Saturday, December 26, 2020

Washington Follies

Just when one thought this crazy year was finally being put behind, with a better one on its way, our clown car president has created yet more chaos for our dysfunctional government to try to resolve. First, he vetoed the annual Defense Appropriation Act - a bizarre act of pettiness which will, however, likely be overridden by Congress next week. More problematic is his opposition to the coronavirus relief bill. He is, in fact, quite correct that the individual checks should be $2000 instead of the miserly $600 produced by the congressional compromise. (For all the praise compromise gets, usually it is a let down.) But, of course, he should have told his Republican sycophants in the Congress that ages ago and played his proper part in the negotiations, instead of ignoring his job while fantasizing about overturning the election. Now, his opposition could prove quite catastrophic - if, for example, he "pocket vetoes" the bill, thus not giving Congress a chance to repass it before its term ends on January 3, and leaving us with nothing. Millions of his suffering fellow-citizens were depending on this bill, which provided for unemployment benefits and eviction protections as well as the $600 checks. Meanwhile, he could also trigger a government shutdown!

While not ignoring these important issues that actually matter for ordinary people, the elites and the media have unsurprisingly been devoting as much or more energy to lamenting the president's latest sprees of pardons. Let's stipulate at the outset that the president's pardons are, as Senator Ben Sasse said, "rotten to the core." (The pardons issued not to the President's cronies but to convicted war criminals are particularly repulsive.) That said, a president's pardoning power is virtually absolute. So there is, as the Brits would say, nothing to be done. And, while here I am obviously deviating from prescribed elite opinion on this issue, maybe that is all for the best.

If the President pardons his cronies, his family, and even himself, then the nation will be spared the inevitable drumbeat of demands (especially from the Left) for federal prosecutions - as if the incoming Biden Administration did not have a lot of other more important matters to attend to, things that actually matter much more to ordinary citizens. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, he did so in part because he realized that too much attention would be focused on Nixon for the next year or more and that it would be difficult to accomplish anything of actual substance in terms of the public's real business during that time. The same would apply, a fortiori, in Trump's case. The media, with its insatiable love for scandal-driven news, would focus endlessly on the pressure to prosecute Trump, et al., to the neglect of much more important matters.

Now I am not insensitive to the "rule of law" argument, but there is also another principle of democracy that is relevant here - one that has been persistently violated by Trump, et al., every time they shouted "Lock her [or him] up!" The criminalization of politics is one of the most repulsive - and dangerous - dimensions of our present crisis. One reason our peaceful and orderly transfer of power from one party to another and one president to another has worked as well as it has for 220 years is that outgoing presidents are not routinely subject to prosecution by their successors - unlike many other countries where the only alternative for a president or dictator is to remain in power indefinitely, because giving up power would mean exile at best or criminal prosecution, imprisonment, or execution at worst. If we do not want the U.S. to degenerate into that, then we may have to sacrifice "the rule of law" for the greater good of non-criminalized politics and the democratic peaceful transfer of political power. (It would also help, of course, to elect honest people and not grifters!)

Of course, if Congress has nothing better to do, they can still conduct investigations and hold hearings about the previous Administration. And, if the targets of investigation have all been pardoned, then they would have to testify, since they would be free from any danger of self-incrimination

Meanwhile, however, we still have a pandemic and assorted other social ills to address!

No comments:

Post a Comment