We Americans have never been particularly eager to see our former presidents prosecuted for criminal activity.
In 1974, President Gerald R. Ford gave predecessor Richard M. Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Ford reasoned that putting Nixon on trial would prolong a crisis that most Americans wanted to see come to a halt.
In one of the few wise choices he made regarding the scandal, Nixon had the good sense to resign from office rather than risk being impeached. Privately, Republican congressional leaders advised him that the odds of surviving a trial in the U.S. Senate were slim at best. But publicly, Nixon told Americans that he had to put the interests of the nation above his personal desire to remain in office.
President William J. Clinton displayed no such grace when he was impeached. He dragged out the proceedings as long as possible before finally admitting that he had in fact lied when previously claiming that he never had a sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton compelled Americans to wade through the impeachment process and subsequent trial, and he forced Democrats to staunchly defend his reckless behavior. He survived the whole ordeal, but it took a huge toll on our nation.
So for the past five decades, we’ve actively avoided seeing someone who once oversaw the executive branch of our federal government brought to trial. This is unfortunate. Frankly, the arguments that we shouldn’t put ourselves through such an experience are weak.
Yes, we are strong enough as a society to endure a criminal prosecution of a former president. Just because most of us don’t want to see that happen doesn’t mean we’ll wilt if it does.
If we can’t tough it out when an ex-commander in chief must stand in the dock, we are fooling ourselves about the very concept of American exceptionalism. Individuals are not immune from prosecution simply because they remain wildly popular among a large segment of the population. If criminal charges against a former president are warranted, it’s only proper that they be brought.
However, an indictment against someone who once held this position must clearly have merit. A pending case against Donald J. Trump — the first such charges against a former president in our nation’s history — doesn’t appear to live up to this billing.
Alvin L. Bragg Jr., the district attorney in Manhattan, has decided to shove the country into this situation. He succeeded in persuading a grand jury to approve an indictment against Trump. The charges stem from accusations that Trump directed his attorney, Michael D. Cohen, to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels in 2016 as a result of an affair they reportedly had before he became president.
Many legal authorities have noted that a case like this would normally be filed as a misdemeanor. But Bragg opted to pursue it as a felony. He seems to be contorting the law to get Trump no matter what it takes.
This is not to argue that there’s no evidence for a criminal case against Trump. David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered Trump for several decades, has persuasively written about how Trump broke the law while serving in the Oval Office.
However, Bragg’s case does not involve these issues. He has brought the nation to the brink of chaos with a dubious argument. Given the gravity of what’s at stake, it makes sense for us to ask if this case is worth the trouble its causing.
In addressing members of Congress nearly 120 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt stated: “No man is above the law …” Those who express their glee at Trump’s indictment are fond of repeating this line.
But it’s worth noting that Roosevelt followed this idea with another one: “… and no man is below it.” Just as all Americans must adhere to the rule of law, our statutes need to be carried out impartially on every citizen. Legitimate questions have been raised about whether Bragg’s personal bias against Trump is clouding his judgment.
Trump is not above the law, nor is he below it. Before dragging our country through a painfully divisive experience, Bragg should make sure that his prosecution against Trump has the merit for the charges he’s seeking. History will not be kind if this turns out not to be the case.
Read the (April 5) LA Times column by Harry Litman: "Don't underestimate the strengths of Alvin Bragg's case against Donald Trump." It puts this poorly informed editorial to shame.
On another note... Trials determine culpability and accountability. Trump can defend himself in court. A jury will decide whether the case against him is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. There'll be a winner and a loser. It's called democracy, not chaos! This is what responsible media outlets will proclaim and propagate.
What about, look what you made me do, everybody does it. Grow up. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
come on, wdt, it's not bragg pushing the nation into chaos, but ultimately trump. there is zero question that trump broke the law in the course of paying hush money to stormy daniels. incredibly, this is treated like it's no big deal! reasonable people can disagree about the legal argument for making it a felony charge instead of a misdemeanor (though it should also be noted that bragg has claimed that there's plenty of precedent for the former), but there should be no question that the true source of all this is trump's shameful and deplorable conduct.
I have a tough time buying your argument that pursuing these charges would be too divisive for the country. I am not sure this country could be more divided than it is right now - and this defendant bears a fair bit of the blame for that. He is being afforded due process. Don't we say that justice is blind? Allow the system to work, as it should for EVERY citizen.
Wrong headline - Trump pushes chaos - Remember January 6th. That's all you need to know who is the King of Chaos.
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