If you think Donald Trump should be prosecuted you’re in good company. Joe Biden thinks so too. According to the New York Times Biden has said privately that he believes Donald Trump should be prosecuted over the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, according to a source. It is an artifact of the President’s respect for both the rule of law and the separation of powers of the government of the United States that compels him to keep publicly quiet on this matter.
I am not so constrained. I routinely say out loud to anyone who will listen that Donald Trump has been and remains an arch criminal who should spend the rest of his days in prison. I hasten to add that this is not a vestige of Trump’s age. I am not suggesting that he should draw a couple of years for being a bad boy and, because he’s old, he’ll probably die in jail. No, I think if Trump were a young man, given what he’s done, he should draw a life sentence — without possibility of parole. And even though I am a staunch opponent of the death penalty, if anyone in the history of jurisprudence ever deserved to be executed for his crimes, Donald John Trump would be first in that line.
After all, Trump is a mass murderer, a rapist, a traitor, a thief, a money launderer and a fraudster. I can’t think of any criminal I know about with so appalling a resume of lawbreaking evil as Trump’s. No one even comes close. There is, in fact, no public figure — let alone criminal — for whom I have more loathing contempt or more hatred than Trump.
The recent and shameful history of the Trump presidency makes it easy for us to forget that the President has no business interfering with the rule of law. His or her job is to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” to the best of his or her ability. The President is Constitutionally constrained to leave law enforcement up to others — specifically the DOJ and the States. This was a constraint that Trump entirely ignored, of course. He used Bill Barr and the DOJ as his personal instrument of vengeance — as far as he was permitted to.
Of course Trump, who has never had an unspoken thought and, up until the last year or so, never had an untweeted thought, thinks lots of people should go to prison. That the vast majority of those people are innocent of any criminal offense is a matter of no importance to hypocrite Trump, because he is evil.
Trump’s baseless, inappropriate charges of criminal behaviour are legendary, from his false claim that Hillary Clinton should be imprisoned for life for the minor infraction of using an unsecured email system to transmit non-classified messages, to his false claim that Barack Obama spied on him, to the evidence-free Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Trump has never been shy about shooting off his big, stupid mouth with fabrications about other people’s alleged criminality.
Biden, who is the bigger and better man by far, has the dignity and decorum to understand that it’s not his place to say who goes to prison and who doesn’t. Let us not forget that Richard Nixon was widely (and properly) excoriated for publicly voicing the opinion that Charles Manson was guilty of murder. Manson very nearly drew a mistrial because of it. It’s just not the place of the President of the United States to publicly comment on such matters.
Whether or not Trump goes to prison, though, depends on a lot more than my opinion and the private opinion of the President. Between Trump and prison stands a mighty succession of events. First he must be indicted. Then he must stand trial. Then he must be found guilty of his crimes by a jury of his peers. Then he must be sentenced to prison by a judge. That is what we mean by Due Process, and it is a true test of our own individual beliefs in the American system of justice and the litmus test of our patriotism to insist that Due Process applies to everyone, including Donald Trump.
None of those events have yet to occur, of course, and the chances that they will are entirely unknown to me. America has never jailed a former president, so I can’t speak to the odds. I can only hope that this time justice will be done to someone who absolutely deserves it.
I know that America has failed to imprison a lot of people who have deserved to go to prison in the past, from murdering cops to lynch mobs to the bankers who caused the economic collapse of 2008. In every case the people who got off scot-free were rich or powerful or respected or, almost inevitably, white. Donald Trump is apparently all those things — and appearance is what matters. That’s why I’m nervous, and I certainly understand why many of you are nervous, brothers and sisters.
But I’m also heartened. Joe Biden is quietly and privately on our side in this. And one thing I’ve noticed since he took office: if Joe Biden thinks a thing should happen, it has a very good chance of happening. Knowing that he’s with us, that Trump should be prosecuted, fills me with hope. I have never been more hopeful. We will have to see what the future brings, and in the end have faith that the American system of justice will bring us the justice we all so justly deserve. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.