Media asleep: defiance of unanimous juries is a greater iniquity than mouthing the Big Lie
Renegade Ron DeSantis this week: If elected, “we will be aggressive in issuing pardons” to “all victims of weaponization or political targeting.” All? What, 1000 indicted Jan. 6 outlaws? Even the homicidal ones? Or only vicious insurrectionists conspiring to hang Mike Pence, swearing blind allegiance to the scheming Inciter-in-chief? Behold this “aggressive” DeSantis intrusion against civility and order. So much for scrupulous prosecutors, indictments, trials, testimony, courts, juries, judges, appeals and penalty guidelines – justice eviscerated is justice turned upside down.
Atop the worst Trumpist iniquities, on par with thousands needlessly lost to Covid and corrupting trust in elections, would be more self-serving pardons to hardcore Trump allies. That smacks of cementing his authoritarian legacy. Here’s a fair Wikipedia summary detailing the cumulative flood of bribery, cronyism, and subversion:
Ultimately, of the 237 grants of clemency by Trump, only 25 came through the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s process . . . the other clemency recipients came to Trump’s attention through an ad hoc process at the Trump White House that benefited clemency applicants with money or connections to Trump allies, friends, and family members. Most of Trump’s pardons and commutations were granted to people with personal or political connections to him. . . .
Trump’s use of the pardon power was marked by an unprecedented degree of favoritism. He frequently granted executive clemency to his supporters or political allies, or following personal appeals or campaigns in conservative media, as in the cases of Rod Blagojevich, Michael Milken, Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza, and Clint Lorance, as well as Bernard Kerik. Trump granted clemency to five of his former campaign staff members and political advisers: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Stephen K. Bannon, and George Papadopoulos.
Trump pardons spanned seven convicted GOP Congressman, highly controversial war criminals, and wealthy malefactors who “paid tens of thousands of dollars to former advisors to Trump for them to lobby Trump to grant pardons.” In short, Trump’s inexcusable transgressions against decency, let alone blindness to how justice buttresses civil order, qualifies as the greatest (if under-publicized) scandal in presidential history.
Now we endure a potential second act of dishonor: promised clemency for Jan. 6 convictions, the extension of the obscene Trump logic that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing support. More pardons, even talk of pardons that never happen, will open the floodgates for fanatics, racists, traitors, while supremacists, and Trump allies addicted to chaos and destruction.
Though today’s fascist barrages will eventually be rebuffed, who can assess rolling calamities when candidates subvert law and its task to fit punishments with serious crimes? What democratic nation survives the betrayal of hard-won, if imperfect procedures of indictment, trials, juries and judges are further devastated? Fine to argue about defective laws or erroneous juries, or unfair indictments: that is free speech, not the gratuitous dismissal of certified, final judgments, whether electoral or legal. If not law and elections, what still binds the majority? Mass, indefensible, politicized pardons mock the core notion of legal finality.
If not equality before the law, then what?
Such Trump (and DeSantis) pandering about future abuses of the presidential pardon privilege displays utter contempt for the foundation of equal justice before the law. Other than military force, what else sustains civilization when nasty mobs attempt to overthrow a certified election, causing deaths and trashing the Capitol? How do such crimes differ except in magnitude to a terrorist attack on critical structures? If our seat of government is not beyond direct violence, whether foreign or domestic, then none of us is safe. Pardoning terrorism is its own form of political terrorism, feeding bad faith actors towards the best of America.
Clearly, undermining law and justice is only part of the Trumpist, fascist machinations to disrupt anything in the status quo that impedes its commandeering insurgency. Trump may be stupid, undisciplined, and self-destructive, but his ultimate audacity is anything but modest. Yet, despite the irrational constancy of the Big Lie, not one election result was reversed by that failed Trump stunt. That differs considerably from settled pardons that allow sentenced “enemies of the state” to escape responsibility. Worse still is any prospect to reform pardon abuse, mandating a Constitutional amendment.
We cannot amend the increasingly compromised Constitution on the Electoral College, the make-up and operation of Congress (like the filibuster), limits to federal judicial terms, even guaranteed equality to women (re the failed ERA amendment ). We must instead focus on presidential character, respect for our best values, and the ability to shame or punish any pardon abuser. Yet, we remain a primitive political country and even stunning 2x4s like Jan. 6, or horrendous global storms and rising temperatures, or the manipulative debt ceiling blackmail, barely move the interminable status quo.
Business as usual (including the predictable rightwing mayhem) seem as unchangeable as the rotation of the earth. Except for drastic Florida changes in the last year, where a cultural warlord is rampaging with such recklessness as to assure the Trumpian Rasputin is nominated. And yet, what strategy imagines a national electorate will cheer on book banning and thought control, abusive abortion obstacles, or attacks on what was once an open state education system that valued debate? The only positive, looming “reform” is our utter rejection of any pardon abuser who frees scurrilous criminals. Fortunately, no GOP candidate appears capable of mounting a successful campaign that wins both its insular party nomination and the general election.
Will history have time to judge?
I am confident that history will judge Jan. 6, however trivialized by rightwing propagandists as a non-violent protest after a “controversial” election, among America’s greatest disgraces. Now the double crime of pardoning Big Lie insurrections prove that if elections don’t matter, neither do courts. Extremism in the service of extremism, we hope, only exposes what it is. Thus every new insurrection is the ultimate double-edged sword – adding to brutal disruption widely covered while revealing what villains will do and what is finally at stake for all. Abusive pardons of the most serious crimes represent the great terrorist threat to self-government.
Such Trumpist acquiescence to the worst autocratic appetites in America is an unpardonable crime against the entire system, even worse than Trump himself being convicted or jailed for felonious law-breaking. If judges can be bought, as with today’s Supreme Court, plus if unanimous trial decisions can be corrupted by reckless pardons, count the justice system among the other profoundly broken systems, such as health care, campaign funding, infrastructure, crony corporatism, misguided defense spending, and education. Pessimism intrudes when we ponder how many broken parts can one national patient endure before going on life support?