To Hold Trump Accountable — Or Not?

I apologize in advance for the lengthiness of this post, but I thought it was one worth consideration.  I have mixed feelings on this issue of whether Trump should be held to account for his actions such as obstruction of justice, bribery, conspiracy to defraud, and campaign finance violations once he leaves office.  On the one hand, I do want to see him treated just as any of the rest of us would be for harming the people of this nation, but on the other hand … can we truly begin to heal the Great Divide in this nation if Trump remains headline news for the next two years or longer?  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read Sam Tanenhaus’ OpEd from The Washington Post last Friday

The reckoning

The country can’t recover from Trump’s presidency unless he’s held accountable

tannenhaus-samBy Sam Tanenhaus

October 16, 2020

Some Americans entertain a fantasy that goes like this: President Trump is voted out of office, finally faces justice for his serial misconduct and shuffles off to prison. A wearier, probably larger population looks forward to scrubbing the nation’s memory of these past four years and returning to pre-Trump life. A third sizable group shows unwavering loyalty to Trump.

One lesson of American history is that the country’s worst injuries are those we’ve caused ourselves. This history is not uplifting, but it is edifying, and it haunts. Failing to perform the necessary diagnostic surgery after a time of collective wrongdoing has costs. The steepest is this: Subsequent generations inherit a weakened democracy. Today it is imperative to confront the facts of the Trump era. We elected as president a homegrown insurrectionist. He rose to the highest position in our democracy and damaged it. Even now, he continues to assault our laws and institutions, our independent judiciary, our national security, our health, and our constitutional system of checks and balances. It’s unimaginable, ludicrous even, to contemplate doing nothing about Donald Trump.

No single course for a post-Trump reckoning will satisfy, let alone reconcile, the country’s divergent constituencies. And some damage can’t easily be undone — harm to America’s standing in the world, for example, and the fatally negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic. But in the search for accountability there are middle-path options that fall between prosecuting this singular president and prosecuting his broader legacy. One is to begin with a problem that Americans across the ideological spectrum agree needs fixing: our elections.

Elections are the place to start because so much of Trump’s misconduct relates to them. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election resulted in three dozen indictments or guilty pleas and five prison sentences, all related to Trump campaign actions during that election and afterward, when the president and others tried to cover up what they had done. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, have both done time. The Senate Intelligence Committee — led by Republicans — produced a nearly 1,000-page report detailing the Trump team’s misdeeds, most pertaining to the 2016 election. Prosecutors in New York, meanwhile, are digging further into Trump’s payment of hush money to a porn star ahead of the vote. And of course, in his impeachment, Trump was charged with misusing his office to try to get help from Ukraine in his reelection campaign — in violation of election law and of the framers’ fear that a president might, in James Madison’s words, “betray his trust to foreign powers.”

In at least one thing Trump has been proved right. Joe Biden is a strong opponent. If he is elected (increasingly likely), and if Democrats hold on to their majority in the House (it seems probable) and achieve one in the Senate (distinctly possible), they will be in a position to mount the kind of full-scale investigation they have been kept from doing while Trump is president.

But will the next administration hold the Trump crew truly accountable for past crimes, such as those uncovered by Mueller, the House impeachment committees and the Senate, to say nothing of the Trump family’s financial dealings? Should it? Yes, some will say, because of Trump’s long trail of malfeasance and mis-governance, which also involves top administration figures such as Attorney General William Barr. But the price of such an inquiry would be considerable. It could rebound against Democrats and undermine public confidence in their fairness and sense of proportion.

We are a fiercely divided country. As the historian Garry Wills remarked to me recently, the true crisis of our moment consists “of Trump showing us not about Trump but about us.” Republicans continue to support Trump as faithfully as any president in modern memory. It is true that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but he won 30 states. No matter the result in November, the tribal feelings that now define American politics will not change. They might intensify.

This is partly an outgrowth of Trump’s approach to the presidency — his unapologetic conception of the office as explicitly serving him and those on his side, even as he wages war against those who oppose or even question him. The formula, as Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine, is blunt and direct: “If Trump’s opponents are doing something, it’s a crime; if Trump and his allies are doing it, it isn’t.”

The president’s supporters have a grievance of their own. They can say that Trump’s enemies tried to delegitimize him from the moment he took office. His detractors spoke early and excitedly about impeachment, as though the removal of a president was sport. This was why cooler heads, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urged caution after Democrats regained a majority in the House.

