Two Opinions: Should Trump Be Pardoned?

Yes: Margot Schneider

After a term full of potentially criminal behavior and a monumental 2020 election loss, President Donald Trump stands in an interesting and unprecedented position. As the sitting president, Trump has the power to excuse himself from federal criminal offenses through a presidential pardon. President-Elect Joe Biden will soon be able to pardon Trump as well. The questions, now, are: is it even smart to do so? Will either of them do it? If so, who? Biden should pardon Trump for the sake of eliminating him from media coverage and allowing the country to move on from his destructive term. 

Trump may be guilty of numerous federal crimes, including obstruction of justice, profiting from office, interfering with past elections, and more, which are difficult concepts to consider relative to the long-term effects of a pardon. Though he believes (and tweets) that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself should he choose to, a self-pardon would be a blatant admission of his wrongdoings and an unthinkable blow to his enormous ego. A presidential pardon would also only exempt him from federal crimes, so he would still be susceptible to legal action pursued against him for his alleged state crimes, including tax and bank fraud. Trump is likely deserving of criminal punishment in some capacity, and although he may never be formally charged for his federal crimes (because it likely is more harmful to the US than helpful), he can not completely evade criminal prosecution. 

Biden, on the other hand, would benefit from pardoning Trump. Biden’s election succeeded on the premise of his purported “Presidency for All Americans.” He has repeatedly advertised that he strives to represent the entire country– this inevitably includes appealing, at least to some degree, to Trump supporters. Though this may not be Biden’s actual goal, he will benefit from appeasing his adversaries simply for the sake of alleviating some portion of the strengthening and cutthroat political divide in the United States. Achieving national unity cannot be accomplished by appealing to just half of the population. 

Considering that partisan tensions are at an all-time high, it is unlikely that Biden could successfully execute plans to help all Americans without at least mildly engaging with both parties. The growing polarization may permanently damage the united functionality of this country if not, at least partially, alleviated soon. Biden cannot operate without a majority of citizens buying into his platform. For example, in a recent interview, Biden requested that all Americans wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency. With the high transmission probability of COVID-19, this request must appeal to more than just the Democratic party. At the end of the day, pardoning Trump is the best move not only for Biden, but for the whole country.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats may push for Trump’s allegedly deserved prosecution. However, this would infuriate the Trump-supporting portion of the country and hamper positive change. At a multi-faceted national inflection point for the United States, initiating the restoration of public health, economic recovery, and a push for racial equity, are more important than the prosecution of a soon-to-be-former president. Ideally, upon Biden’s inauguration, Trump will gradually fade from media attention and lose his devoted supporters and political impact. A pardon would help quicken and achieve this — instead of publicizing Trump’s potential federal legal battles, mainstream news and media sources could push Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’s various progressive and beneficial plans. Though it is possible that news sources would dwell on the controversy of a pardon, hopefully, this would dissolve quickly, along with Trump’s presence. 

Inevitably, the first portion of Biden’s term will be dedicated to directly un-doing Trump’s damaging work and restoring “normalcy,” which limits the time and opportunities Biden and his team will have to push for further net change and progress. Trump’s time in office has set many harmful precedents for the position, and Biden is already tasked with the restoration of respect for the office. It would truly benefit him most to issue a pardon and force Trump to the outskirts of media coverage rather than dwell on the consequences that he may or may not deserve. This will give Biden, Harris, and the Democratic party the best chance at bettering, unifying, and advancing the United States. 

No: Peter Ryan

As President Trump approaches the inevitable end to his presidency, President-Elect Biden’s incoming administration faces a difficult question: should they investigate President Trump for potential federal crimes and hold him accountable, or offer him a pardon, letting him off the hook to avoid a nasty, divisive, and headline-grabbing probe and trial? Pardoning President Trump for federal crimes may exacerbate partisan tensions and gridlock, but in a common-law jurisdiction, it is imperative that leaders be held accountable for abuses of power.

As soon as President-Elect Biden is inaugurated on January 20th, Trump could be indicted on a litany of charges. Based on admissions of guilt from Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen during his federal prosecution in 2o18, the current president could face charges for his shady hush-money payments to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels. Investigations into Trump’s behavior in office could provide other reasons for prosecution

The Biden administration’s decision to prosecute or pardon Trump for his crimes and abuses of power will have generational ramifications on presidential accountability. If the incoming Department of Justice investigates, charges, and tries President Trump, it will signal that presidents face consequences for their crimes. Alternatively, a pardon would invite tyranny and corruption for generations — if the president is above the law, greedy and dishonest leaders will surely follow. 

If Trump were to receive a pardon from the incoming administration, he would recede back into his obscenely luxurious lifestyle paid for with dirty money. After four years of selfishness at the expense of the American people, President Trump deserves to spend time in federal prison. Trump has eluded consequences for laziness and greed his entire life: he lucked into an interview at Wharton with a good friend of his father’s, used dodgy financial tactics to avoid paying debts, and received an acquittal on charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power at the hands of a conservative senate in January. For once in his life, Trump needs to be held accountable.

Biden may view a pardon as a simple mechanism to diffuse conservative anger, but exonerating Trump will cause significantly more harm than good for the incoming administration. Gerald Ford employed a similar strategy in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation, offering the disgraced former president a full pardon to end a “long national nightmare.” Ford’s popularity never recovered, which contributed to his loss in the 1976 presidential election. Given Trump’s unpopularity with the average American, it appears that Biden would be quite foolish to repeat Ford’s mistake. Studies from the Pew Research Center indicate that Biden’s victory in the presidential election was a reflection of the nation’s wish to see Trump investigated for his repeated transgressions during his term. If Biden’s Department of Justice declines to probe and possibly charge President Trump, it could permanently damage the president-elect’s effectiveness as a leader.

Democracy and the rule of law are not magical constants — they depend on ceaseless upkeep by the Federal Judiciary, Department of Justice, and American people. By pardoning President Trump, the Biden administration would effectively signal that accountability is optional for the President of the United States. Would Trump’s presidency have been so corrupt and spectacularly dangerous had Nixon been pardoned in 1974? President Trump likely deserves to face jail time, and he must be tried and charged for possible crimes, before and during his presidency, so that the next megalomaniac-in-chief doesn’t abuse their power even more grossly.