Every evening on the news Americans are told that we are at 1,000-plus days into the Trump administration and at the present time we only have less than 200 days until the next election. The assumption and implication is that Trump may lose the election and we will have a new president. While It is very likely that Trump will lose the popular election, it is not at all clear that Trump will respect the results of the election and leave peacefully on January 20, 2021. We have to remember that Trump complained loudly about the results of the last election in 2016, and he WON that one, at least in the electoral college. He claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast and that he actually won the popular vote.
It is important to note that there are 78 days between election day, Nov. 3, and inauguration day, Jan. 20. Trump can do a great deal of damage to the U.S. and the world in that time if and when he loses the popular election. If he loses by a close margin, both popular vote and electoral college, he could try to nullify the vote, declare a “national emergency,” or engage in nefarious activities that could result in immense damage.
Many might say, “He can’t do that.” Not ethically or legally, of course, but that has not stopped him from doing or trying to engage in other illegal activity. Several published reports have mentioned this as a possibility. Even Joe Biden, who is not given to hyperbole, stated, “I think he (Trump) is going to try to kick back the election somehow.”
One needs to remember that the actual election that counts is the day the electoral college votes, which is December 14, 2020. If Trump loses the popular/electoral college vote in November, he could declare a national emergency to try to enforce a lockdown on the various state capitals where those “elections” happen. There are other real possible scenarios, such as a tied electoral college or disputed election (such as the election of 1876-1877). There are other credible scenarios that could arise such as the disputed election of 2000 with Bush/Gore, or where Republican governors might try to alter the results of their electoral votes. There have been three presidents since the year 2000 and two of them have lost the popular vote. If Trump were to win the 2020 election, the nation and the world would face existential challenges.
AN ‘IMPERFECT SOLUTION’
1) MASS PARDONS
2) TRUMP RESIGNATION
3) PENCE PARDONS TRUMP
Can Trump be removed before the election? Impeachment is not viable this year and if Trump were in office in 2021, there is little likelihood that it would work in his second term. Unless there is a medical reason, the 25th Amendment would not be used with the present configuration of Vice President and the Cabinet. Trump’s totally inept handling of the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in 105,000-plus US deaths (when this pandemic is over the number of US deaths will exceed all American deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined). Trump has called his efforts a great success and a badge of honor. There have been calls for Trump to resign for the good of the country. However, there is no indication that Trump cares about the good of the country. He would never admit the obvious, that he is incompetent to do the job.
Trump could be offered a deal that, in his mind, might make sense and provide an exit that could preclude any federal legal problems. The Muller Report and Muller’s testimony before congress stated that Trump could be liable for criminal prosecution for the activities uncovered in the Russia investigation and obstruction, after he leaves office. He could also be investigated for other actions (such as emoluments and bribery) that were not included in the impeachment hearings. Members of his family could be indicted before the end of his term or after for crimes they may have committed.
Many have noted that Trump shows all the signs of a malignant narcissist. However, he may have some feelings for his family. Trump is a transactionalist who trades for goods and services.
Trump could give a Nixon-style pardon to anyone of his choice: Jared, Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric , even Roger Stone or Michael Flynn, or others that he knows might have information that they could use or trade against him. If he did this on a date in the near future he could then immediately resign. Then, within the hour, he could be given a Nixon-style pardon by President Mike Pence. If Trump could manage not to commit a crime after this event, he would not be in danger of going to prison. A Nixon-style pardon is: “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”
One problem that would make this imperfect for U.S. justice is that Trump would escape criminal prosecution for offenses committed while he was president. President Ford said his pardon of Nixon was to spare the country from tumult after Watergate. That is very suspect, of course. Nixon did not deserve mercy and neither does Trump. But every day that Trump is president is a danger to the republic, to the nation and to the world. Many would want justice for Trump, including this author. However, Trump’s recent handling of the urban protests and rebellions around the issue of police brutality, after the brutal murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, gives a serious view of how much more damage Trump can do to the country. And of course, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to grow and kill people, along with the beginnings of another possible Great Depression, are developments that we cannot let Trump continue to make worse—if we can stop him.
