Guest Columnist

Not even a 'great' man is above the law

President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, No
President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Over the past four years Donald Trump has proclaimed his special place among all presidents before him. He sees a line of pygmies followed by a giant. None have measured up to the gold standard reflected in a White House bathroom mirror, daily if not hourly. The election doesn’t seem to have changed that self-appraisal.

The delusion of unique greatness (“great” being Trump’s favorite adjective) began with the inaugural crowd when he saw people who weren’t there. From people to policy was a quick trip: doing more for people of color than anyone since Lincoln is a favorite trope; a rising economy has resulted from his wisdom; a falling one from bad decisions at the Federal Reserve and by Barack Obama. He, the mirror tells him, has alone made America great again.

And the 63 million Americans who voted for him in 2016 apparently still believe in him. They see him as he does himself: a man of singular achievement.

But his real distinction may lie ahead. He may become the only former president in our history indicted and possibly convicted of a state or federal crime.

The Southern District of New York, unshackled by the disappearance of Attorney General Bill Barr, will inevitably open their existing files on Donald Trump. We don’t know what is there, of course, but we can make a guess from what we have read: violations of the emolument clause, tax evasion, bank fraud, and violation of laws covering nonprofit foundations.

Tax evasion is not a parking ticket, but a serious unlawful act whose penalties can range from a fine to a prison sentence. And the State of New York may pursue cases where a federal pardon is not possible. Trump at Rikers Island is not impossible, although other prisoners may object to his proximate presence ruining the neighborhood.

Beyond surmise, there are some reported facts that suggest broken laws covering campaign finance. Stormy Davis was hardly a get-out-the-vote intern. But even that pales before evidence of suborning perjury and obstructing justice. And there must be information we don’t know.

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Without doubt, if there is an indictment, Donald Trump, ex-president, won’t go silently. He will bellow his innocence, claiming he is being persecuted for fighting off socialism, and his success against rioting, looting, and Black Lives Matter.

He could pardon himself, but that implicitly admits guilt. He could step down and let a newly inaugurated President Pence issue the pardon, but that involves trusting someone, however obsequious.

What gives me pause about bringing Donald Trump to trial is that the courthouse will be surrounded by red-capped protesters, some likely armed. Seventy-one million people voted for Donald Trump this year and they will deny facts, procedure, and decisions that don’t fit their fantasy world.

Anger, like the coronavirus, may spread among them in a frightening way. Incitement to riot may be President Donald Trump’s egregious secular sin.

More division, protest, paranoia across the country, and partisan division in Congress is inevitable. Fanned by Trump himself and a covey of family and political surrogates, rancor will reign. It will impede, possibly make impossible, Joe Biden’s pledge to heal, not further divide.

Despite that, is it worth it? Yes, it is. We don’t have a choice. It will announce once again that no man, however great in his own eyes, is above the law

Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary, and authored a memoir “From Nowhere to Somewhere.”

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