The President’s pardon power is supposed to be a check against unfairness in the judicial system. But it has long instead been wielded by presidents of both parties, especially as they leave office, to the benefit of their friends and benefactors. It’s the kind of base corruption which we look down upon, but have also come to largely expect in small quantities, a kind of trade off in which we acknowledge that the power is generally good, even though it is abused.
If there is one constant of the Trump era, however, it is that even the minor transgressions and abuses which we’ve tolerated in the past must be ramped up to new heights of corruption, lawlessness, and immorality. Trump’s latest tranche of pardons and commutations includes some of his most egregious yet: campaign cronies who lied to federal investigators, crooked politicians who stole from the public, and even war criminals who murdered innocent Iraqis including children.
So much for ‘law and order.’ We’ve always known that Trump doesn’t care about the law, and the only order he’s interested in is his own. But these pardons and commutations show that he will gladly throw in his lot with people who actively attacked our ideals, norms and institutions when they benefit him personally.
Trump’s flagrant abuse of the pardon power, like most of his corrupt exertions of power, reveals the dangers that have long lurked behind our acceptance of smaller transgressions. Now, he’s using these powers in a bid to undermine our democracy. We can expect it to only get worse in the final days of his failed presidency.
That’s why we must remain vigilant, even when he exercises powers that are granted him by the Constitution. We must take care to minimize the damage he is able to do. And once he has left – and he will be forced to leave – we must work to strengthen the safeguards of our democracy and improve our way of government.