Lately an alarming number of people have offered our president-elect some peculiar advice: Pardon Donald Trump.
The argument goes: in the interest of uniting the country, Joe Biden should cancel the federal lawsuits pending against his predecessor and let America finally turn its attention away from this one toxic person. Just last week, former FBI director James Comey suggested considering a pardon “as part of healing the country and getting us to a place where we can focus on things that are going to matter over the next four years.”
There is a certain soothing logic to this argument, and though Biden has actually pledged not to do this, you can imagine how someone who hopes to reconcile the country’s warring factions might be tempted to give Trump a pass.
But he’d better not. For so many reasons, a presidential pardon would do more dividing than healing. First of all, it would alienate all the far-left progressives who voted for Biden solely out of their hatred for Trump. This would shatter the delicate coalition of Democrats Biden will need to get reelected. And most importantly, we’re all safer with Trump spending his time fending off lawsuits instead of inciting violence and plotting his return in four years.
In 2020, young progressives who weren’t impressed with Biden’s moderate politics voted for him anyway. This wasn’t because of party loyalty; it was because they couldn’t stand Trump. They were willing to “Settle for Biden,” as one popular Instagram account put it, solely because of their revulsion to one political figure. If Biden goes out of his way to do an enormous public favor for that same figure, those voters will feel betrayed—and rightly so. And the danger from losing those votes is not just theoretical. Keep in mind, Trump says he wants to run for president again in 2024, so keeping the far left happy may be the only thing saving us from a second Trump administration.
In the meantime, Trump is less dangerous when he’s preoccupied. Given his wealth and power, none of the many lawsuits he faces are likely to put him in jail, but they could sap his resources. Why free up Trump’s time to foment violence at a rally, or help him save money for his next presidential campaign? The country is safer with him tied up in court.
There’s also something else to consider—what Biden calls the “soul” of the nation. One of Trump’s most toxic legacies is the cynicism he inspired in Americans, including in his opponents. His obvious, constant lawlessness, almost always met with no serious consequences, has made a mockery of the rule of law in this country. On the right, this inflated the myth of his invincibility. On the left, it engendered a despairing sense that the rich and powerful can get away with anything; the justice system just doesn’t work on them. A pardon for Trump at the very moment when his immunity ends, when true accountability can finally begin, could entrench that cynicism for generations. If Biden wants to restore some of his country’s belief in itself, a pardon is not the way to do it.
In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon because he thought it would end “our long national nightmare.” That wasn’t true then, but it’s even less true now. Today our disgraced outgoing president, twice impeached and far more criminal than Nixon, is threatening to use all his dark powers to return to the White House. Pardoning him would not end the nightmare; it would begin it all over again.