Trump Shouldn’t Escape Accountability

Donald Trump’s fantasy election victory in the final weeks of his unorthodox presidency undermines Joe Biden’s forthcoming term in office and should be met with punishment by the incoming administration.

The outgoing president must be held accountable for his creeping autocratic actions during the past four years in which he tried to overturn American democracy. Impeachment accomplished nothing.

The repeated failures of Trump’s attempts to overthrow the election results in the courts, including the Supreme Court, and with the help of appointed allies and elected officials has led to more desperate measures.

One of the more surreal suggestions expressed in a contentious Dec. 18 meeting in the Oval Office — once the heart of the free world – reportedly was for Trump to declare martial law in the swing states and have the military run another election there.

That bright idea emerged from Gen. Michael Flynn, a fired national security adviser whom Trump pardoned from prison following his conviction for lying to the FBI. Flynn made the suggestion on the right-wing Newsmax TV outlet.

“He could order . . . the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities, and he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states,” Flynn said.

Trump’s advisers reportedly squelched the idea.

Another proposal was for Trump’s fired lawyer and conspiracy theorist, Sidney Powell, to be appointed special counsel to investigate what the president views without a shred of evidence to be a fraudulent election. The wild idea reportedly was abandoned.

Attorney General William P. Barr, the onetime Trump sycophant who has resigned, appeared to be fed up with the president and his outrageous demands. He has served notice he will not investigate voter fraud, as Trump had asked.

“If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one,” he told a news conference. “But I haven’t, and I’m not going to.”

Apparently suffering delusions and bouts of extreme desperation, Trump has surrounded himself with a coven of radical conspiracists who tell him what he wants to hear about the election. All they needed was a cauldron.

“None of this should come as a surprise,” wrote Peter Wehner, vice president of the Ethics and Policy Center, in Dec. 20. “. . . The key to deciphering him (Trump) was his psychology – his disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies.”

Much will be on Biden’s plate once he is sworn in as president, with the pandemic his first order of business. But in the wings is the question of what he should do, if anything, about the crimes Trump pursued while in office. Biden is anxious to unite the country, not risk dividing it further.

“President Biden should pursue legal action against Trump and even some of his Republican cronies in Congress and in the White House who have enabled Trump’s illegal actions,” Susan Tiefenbrun emailed me in response to a query. She is a retired professor emerita of international law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she lives. She directed its Center for Global Legal Studies.

French President conferred the Legion of Honor, his country’s highest award, on her in 2003 for fostering cooperation between France and the United States.

“Trump has committed abuse of power, obstruction of justice, dereliction of duty to combat the COVID virus early . . . and he has tampered with the voting process, which is a felony,” she wrote. “All of these acts and many more are crimes worthy of serious consideration by the United States legal system.”

James Fallows, a staff writer for The Atlantic, proposed in the magazine’s January-February 2021 edition that Biden appoint at least three commissions to investigate Trump’s presidency. He quoted Sam Berger of the Center for American Progress as part of his reasoning for his recommendation.

“. . . There may be good-faith concerns that addressing the administration’s misconduct will be too divisive, set a bad precedent, or lead to political pushback from the administration’s supporters,” Berger wrote in  2019.

“But the lesson from the past four years is clear: The absence of accountability is treated as license to escalate abuses of power.”

I agree. Trump and fascist Trumpism has gotten away with too much. Ours is a country of laws, a hoped-for example to others, not some godforsaken outlier state.

“Today, it is not too much to say that we are only one election from the end of the American experiment,” wrote Reed Galen, co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, in a recent opinion piece for the Post.

“Until and unless we excise and remove Trumpism from American life, the foundations of our democracy – that make all the other arguments and actions possible — will collapse,” he wrote. “We cannot allow this on our watch.”

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.