President Biden Should Give Trump a Pardon—Precisely Because He Doesn’t Deserve One
The likelihood of an indictment of former President Donald Trump over a hush payment allegedly made to porn actress Stormy Daniels continues to hover over the nation. Yet I’d like to offer an unusual solution: President Biden should shock the world and pardon Donald Trump. And after clearing the slate of possible federal charges, Biden should then call on New York and Georgia authorities, where other Trump investigations exist, to issue state law pardons, effectively ending state prosecutions.
These acts of grace should be extended not because Trump deserves them; he does not. Trump may have been twice impeached by political enemies and now criminally charged by prosecutors driven more by partisan zeal than the rule of law; nonetheless, Trump himself served up all the ingredients that allowed his adversaries to concoct this stew of retribution.
But, by definition, grace should flow to those who haven’t earned it. And President Biden should pardon former President Trump precisely because Trump does not deserve it. The grace such a pardon would reflect in our President would do more for our nation than any prosecution of Trump.
Working at the federal, state, and local levels, I’ve helped prosecute numerous public officials. There’s always a risk that a politically mixed jury will be unable to reach the required unanimous verdict. A Trump hung jury would become just the latest riff on our national rift.
I think we can all agree we don’t need any more of that.
I know my suggestion will likely trigger cognitive dissonance among politicos. But the doctrine of grace isn’t a political concept. It emanates from religion, where grace is God’s favor toward the unworthy. It speaks nothing of the worthiness of the receiver. Instead, it offers us a bright glimpse into the character of the giver.
In the granite hard quarry of politics, grace is the rarest of gems. Our human instinct is to want sinners punished, especially those in the political and the judicial realms. We demand justice, giving wrongdoers what they deserve. Meanwhile, grace is wholly undeserved. Justice punishes while grace humbles.
It may be difficult to imagine Trump humbled, but President Biden should deploy grace nevertheless—not for Trump, but for Biden himself, and for the nation as a whole.
President Biden currently has scant political support, except when it comes to the bluest jerseys in the bleachers. Republicans hate him and independents disdain him. A president in such a bind can only be re-elected by divisively expanding his base, as President Barack Obama did in 2012. Yet that stripe of lightning strikes rarely at best.
One surefire way to at least get Republicans to give him a second look is to show grace when it comes to their still popular favorite, Donald Trump.
It’s true that a Biden pardon could encourage a primary challenge from the Left, but no modern president has been defeated in a primary election cycle. And any fractures from a primary tussle would be offset in the general election, as independents, impressed by Biden’s magnanimity, might lean his way.
That’s the political case. The better case involves uniting the country. Typically, politicians don’t start parades; they join them. But leaders with vision and courage proceed down a lonely path, willing others to follow. Such is the situation when offering grace.
Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address extended grace to a Confederacy thoroughly unworthy of such treatment. A president genuinely committed to “malice toward none and charity toward all” stands apart from the petty partisans of history.
It doesn’t always work. In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, even though Nixon wasn’t criminally charged. Ford’s pardon likely led to his subsequent electoral defeat. In his autobiography, “A Time to Heal,” Ford described his willingness to trade his own political prospects for a chance to unite a country riven by anger over Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
But there are key differences between Nixon and Trump. Unlike Trump, whose popularity tops 40 percent, Nixon’s approval rate was just 25 percent. Ford risked more than what Biden might. It’s admirable that Ford sublimated his own interests to those of the nation.
Government leaders who break the law must be held accountable, but that reckoning can take different shapes. Nixon’s only conviction was in the court of history, yet it stuck.
Americans accustomed to politicians acting from partisan self-interest might be moved by such a magnanimous act. It could inspire others to quash the current tendency to quarrel over everything. Divisiveness could become as past tense as square TVs.
I’m keenly aware that President Biden is highly unlikely to grant a pardon to the one man universally despised by Democrats. Nonetheless, he should.
Just imagine it: The soft stroke of a presidential pen, extending grace to someone wholly undeserving of it, might be the initial trace of a bold line of example that could grow into a bridge connecting the rocky shores of a nation divided.
It could happen. It should.
Mark R. Weaver has worked in the U.S. Department of Justice, as Deputy Attorney General of Ohio, and as a special prosecutor. He is the author of the book “A Wordsmith’s Work.” Follow him on Twitter @MarkRWeaver.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.