Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Jesse Wegman: Biden Can Heal What Trump Broke
Now that Mr. Trump is finally out of office, President Biden has the chance to lead America forward.
For a long time, Jan. 20, 2021, seemed like a day that might never come. It sat there far down the calendar, a tantalizing hint of a moment when America might at last be freed from the grip of the meanest, most corrupt and most incompetent presidency in the nation’s history.
The countdown was measured first in weeks, then in days, then hours and minutes, as though Americans were anticipating the arrival of a new year. In this case, it was not just the intense desire of more than 81 million Americans to turn the page on an abominable administration, but a legitimate fear of what Donald Trump could do while still in power, especially without the constant distraction of his Twitter feed. (Seriously, what does he do without Twitter?)
In the end, Jan. 20 arrived right on schedule, a cold, blustery Wednesday morning in the nation’s capital. There was no crowd on the National Mall this time, only a smattering of guests in carefully spaced folding chairs, in front of a vast field of flags. At 10 minutes to noon, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Joe Biden. Mr. Biden’s swearing-in as the 46th president, and Kamala Harris’s swearing-in as the first female vice president — both standing on the very spot that Trump-incited rioters had stormed two weeks earlier — was the best possible rebuke of that dark day.
Steven G. Calabresi and Norman L. Eisen: The Problem With Trump’s Odious Pardon of Steve Bannon
It is corrupt and a possible obstruction of justice and should be legally challenged.
Donald Trump is exiting office with a final outburst of constitutional contempt. Like a Borgia pope trading indulgences as quid pro quos with his corrupt cardinals, Mr. Trump on Wednesday used one of the most sweeping powers of the presidency to dole out dozens of odious pardons to a roster of corrupt politicians and business executives as well as cronies and loyalists like Steve Bannon.
The pardon of Mr. Bannon, his former chief strategist, encapsulates the most repugnant aspects of Mr. Trump’s misuse of the pardon power: cronyism, criminality and cultivation of his far-right base. One of us is an originalist Republican and the other a living-Constitution Democrat, but we both think pardons like that of Mr. Bannon may be unconstitutional. [..]
Mr. Trump did not have the constitutional power to obstruct justice by failing to faithfully execute the law through pardons of associates like Mr. Bannon, who could potentially testify against him. The Constitution and its amendments work like a giant power of attorney by which the founding generation, and their successors, We the People, have delegated certain limited and enumerated powers to the president, Congress, the federal courts and the states. The president is empowered to take care that the laws be faithfully executed and not to break them.
Jeffrey Crouch: If Trump issued secret pardons, they won’t work
Jeffrey Crouch, an assistant professor of American politics at American University, is author of “The Presidential Pardon Power.”
Donald Trump left office with a spree of last-minute pardons, but is it possible there are more? Did the norm-breaking president break one more on his way out the door, issuing pardons in secret to his friends, family or even himself, break-in-case-of-emergency documents to be produced if necessary? If so, that would be a legally dubious step, inconsistent with the pardon power.
If Trump prepared pardons without telling anyone, he probably saw them as a way to satisfy two competing goals: avoiding offending Republican senators who could still vote to convict him in his impeachment trial and having a hidden defense ready if the Biden Justice Department proceeds against Trump or those close to him. Keeping the pardons quiet unless they are needed would also prevent Trump from appearing to dare the Justice Department to challenge a self-pardon, if he went that unprecedented route.
Nobody knows for certain whether a secret pardon would be upheld in court because it has never been tested. However, the pardon power as imagined by the Constitution’s framers is checked by the ballot box, impeachment and the judgment of history. How can a president be made answerable for decisions that no one knows about?
Charles M Blow: Relief, but Lingering Rage
The fractured Trump administration is now behind us, but the wound is still fresh.
I watched as Donald Trump left the White House on Wednesday, tacky and lacking in grace and dignity — consistent with his life and presidency — and I watched as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of America.
I had many feelings as I observed this pageant of customs. The first was the feeling of having — remarkably, improbably — survived a calamity, like stumbling out of a wrecked car and frantically checking my body for injuries, sure that the shock and adrenaline were disguising the damage done.
To be sure, Trump has done real and lasting damage to this country. He has tested the rules we thought might constrain a president and found them wanting. He has shown the next presidential hopeful with authoritarian tendencies that authoritarianism can gain a foothold here.
Trump taught us, the hard way, that what we took for granted as inviolable was in fact largely tradition, and traditions are not laws. They have no enforcement mechanism. They are not compulsory.
There is the feeling of releasing resistance, of allowing the tension in the neck to relax and the shoulders to drop. It is the feeling of exhaling. It is the feeling of returning to some form of normalcy — a normal presidency, a normal news cycle, a normal sleep habit.
Trump’s incitement was crucial whipping right-wing mobs to violence. Muting him helped settle them down
After the violent but failed insurrection of Jan. 6, federal and state authorities were understandably terrified about violence on Inauguration Day. The FBI warned of threats of violence not just in Washington D.C. on January 20, but all 50 state capitols, the homes of prominent members of Congress, and other federal buildings across the country. This was hardly an idle concern. The same far right channels that were used to organize the insurrection were alight with excitement about another round, and Inauguration Day was the target. One of the organizers of the “Stop the Steal” rally that kicked off the insurrection spent the days after upping the ante, promising to “bring hell to my enemies” and declaring “I am the tool to stab” Trump’s political opponents.
Yet Inauguration Day came and went in relative peace.
The calm was maintained not just in D.C., where the presence of 25,000 National Guard troops was an intimidating deterrent to would-be insurrectionists, but the planned pro-Trump protests at state capitols barely materialized — with mostly a few disparate and sad sign-wavers, rarely numbering more than a dozen at any single location. Outside the perimeter in D.C. set up by the National Guard, journalists outnumbered the Trump supporters so badly that any redhats who bothered to show up got swarmed by photographers. Only Portland, Oregon seemed to have seen any real violence, possibly only because the antifa and fascist groups that have spent the past four years street fighting there seemed interested in one final go-round.
There’s a number of reasons that Inauguration Day ended up being relatively peaceful.
For one thing, legal authorities took the threat seriously and took significant preventive action. For another, the mass arrests of the insurrections by federal law enforcement sent a signal that the impunity that Trump supporters were feeling was misplaced. But most importantly, the main driver of insurrectionist sentiment and the man who instigated the Capitol riot — Donald Trump — wasn’t on hand to incite more violence.