Will Biden Absolve Trump’s Criminality In the Name of ‘National Unity’?
CJ Werleman sees worrying signs from the past that the Democratic Party could decide to turn a blind eye to the current President’s various misdemeanours in a desperate bid to move the country on from Trumpism
A clear majority of Americans and the rest of the world are celebrating Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of President Donald Trump, a man who has done more damage to the United States’ global reputation that any of his predecessors, according to recently published global surveys.
Hope in White House leadership and the mythical American Dream has been restored for now but, as it has often been said, the Oval Office is where hope comes to die – and to that end we shouldn’t underestimate the Democratic Party’s record of crushing hope with its on-the-job disappointment.
What the 80 million people who voted for Biden are hoping for more than anything is a national COVID-19 response plan – something, anything, that will reverse the upward spike in infections, hospitalisations and deaths. But likely to be next on their wish list is that Trump and members of his administration be held accountable for their criminality and corruption.
Investigations and Government-level inquiries into how Trump and his cronies used the White House to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense, while doing nothing to keep the rest of the country safe from sickness and death must be instigated.
But, standing in the way of this desired transparency and accountability, is Biden and the Democratic Party’s reflexive ‘get along to go along’ mantra and arguably misguided belief that the Republican Party consists of good faith actors, capable of bipartisanship, honesty and fairness.
‘The High Road’
If history is a guide, then Trump and his cohorts can count on President Biden to save him from investigations led by both the Department of Justice and Congressional Democrats in the name of ‘national unity’, ‘national healing’ and ‘looking forward, not back’.
Expect to hear different reiterations of ‘when they go low, we go high’ and appeals to the ‘high road’. But the moral and ethical high road leads only in one direction and that is towards justice and accountability. The high road is signposted by investigations, indictments, arrests, trials and imprisonment if the crime fits.
The low road is potholed by pardons in the name of ‘national unity’, ‘national healing’ and ‘looking forward, not back’ – the words used by President Barack Obama to defend his decision not to investigate and prosecute his predecessor, George W. Bush’s, invasion of Iraq and alleged war crimes. They are also the same words used by Congressional Democrats in 1988 when they chose not to impeach President Ronald Reagan, despite evidence of his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.
In taking the low road, Obama created the space for the same actions to be repeated and the perpetrators to climb to the very top branches of the United States – including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a long-time advocate for the use of torture; CIA Director Gina Haspel, who helped President Bush implement ‘black sites’ to torture US detainees; and Trump’s former National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton, a leading advocate of the Iraq War.
In an interview he gave just days before being sworn in as President in 2009, Obama said he had “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards”, adding that he didn’t want members of the military and intelligence community to “spend all their time looking over their shoulders” from Department of Justice investigators.
“A new president doesn’t want to look vengeful and the last thing a new administration wants to do is spend its time and energy rehashing the perceived sins of the old one,” Bradford A. Berenson, a lawyer and Harvard law classmate of Obama, told The New York Times the same year.
But that is not how transparency and accountability in government is meant to work. To allow unlawful actions to go uninvestigated and unpunished only serves to rehabilitate the reputation of the perpetrators and ensure that a repeat of the same behaviour in the future. As the philosopher George Santayana famously warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The concern is that Democrats remain locked in a form of magical thinking, believing that somehow their good faith and gestures of reaching across the aisle will be graciously received and rewarded by their Republican counterparts on Capitol Hill – despite all evidence to the contrary.
If Republican law-makers had audio recordings of an outgoing Democratic president saying he deliberately downplayed the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic – resulting in the deaths of 250,000 Americans – it is likely that they would stop at nothing to drag every member of their administration into an endless array of public hearings.
Considering that Congressional Republicans held seven investigations into the deaths of four Americans killed in the middle of a foreign war zone – Benghazi, Libya – to hurt the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, one can only imagine their merciless and take-no-prisoners approach to investigating and prosecuting those responsible for 250,000 deaths at home.
“They’ll have plenty of potential charges to choose from,” observed Jeff Wise on Trump’s misdemeanours for New York Magazine. “Both Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee – a Republican-led panel – have extensively documented how Trump committed obstruction of justice (18 U.S. Code § 73), lied to investigators (18 U.S. Code § 1001), and conspired with Russian intelligence to commit an offence against the United States (18 U.S. Code § 371). All three crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison – per charge.”
As noted by Wise and other legal experts, federal prosecutors could be ready to indict Trump on one or more of these in the first three months of the Biden presidency.
Exposing the lurid details of Trump and his family’s criminality, corruption and incompetence while in the Oval Office will not only give the country the transparency and accountability it seems to be yearning for, it would also help restore faith and trust in the White House, going a long way to vanquishing Trump and the ‘Make America Great Again’ mob for good.
Let’s hope Biden doesn’t confuse the low road for the high road.