Assuming, as pretty much everyone does, that Trump will lose the election, then what? No, not whether he gets a talk show on Fox or fills his presidential library with classic comic books, or merely slinks back to his Trump-branded hotbed motels with gold-plated toilets, but whether he ends up a criminal defendant.
On the one hand, to the extent a sitting president cannot be prosecuted for a crime, he won’t be a sitting president anymore, and is as indictable, and prosecutable, as anyone else. Whether there is probable cause to do so, either on a state or federal level, may be unclear, although ham sandwich, of course. But assuming there is a basis to prosecute Trump, should we?
Okay, look, even if you assume that a Trump prosecution will be better for the country than I expect, you do understand that it means turning a chunk of the Biden term into the Trump show, right? And also, will not help Democrats in 2024 any more than impeachment helped this year
There is no upside for Democrats. There is no upside for the country. There is no point where Republicans have an epiphany that They Collaborated With Evil. There is just the hope of a bit of personal revenge on a 74 year old buffoon who is already over. Revenge is very overrated
Will the coming year be a Biden presidency or a rehash of all the grievances of a Trump presidency? Granted, having spent four years dissecting and dismembering every foolish utterance, self-serving act and lie, it’s hard to let go. For many, hating Trump has become a full-time job, and not unprofitable. It would be hard to have to learn to code at this stage of their career.
But does it behoove a nation to take a Mulligan on impeachment? Does Joe Biden want his presidency to be all about Trump?
We need to know the extent of the damage done. Both to fix it, and to attempt to prevent it from happening again. And I’m far more worried about setting the precedent that presidents are untouchable so long as their own party controls the Senate.
Radley Balko makes a good point, that Trump exposed gaps in our system where no one would have believed a president would go before. Tax returns? Hatch Act violations by using the White House for purely political purposes? Emoluments? Trading arms for dirt? Whether these are crimes or just a president who never quite grasped that he wasn’t entitled to run a nation the way he ran his mom and pop real estate business, lacking the cognitive ability to formulate a mens rea that distinguished venal from ignorant, remains an open question.
Now that we’ve seen a president for whom basic norms of office meant little, do we need to identify the gaps and fill them with laws that won’t allow another president to do the same?
Radley doesn’t quite call for indictment, but rather identification of the problems and fixes. And his point about having a Senate too obsequious or fearful to do its duty and tell a venal president no is a good one. It’s not that the Senate didn’t realize what Trump was. They did, and said it out loud before he was elected. It’s that when Trump came into office, they bent their knees.
But there is also the hint of deterrence in Radley’s reply. If there is no consequence on the back end of a presidency for the commission of crimes, then what’s to stop the next venal president from abusing his power and office for his own benefit? Is it enough that Trump, the incumbent, was defeated by two-time loser and very old man, Joe Biden? Is that humiliating enough to Trump, for whom self-aggrandizement was one of his only two motivations? Will the threat of abject humiliation be enough for the next one?
What if the next one isn’t like Trump, knows how to work the system, has the good sense to not say the stupidest crap out loud on the twitters? Trump had the unusual characteristics for a president of being vulgar, amoral, deceitful and ignorant. The next one might merely be amoral and deceitful, and pull it off far better than Trump was ever able?
Then again, if we revisit Trump’s presidency in search of criminal conduct, or worse, “truth and reconciliation,” will we be able to move forward to address a nation’s problems, to give Biden the opportunity to put some meat on the bones of his empty platitudes, and do the job of President? Or will we have a daily dose of Gay?
The United States is not at all united. We live in two countries. In one, people are willing to grapple with racism and bigotry. We acknowledge that women have a right to bodily autonomy, that every American has a right to vote and the right to health care and the right to a fair living wage. We understand that this is a country of abundance and that the only reason economic disparity exists is because of a continued government refusal to tax the wealthy proportionally.
The other United States is committed to defending white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs. Its citizens are the people who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories and take Mr. Trump’s misinformation as gospel. They see America as a country of scarcity, where there will never be enough of anything to go around, so it is every man and woman for themselves.
Will Joe the Uniter, not Divider, be able to heal the divisions in this nation if Trump is on trial or Roxane can spend the next few years explaining why everything is just good or evil? Presidents cannot be untouchable, free to violate the law with impunity because there’s no one willing to stop them. But there will be no healing, no forward progress, if prosecuting Trump empowers the perpetually outraged to spend Biden’s one-term in office obsessing over Trump and the awfulness of their enemies. Is there a way we can defend the integrity of the office without Roxane Gay getting a weekly column in the New York Times?