With Ukraine, everything changed. The facts were clear. Trump’s plea to the Ukrainian president that he “do us a favor” by announcing that he would investigate Biden was a textbook case of abuse of power. It hardly mattered. Republicans mounted a counteroffensive, echoing Trump’s cry of “witch hunt.” The rest was an elaborate performance in which the only verdict that seemed to matter was public opinion. Yet the most significant poll showed that two-thirds of Americans, regardless of the outcome, would not change their minds.

Attacks on Trump, no matter how justified, have dependably aroused his base. There is no reason to think his post-presidency will be different. What’s to stop Citizen Trump from continuing to operate at the margins of the law, but without the cover of the White House and in the knowledge that there would be a reluctance to prosecute a former president? A fresh investigation, broadcast over the “lying” media, could play right into Trump’s program of self-glorification.

And yet, America is not just a political carnival with gladiators in the arena and spectators in the stands. It is also a democratic republic — a nation of laws, procedures, history and tradition. A good, or rather ghastly, example of history failing to hold its chief actors accountable is the first president to be impeached, Andrew Johnson, in 1868. For many years schoolchildren were taught, with the aid of the book “Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy, that Johnson’s escape from removal was an act of high statesmanship. Supposedly Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas, a Republican who went against his party and voted to acquit, “may well have preserved for ourselves and posterity constitutional government in the United States.” The real villains, in Kennedy’s view (shared by many at the time), were the “Radical Republicans,” who arrogantly treated the defeated Confederate states as “conquered provinces” and wanted to “crush their despised foe” and voted to convict.

Today the episode is judged very differently. Johnson, most agree, was one of the worst presidents in history and a danger to the republic. Taking office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he flagrantly violated the principles of post-Civil War Reconstruction. He sided with “all-white Southern state governments full of ex-Confederates, stood by when they enacted ‘black codes’ that oppressed ex-slaves, and took no action when racist mobs began to murder black Southerners,” according to a history in The Washington Post. Johnson’s removal would have sent a powerful message about the nation’s new, post-slavery course; his acquittal instead reinforced pro-Confederate sympathies, which have lingered for generations.

So, too, with the case of the next president to face impeachment, Richard Nixon. He resigned in 1974 when it became clear that he faced removal for his Watergate crimes. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him. For years, the thinking was that Ford’s action was statesmanlike, and the nation gratefully heard his soothing assurances that “our long national nightmare is over.” But the pardon helped plant the seeds of a counter-history of Watergate, promulgated by Nixon and his defenders, that Nixon was not the perpetrator but the victim, hounded by the liberal media, and that the investigations and impeachment were an  example of “the criminalization of politics.”

What happened afterward may suggest a sensible approach to holding Trump accountable. In 1975, after the New York Times published a sensational report by Seymour Hersh under the headline “Huge C.I.A. operation reported in U.S. against antiwar forces, other dissidents in Nixon years,” the Senate organized a committee to examine the long history of Cold War intelligence. The chairman was Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. Respected legislators from both parties, giants of the period, also were on the panel. Their inquest looked hard at the Nixon administration but also pressed further and turned up patterns of wrongdoing by three predecessors, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Not everyone was happy with the result. The intelligence community felt under siege. But no one could accuse the committee of being partisan.

Here is a possible road map, then, for a public accounting of the Trump years. Instead of mounting an investigation of all his excesses and corruptions, the Biden administration could reach out to Trump’s supporters with a statement acknowledging their concerns, and Trump’s, that our elections are “rigged.” Why not take him at his word? To some extent, many are — in both parties. Each has assembled teams of lawyers and operatives for state-by-state legal battles, in the expectation that if Trump loses, he will challenge the results.

At that point, rightly or wrongly, a substantial portion of the country will question the validity of our elections. This has happened before, in 2000. Biden, as president, might address these concerns, respectfully announcing that he will set up an Election Commission, a formal investigation on the scale of the Warren Commission, which tried to uncover the facts of the Kennedy assassination, or the commission formed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A more immediate example is the panel convened after the 2000 election. Chaired by former presidents Ford and Jimmy Carter, it presented recommendations. One was that there be a ceiling of 2 percent on the share of votes thrown out because of errors. Another was to have a federal agency create national standards for voting machines. A third was to restore voting rights in all 50 states to felons who had served their sentences. President George W. Bush supported the “key principles” stated by the panel and urged Congress to act on them. But the operative word was “recommendations.” The report did not say the government should require these changes. And so almost 20 years later, the defects remain.

