With the exception of his insane Twitter account, President Donald Trump has been AWOL since losing his re-election bid to former Vice President Joe Biden.
Like Punxsutawney Phil, the shy varmint who predicts the length of winter, Mr. Trump emerges from the den of superspreader inactivity that is the West Wing only when there is a ceremonial gesture he enjoys enough to risk accidentally seeing the shadow of electoral loss and ridicule again.
The annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey at the White House — a ritual pantomiming of justice and mercy presidents engage in to show their folksy connection to the American people — is one of those ceremonial gestures Mr. Trump enjoys.
This year, the ritual has additional political significance as speculation heats up about which of his convicted associates would receive pardons for federal crimes committed on Mr. Trump’s behalf before Mr. Biden’s Justice Department can be sworn in.
The day before Thanksgiving, Mr. Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. Paul Manafort, the former chair of the president’s election team, is likely to be a recipient of a pardon, too. Like Mr. Flynn and political consultant Roger Stone, whose sentence he commuted earlier this year, he never “rolled over” on the boss. Other politically connected white-collar criminals who exhibited loyalty to Mr. Trump over the Constitution will be rewarded as he heads out the door.
This is all a precursor to what is expected to be the most outrageous and brazen presidential pardon in American history — Mr. Trump’s pardoning of himself of all federal crimes.
More sophisticated observers than myself say this is an unlikely scenario, though they don’t rule out the possibility of Mr. Trump resigning and leaving it to Vice President Mike Pence as the newly installed 46th POTUS to pardon him and his crime syndicate family ahead of Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
While it is a certainty that Mr. Trump is already scheming creative ways to escape as many appearances before the bar of justice as possible after he’s finally ejected from the White House, he is still the de facto “boss of bosses” of the Justice Department nominally administered by the servile Bill Barr.
Mr. Trump will use his pardon powers in the most capricious, corrupt and self-dealing ways imaginable. What he won’t do is pursue any strategy that resembles a prudent and thoughtful use of such vast discretionary powers. It’s easier for a vain and ridiculous man shrouded in electoral defeat to pardon turkeys without any hint of irony than wrestle with weightier questions of justice and mercy.
Right now, the Justice Department is on a killing spree made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
Earlier this year, the divided court lifted an informal moratorium against federal executions that has been in place since 2003. The Trump administration’s DOJ has now overseen more federal executions in one year than the previous 56 years combined.
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The Trump DOJ plans to execute three more federal death row inmates before the inauguration just to show who’s the real boss of life and death around here, especially since President-elect Biden has promised to work with Congress to pass legislation eliminating the federal government’s complicity in the murder of its own citizens while encouraging state legislatures to follow suit.
Because of the systemic racial and class bias in criminal justice, an increasing number of Americans question the fairness and efficacy of the death penalty. It’s also a big economic drain on the criminal justice system.
No one is claiming that the two men and one woman scheduled for death-by-injection before Jan. 20 are innocent. The crimes for which they’ve been convicted are beyond heinous, though the degree of personal culpability due to mitigating factors like psychosis in one case and simply being a part of a crew that committed a ghastly crime in another can be endlessly debated.
Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on the federal death row docket, has gotten most of the attention. If her death sentence isn’t commuted to life without parole by Mr. Trump, she’ll be the first woman executed by the federal government in seven decades.
Regardless of her mental state at the time, Montgomery murdered a pregnant woman and stole her unborn child. That’s a crime that warrants at least a few decades removed from society.
But it seems hypocritical for an administration that has separated parents and children, including infants from mothers at our southern border without any legal or bureaucratic guarantee that they’ll ever be reunited, would reserve for itself the right to execute someone for separating a mother from a child despite the lethality of the crime.
The rush to kill Montgomery is unseemly and a prime example of the administration’s selective morality when it comes to mothers and children.
“These federal executions are not about justice nor about the victims’ families. This is a political show of force by an administration that is a habitual offender when it comes to the abuse of power,” Sister Helen Prejean, one of the nation’s most prominent death penalty opponents tweeted back in August.
But Mr. Trump is not going to be deterred from extracting as much blood and death during this holiday season as he can. One would think that the nearly 260,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 under his watch would be enough death by negligence to throw his karmic cycle out of whack for eternity, but a fragile ego always requires more bloody tribute — not less.
Presiding maskless over the ceremonial pardoning of the turkey, Mr. Trump went through the motions knowing that his actions rarely connect with broader questions of justice. His pardons and acts of clemency are just more examples of self-dealing and the pursuit of self-interest. He has no coherent theory of criminal justice except doing whatever it takes to prevent him from ever having to put on an orange jumpsuit that will match his complexion perfectly.
Even as he pardoned the turkey, Mr. Trump knew that his Thanksgiving Festival of Death would proceed in its usual mob boss-like way at the White House. There would be the ceremonial passing of the casserole of cruelty at the dinner table and the tossing of the gnawed drumsticks to assorted lackeys and stooges. It would be followed by the carving of the just-pardoned bird along with the ritual scooping of stuffing mixed with the tears of the perpetually outraged. Mr. Trump’s last Thanksgiving subsidized by the American taxpayer he holds in such obvious contempt was likely a mirthless affair knowing that justice of the decidedly unbloody kind is just around the corner.