All his life, Donald Trump has managed to avoid responsibility for the damage he’s done to others: his racial discrimination in his housing (not to mention his neglect of that same housing), his stiffing of contractors, driving many of them into bankruptcy, his exploitation of undocumented immigrants, his misogynistic treatment of women, his ripping off students at “Trump University” and buyers of his steaks and wines, his cheating on taxes, bank frauds, money laundering.
Then there’s the damages he’s done specifically as president: an economy skewed toward the already wealthy that hurts the poor, the middle class, the farmers; his cozying up to dictators, particularly North Korea, Russia, Egypt, and the Philippines; the great harm done to the citizens of those countries and to our reputation around the world; his flagrant violations of the Emolument Clause and dunning taxpayers by everything from charging the Secret Service premium rates to stay at his hotels to forcing the Air Force to use his Scotland resort to charging 3 dollars to bring him a glass of water. Then there was his attempt to extort Ukraine into helping him win re-election; he tried something similar with China. And of course his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic, much of which he did in an effort to make money off it as well as looking for an electoral advantage.
Trump’s response to all this is summed up in his infamous response to a reporter’s question in March: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
For the sake of the future of our country, we need to make him face the consequences of his actions and to be held responsible for them. This is necessary not just for a national catharsis, but also to show the next would-be irresponsible leader that we will not tolerate this sort of behavior. This needs to be a teaching moment.
The question really is, how to do this with maximum chance of success and minimum damage to the national fabric.
This may be a catch-22; anything that realistically forces Trump to be held responsible may also be rejected by a large segment of the population. In addition, prosecuting a former president for actions taken as president sets a dangerous precedent that a future polarized country might exploit. Even so, it has to be done.
I suggest a multi-pronged approach:
- Investigate and, if appropriate, indict and try Trump (and his family) for crimes committed before he became president. This is mostly but not entirely at the state level (money-laundering is a federal offense).
- Investigate and report crimes committed while Trump was president. Depending on the country’s response and mood, possible actions are impeachment (yes, a former president can be impeached), indictment, wide publication.
- Publish all inappropriate actions taken by Trump and his cohort in the White House.
- Investigate and, if appropriate, indict cabinet officials for crimes committed.
(Trump pardons may stymie indictments but not investigations. And pardon removes Fifth Amendment rights, so Congress and prosecutors can force testimony. The newly-depoliticized DOJ will no longer permit witnesses to ignore subpoenas.)
All of this must be done by career professionals with minimum instruction from political appointees. The process must be as open and impersonal as possible. It must be backed with all the evidence.
We must keep saying over and over that this is NOT political harassment (though Trump will claim that). It is Truth and Reconciliation. It is exposure of crimes and destruction and greed. It is a statement of what the country expects and requires of its public servants.
Most important, it must be PUBLIC. And loud. And repeated over and over. This is not a time to
let bygones be bygones.”
The Biden-Harris administration has to keep totally away from this, except to allow access to professional historians, journalists, lawyers. And probably doctors as well. We need to disinfect our country from the stench of Trump, and light is the best disinfectant.
(There’s a good op-ed in today ‘s WaPo by Ruth Marcus: Should Donald Trump be prosecuted? Proceed with caution.)