negotiated with both in advance of the election. Carter had placed sanctions on $12B of Iranian assets and stopped shipments of arms sold to the Shah that Iran had paid for. He agreed to release $4B of assets in exchange for the release of the hostages. Iran dragged their feet and lived up to the deal with Reagan once he won.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Thanks for the corrections. The one point about Reagan is that his negotiating with the Iranians was illegal.

      It was akin to Nixon telling the North Vietnamese not to negotiate peace because he would give them a better deal following the 1968 election.

  4. John Calia Reply

    Interesting post with much to consider. I don’t like the idea of prosecuting former presidents, including this one. That’s what happens in Pakistan routinely. Would a precedent-setting prosecution make that the norm here? Not sure. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be good for the nation.

  5. Jim Altschuler Reply

    I invoke Mom’s admonition that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and choose to shut up now rather than go on a rambling rant reinforcing the many violations so ably enumerated above using multiple deletable expletives and multisyllabic slurs. I believe this is exactly the opportunity that Mom was talking about.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Same mom, but we didn’t internalize the message exactly the same.