Despite the wishes of many people for possible imprisonment of Trump, (even Nancy Pelosi said she wanted Trump in prison, not impeached, before she was finally forced to go the impeachment route), that is unlikely. A serious look at U.S. history indicates that ex-presidents do not go to jail for crimes, war crimes or self-aggrandizement. Not Warren Harding for the Teapot Dome Scandal, not Andrew Johnson for his impeachable offenses (he was not convicted and not removed by only one vote), not Nixon, not Clinton, not Bush II for war crimes (which continue to this day), not Reagan for Iran-Contra, or other presidents. The odds of Trump ever going to jail were always slim at best and based on the mistaken belief that Presidents are not “above the law.” Despite the high school civics lectures to the contrary, the evidence indicates that presidents are in fact treated as “above the law.”
Another “problem” is that Mike Pence, barring a Spiro Agnew (Nixon’s Vice-president) resignation moment, would become President and he is perhaps even more right-wing than Trump. But he might be sane and less effective, and he would probably be president for only half a year. He would be a president with the integrity of Richard Nixon and the intelligence of George W. Bush, but that would be an improvement over the current situation. It would not be “good” but maybe we would not have a potentially catastrophic war based on a petulant personal whim. We would still have to resist policy proposals of a Pence administration, but he would probably respect the results of a November election.
CONVINCING TRUMP TO RESIGN
What would be in it for Trump? In addition to keeping himself, his family and accomplices out of prison (assuming they can behave themselves in the future), Trump could claim to his base that he was going to win in November. However, he could avoid the humiliation of losing (and he has little chance of winning the popular vote) and he could make any excuse he wanted for himself and his followers such as he was being treated “unfairly;” that he does not need this job, illness, or he could go with a classic like he “wanted to spend more time with his family.” It would be best if he resigned in July to give both parties time to set up some semblance of normal process. Both party conventions are scheduled for August, but they could be postponed a month or so if done digitally or some other Covid-safe method.
Trump might actually be considering resigning if he loses the election, otherwise he would be criminally liable after he leaves office in 2021. Even though, as indicated above, it is unlikely he would do any real prison time, a public perp walk would be a grave embarrassment. While the chances of him going to jail were always slim, they are not zero without a pardon, but only if he resigns soon. He would still have to deal with state laws, but that can be negotiated (as Spiro Agnew did in Maryland.)
How would one convince Trump that it would be in his best interest to resign ASAP? And indeed, it would be. I am loath to do anything that would benefit Trump, but in this case our very survival may be at stake. Some members of his administration convinced him to end his Covid-19 press briefings, especially after his disastrous advice to inject disinfectants and light treatments into body orifices. Some members of his administration, and especially those who are members of his family, may convince him that he will probably lose the election (and certainly the popular vote) and this could be a face-saving way to leave and still retain whatever money he and his family have. Also, some members of congress, who may face defeat if Trump is at the head of the Republican ticket, may try to convince him to leave with a pardon this summer. Senators Goldwater and Scott convinced Nixon that he should resign in 1974, an act that few saw coming.
POTENTIAL LINGERING PROBLEMS FROM A TRUMP PRESIDENCY
The Covid-19 pandemic will continue to spread and there are other dangers that might be even more devastating. This column started by pointing out the dangers of nuclear confrontations. Even a sub-nuclear conflict that was started or at least caused by the U.S. under Trump could be catastrophic. A nuclear confrontation could be an existential possibility. If Trump loses in November and wants to punish the U.S. people (his activities over the past three years indicate that he does not take rejection well), he could give Americans and the world a “parting gift.”
Just because this type of action would be seen by most sane people as “Unthinkable,” it does not mean that these ideas have not crossed the mind of someone like Trump.
Even if Trump resigns, he and his legacy will continue to do incredible damage to the environment and the climate. We cannot stop those actions in the next few months to the next year, but it is possible to slow them down immensely if we are working on them.
After the day Trump leaves office we could rest up, for about a day, and then continue our work for justice now and next year and onward. We cannot trust that the next administration will solve the problems that can only be solved by people organizing in the workplace, the schools and the streets.
Lawrence Mosqueda is a professor emeritus of Political Economy at The Evergreen State College whose email is email@example.com.