But the circumstances are different now; the crisis has grown. Trump has sown doubts about our elections for the whole of his presidency. As soon as he took office, he declared that the 2016 election was “rigged” because the popular vote had gone against him. He organized a “commission” of his own on voter fraud, with Vice President Pence in charge. It quietly disbanded eight months later, having met a total of two times and without filing a report. The material it did produce was “glaringly empty,” in the words of one member. A commission set up by Biden could take up the work of Trump’s panel, only push much further.

And this is where the Church Committee could be a good model. Just as it pursued the trail of intelligence wrongdoing back to the early years of the Cold War, so Biden’s blue-ribbon panel would start with the 2000 election and the recommendations made afterward, this time pointing out what was lost because those recommendations were not adopted. From this premise, the commission could range widely and hear testimony on many important matters — for instance, efforts to suppress African American and Hispanic votes in battleground states. Every Republican who has affirmed or suggested that the 2020 elections are rigged, beginning with Trump himself, would be given a chance to testify with immunity and in a closed session, their words recorded. The findings would be released with ample transcripts.

Such a proceeding will be vulnerable to accusations of bias. But the facts would be on the record, and perhaps we would learn more about how democracy works, and doesn’t work, and what we can do to repair it.

32 thoughts on “To Hold Trump Accountable — Or Not?

  1. Pingback: To Hold Trump Accountable — Or Not? – THE FLENSBURG FILES

  2. This hinges on Dems winning the WH and the Congress…

    I think investigate quietly, efficiently, thoroughly, and dutifully for a year or so. Maybe two. Then drop the hammer on his ass. His crimes need to be exposed. His cronies need to be outed and charged. His children the same. There ought be no quarter given this asshole and his crime syndicate.

    On the plus side his orange jump suit should match his make up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. I also agree that a quiet, yet thorough investigation would be best, though whether it is possible or not would remain to be seen. As for his cronies … some will pay a price for their blind support, but his children will likely roam free … sigh. Ha ha … yes, his jumpsuit will nicely match his made-up skin tone!


  3. Whereas I would like to see Trump unceremoniously hauled out of the Whitehouse at 3am on a cold wet winter morning (along with a few other folk), hauled up before a Tribunal, found guilty and dumped somewhere out of sight out of mind, Reality look down up the mess that the USA has gotten into, shake its head and say, sadly ‘Uh-Huh. An’t gonna happen people’.
    The problem is not Trump, he is disposable. It is the force which placed him there. Bear in mind you’ve got folk going around with proclamations likening all the criticism directed at him to the sufferings of Christ (Oooh that annoys me-) and that God sent him here. Therefore any attempts to haul his unworthy ass before a legal system will have millions out there howling ‘Konspircy’ and making him a martyr, which you know the little sh-t is just going to lap up.
    No the best way to handle Trump is as follows:
    1. Vote him out, I mean really vote him out.
    2. Don’t make a fuss about the victory, bear it with quiet dignity.
    3. Ignore any squawks from the Right and point to the election result.
    4. Write nothing, absolutely nothing about him when he has gone. In effect ignore him. Sure his base will still babble on, but if the rest of the nation just treats him as yesterday’s news that is the best fate he can suffer.
    5. Convince the President to start handing out a lot of terrorist orders on Right-Wing groups, now they can be hauled up before the courts and thrown into jail…but don’t let them gather…separate them.
    6. And gradually Trump will wither. Don’t even mention his death in the media who opposed him. And no more books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are much kinder than I … I would like to see him tarred & feathered, placed in stocks in the middle of San Francisco, and people allowed to throw rotten tomatoes at him for an entire day, then haul him off to the guillotine!

      You are quite right that Trump per se is not the problem, but a symptom of a larger problem, however he is the face of it all … he is the one who took advantage of us all, who acted so stupidly that nearly 250,000 people have died needlessly. I agree with you that the comparisons of him to Christ are disgusting … to say that god sent him here gives me an idea that those who claim that believe in a very ugly god.

