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P.O.C. Beyond Faith

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Donald Trump (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump is asking around if he can pardon his family, aides, and even himself. And so now we follow our increasingly familiar pattern:

Reasonable people: He can’t do that!
Law people: It’s not as clear as you think.
Deplorables: Of COURSE he can do that!
Law people: That’s not what I said…
Deplorables: Shut up, nerd. #MAGA. #FifthAvenueShooter #WhitePower!
Reasonable people: Congress would…
Republicans in Congress: I’m gonna stop you right there.
Media: This is a Constitutional crisis… OMG MORE TWEETS PLEASE.

Donald Trump was put on this Earth to teach Americans the difference between “laws” and “norms.” Oh, he’s happy to break both, but when he messes with the norms, we feel particularly confused and impotent.

Let’s try to get a little ahead of the game, this time. Let’s assume Trump pardons himself based on the theory that Trump will always do the worst possible thing he can think of. Moreover, it’s actually more likely that Trump will pardon himself as opposed to his aides. Pardoning his aides would rob them of their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and, well, that’s bad for Trump. Pardoning himself, to the extent that he can, would mean that Trump would consider himself untouchable, and that’s really the only thing he cares about.

What happens next? What follows is an exhaustive list of possibilities. I can’t say “comprehensive” list because, frankly, I’m not creative enough to imagine all the ways Republicans are willing to destroy this country. I’ve put these in order of what I think is most likely to happen, legally. But, again, my predictive powers are murky because I don’t know what it’s like to live as a Republican.

1. Charges are never filed, nothing happens.

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Contrary to popular belief, you absolutely can pardon someone without charges being filed against them. What you can’t do is prospectively pardon someone for future acts. I can pardon the dog for peeing on the rug, but if I wanted to make it okay for the dog to pee on the rug in the future, I need to change the laws regarding rugs in my house, not give the dog blanket authority to pee where ever she wants.

Pardons attach to past acts, so the simplest result of a presidential self-pardon would be that Trump is never charged for the past acts he pardoned himself for doing. Given that it’s pretty difficult to prosecute a sitting president for anything anyway, and the fact that the investigations have seemed to focus on Trump’s associates more than the president himself, the most likely result would be to not bring charges against Trump while he’s still president.

Nothing happens for the rest of his term, or terms. We’ll get to what might happen when Trump leaves office, later.

2. Charges are filed, everybody ignores the self-pardon.

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Because pardons are attached to acts, the President would have to be pretty specific about what he is pardoning himself for. Given that Trump is stupid and lazy, and the fact that his administration has thus far produced shoddy and incomplete legal work product, I doubt that Trump’s self-pardon would effectively cut off all avenues for prosecution.

I mean, what’s the man gonna say? “I bigly pardon myself for ALL… things… involving Russia”? Okay, boss, well we’re prosecuting for obstructing justice. “I pardon myself for obstructing justice”? Sorry, we’re coming after you for abuse of power. “I pardon… me.” Sorry, you can’t do that. That’s pardoning yourself for things you haven’t done yet.

Politically, Trump is probably not going to be able to say what he is pardoning himself for specifically enough to make that pardon an insurmountable legal hurdle.

If courts wants to ignore the self-pardon, without ruling on whether the president has the power to self-pardon, they can do that with the help of a mildly creative prosecutor.

3. Charges are filed, courts rule on the pardoning power.

I’m not sure that anybody has standing to object to a self-pardon simply because it was issued. But if charges are brought against the president, and the president claims to have pardoned himself for the specific act alleged, then the Supreme Court just might decide to get into it.

I have no idea what the Court would do. On the one hand, these people should have a deep respect for the Constitution. On the other hand, they installed George W. Bush as president and then told us all to forget about it. Could the Supreme Court rule that Trump has the power to pardon himself, with Trump’s handpicked, personal Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, casting the deciding vote in the president’s favor? Sure. That could happen. Would that be casus belli for war? I say yes (but I’ll return to this later as well).

4. Impeachment… in 2018 perhaps.

It tells you everything you need to know about the weakness of the Republican Party that this option is so low. Constitutionally, the thing that’s supposed to CHECK the executive from abusing, say, his pardon power, is impeachment. Impeachment (and a sense of propriety) is why Obama didn’t pardon every low-level drug offender in the entire federal system before firing up a J while they lifted him up on their shoulders.

