Trump leaves behind a hateful legacy, but Biden needs to focus on healing the nation
Trump will likely be remembered as the worst president in US history. People who detest him can take comfort in that and for him, it's punishment enough.
I’m going to lose a few friends and likely a bunch of Twitter followers with what I’m about to say, but here goes.
The Biden administration has bigger, more urgent priorities than to have the Justice Department go after soon-to-be former President Donald Trump for the crimes he has allegedly committed. Just flush his remaining cronies out of the federal government and move on.
Don’t get me wrong. Trump is a dirty, sleazy con man, a grifter who has done our country a grave disservice by taking a wrecking ball to the laws, institutions and norms of the democracy we revere. He is a dark, ugly stain — a national disgrace.
I’d love to see him in a perp walk, a mugshot, an orange jumpsuit that matches the color of his fake tan. The urge to “lock him up” is strong, and indeed, there is ample justification for doing so. The Justice Department manual says federal prosecutors can bring charges against any suspect if several conditions are met: 1) if they think an offense has been committed, 2) if the evidence is strong enough “to obtain and sustain a conviction” and 3) if prosecution supports a strong federal interest.
Clearly the first two conditions exist. The third — whether prosecuting Trump supports a strong federal interest — is more debatable.
Time to heal the nation
President-elect Joe Biden has said that the time has come to heal our nation. He is a good man. Decent, honest, a man of great integrity and character. Now consider the actions other presidents have taken in times of great national anger and bitterness. Even as the most divisive event in American history — the Civil War — was still being fought, Abraham Lincoln had the courage and foresight to look at what lay ahead. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” he said in his magnificent second inaugural address, adding "let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Gerald Ford, like all our chief executives, was a lesser president than Lincoln. Yet in the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s humiliating resignation in 1974, he also understood the greater good. In his speech pardoning Nixon, Ford said, “It is not the ultimate fate of Richard Nixon that most concerns me, though surely it deeply troubles every decent and every compassionate person. My concern is the immediate future of this great country.” He added: “As president, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the United States whose servant I am.”
Transitioning:Ford’s popularity plunged, and it no doubt contributed to his narrow 1976 election loss to Jimmy Carter. But half-a-century later, his act of magnanimity is generally seen as a healing gesture. In 2001, he received the Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Presidential Library. In announcing the award, the library said that years after the pardon, many Americans “have also come to believe that President Ford was the right man at the right time who played a leadership role in helping to restore the American people’s trust in their government.”
Trump's legacy as a hated leader
Donald Trump will always be remembered as a horrible, hateful man, one driven by vengeance and the need to dehumanize and destroy his opponents.
Nonetheless, Joe Biden has an opportunity to remind Americans and a watching world that we are better than this wretched and un-American example. In their hearts, Lincoln and Ford believed that Americans were a compassionate people. I still believe this to be so. Biden would also show Trump’s enormous base — who have spent years whipping themselves into a delirious, Trump-fueled frenzy in their calls for “enemies” like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be locked up — that this isn’t how decent, patriotic Americans behave. The emphasis on personal destruction that has defined our political system for the past few decades must come to an end.
Ending the pandemic, putting Americans back to work, restoring faith in government and rebuilding our tattered image abroad are more important for the long-term good of the nation than going after an old man who is beyond redemption.
Besides, even if the Biden Justice Department moves on to other things, remember that Trump remains in enormous trouble. New York state prosecutors are coming after him. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt — personally guaranteed by him — coming due. His businesses have suffered steep downturns. The IRS, as it did with Nixon, may lower the boom.
He has spent the past four years shuttling between the White House and his properties — nowhere else other than for campaigning — and will continue to live in this small, gilded world after Jan. 20. A small world for a small man. The adulation and respect that other ex-presidents enjoy will always elude him, and he will go to his grave knowing that he will always be deeply reviled by most.
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