      I am 100% in agreement with your 6-point plan! I have been saying to others as I answered comments tonight that the press needs to simply ignore him once he leaves office, no matter what happens. Twitter and other social media venues should close his accounts. We should not hear one word of his ignominious rants. That would shut him down within weeks, I should think, for he thrives on attention, even negative attention. I also agree about the right-wing hate groups, but they scream “Freedom of Speech!!!” and that’s the end of that. Personally, I think the time has come for some limits on freedom of speech in this nation, but it’s a slippery slope and it opens some doors that could be lethal. Sigh. You might just have to come down from the newly-built tower and straighten this mess out, Sir Woger … er … Roger!

      Liked by 1 person

    • There is some truth to that! I just fear that this nation will not be able to begin to heal if he is in the news every day. If the press would refuse to give him air time and only covered the facts of what was happening, perhaps once or twice a week without reporting his noxious rantings or showing his picture, then perhaps we could live with it, but you and I both know they will cover every word he utters ad nauseam.


  4. A very good OpEd with some good recommendations but it doesn’t seem clear which way to swing on the piece’s Title. For me it goes without saying that some of Trump’s crimes starting with hiss connivance with the Russians to affect the 2016 election in his favour. Then all the attempts to disenfranchise voters, refusing to allow The Democrats to view Mueller’s report., The overturning of so many laws tat affected the environment, diversion of funds to his wall and then strongly possible diversion of funds to himself from the relief funds .If all else fails there are crimes against the state in lying on his taxes and cheating the Government. That one can’t be denied and should be punished appropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You already know that I’m in agreement that he should be tried, convicted, and forced to pay for his crimes against … not only the people of this country, but of the world. But then, I wonder, if keeping him front and center wouldn’t be a crime as well, not allowing us to focus on the present and the future, but always keeping us focused on the past, continually stirring the issues that have so divided this nation. Would it not be better to allow him to simply fade into oblivion, into nothingness? And let us go on with re-building a nation and our lives? Sigh. Unfortunately, I don’t know the right answer, and even if I did, my opinion amounts to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things.

      Liked by 1 person

    • He does need to be brought to justice … made to account for and take responsibility for his actions. But … we know he will hire a team of lawyers that will keep this in the courts and in the headlines for years. Can we really stand that? Will it only serve to widen the great divide? I honestly don’t know the answer … I just see two sides to this coin. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

        • It’s a Catch-22 … we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. I think that the press will have to act more responsibly and not cover him, not give him air time, not report on his every word or action. Yes, I agree he must be held accountable, but he will turn any attempt to do so into a media circus, and that will only widen the already unscalable chasm in this country. Sigh. I would love to see the Republican Party dump him once he leaves office … it may, in fact, be the only way the Party can survive.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Jill, the best way to both punish Trump and move on as a nation is to ignore him. Don’t take the bait, don’t give him any more coverage (unless what he does is of societal value), and don’t give him more credence than he deserves. It is time for a return to more unity, normalcy and restoration of global relationships. Keith

    Liked by 4 people

    • I fully agree! That is the one thing that he cannot seem to stand — being ignored. And, I do my best to ignore him … today I read about his expletive-laden phone call with his campaign heads and after the first paragraph, I clicked it off … just more of his b.s. garbage talk. The ruse about Hunter Biden is, to coin Trump’s favourite term, “fake news”. He really has nothing new to say … just puts a different outfit on his tired old rants. Yes, a return to unity, normalcy, restoration, and … sanity. I long for sanity in our government.


      • Jill, as Savannah Guthrie alluded to Trump when she noted he passed along inane conspiracy theories from QAnon, “You are president of the United States, not someone’s Crazy Uncle.” Sadly, he proves that he is a Crazy Uncle who happens to occupy the White House. Let me repeat my advice, Mr. president, if you cannot add value, please stop talking (and tweeting). Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        • That was my favourite line in that entire Town Hall! Yes, I surely do wish he’d shut up, but you know what? I blame the press to a large extent. They do not have to report his every word time and time again, ad nauseam. If just for one week they did not report anything Trump said or did, if Twitter would suspend his account for a week … we would see a bit of piece, and he would be devastated. He says and does what he says and does for an audience, for shock value, for attention. He’ll only stop talking when we stop giving him an audience.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Trump has been cancelled and deemed politically irrelevant. Dems will regain the Senate and Biden will win in a landslide. The only thing keeping Trump in the headlines is the media, stop making him news worthy and more than he really is.
    On the flip side, breaking news: FBI seized Hunter Biden’s laptop amid DOJ investigation into Ukraine and VP Biden’s role:

    Liked by 1 person

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