You can’t pardon yourself from impeachment. That much is clear. Arguably, many presidents have considered pardoning themselves for various things, and they didn’t because they knew Congress would turn around and impeach them almost immediately.

I don’t think this president fears this Congress. I assume Trump has a Newton’s Cradle made out of the actual testicles of Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and Steve Scalise. I don’t think there’s any chance this Congress impeaches Trump, no matter what he does. Caligula was having sex with the wives of Roman senators, and they did nothing, and modern Republicans are far weaker than early imperial Roman senators.

But Republicans are not going to be in charge forever, and pardoning yourself while Congress does nothing might just be the kind of thing that causes a “wave election” in 2018. If the president pardons himself, Democrats running in 2018 aren’t just going to be calling for impeachment, they best be calling for stoning if they want to get my vote. I don’t think I’m the only one.

5. Charges are filed after Trump leaves office, the new president decides whether or not to pardon him.

I’m wishcasting a bit with a 2018 takeover. It’s just as likely that Trump serves out his term, wins another one (because white people), and lives long enough to see a total repudiation of the Republican Party in 2024. At which point I fully expect to see old-ass Trump in chains.

Remember, we got pretty close to convincing Barack Obama — a decent, “I’m not here to talk about the past” sort — to prosecute Dick Cheney and George Bush for merely being evil. Which is not really a crime. The minute Trump cedes the powers of his office, in three to seven years, there are going to be A LOT of people who want to see him prosecuted, for ALL OF IT. If Trump admits here in 2017 that he did some dirt in 2016, but pardons himself for it, well that’s just an admission of guilt for the new president to roll up on him when Trump is no longer in power.

If a Republican succeeds Trump, the pressure to prosecute Trump might be even greater. Gerald Ford lost to the damn Planter’s Peanut because he pardoned Nixon. If Trump thinks his self-pardon will carry any legal weight after he’s out of power, he is fooling himself.

6. Military Takeover.

Why would you think that a president who pardons himself wouldn’t also use the military to keep himself in power should he be impeached or otherwise threatened with removal? Were you absent the day they taught “Absolute Power” on the playground? If Congress impeaches Trump, after Trump unsuccessfully pardons himself, his next play is TANKS.

I don’t know if the military would go along with this play. But the fact is that if we’re really dealing with a president who pardons himself, the opinion of Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, suddenly matters. It matters a great deal. The opinion of the generals on who should legally be president probably hasn’t mattered this much since Ulysses S. Grant decided it was okay for Andrew Johnson to succeed Abraham Lincoln.

This is where we are, America.

7. Trump resigns.

Yeah, I’m putting Trump abdication lower than a Trump military takeover, because I’m not fooled into thinking this guy intends to play by your rules.

But, the self-pardon would be an attempt by Trump to make Russia “go away.” Once he realizes that it’s not going to go away, no matter what he says and who he bullies, he just might say “screw it, see you on the links.” He is very impulsive, and very lazy.

Again, I don’t think this is likely because the minute he’s out of power, the law is going to descend on him like he stole something. Which he did! But Trump doesn’t always think ahead so, you never know, he might quit.

8. Bloody Revolution.

The only people weaker than Republicans in Congress are the American people themselves. A leader who admits to potential illegality, but refuses to be subject himself to the laws of men, is not a “president” of a republic, he is a tyrant.

In normal countries inhabited by free men and women of strength and vigor, a self-pardon would be about the point where people went to war. If the president will not subject himself to the law, if the Congress will not hold him accountable to the law, if the courts will not agree that the law can even be applied to the president, then it falls to the people to defend their rights to constitutional government.

Like impeachment, this option really shouldn’t be so low on the list. But we are a fat, weak, decadent people. I don’t believe we have the strength to fight tyranny. We literally can’t even get on the same page to find the strength to fight American Airlines.

A self-pardon is not going shock us to action. Trump shooting people in the streets would not shock us to action. Scroll back to the top: the most likely legal consequence of Trump pardoning himself is… nothing.

We’ll do nothing. Nothing will be done. We don’t have bread and circuses, but nachos and football seem to be all most Americans need out of this government.
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