“The president is not above the law.” This phrase was used very frequently following Donald Trump’s presidency, especially during the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings. Since there are so many legal cases involving Trump that are pending, some Americans, myself included, are curious to see if Trump will actually be convicted of a crime.
The obvious historical parallel to draw to is former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. After Nixon’s resignation because of the Watergate Scandal, Ford took office. As acting president, he contacted Nixon’s lawyers and told them he wanted to pardon Nixon.
According to Ford's televised address, he wanted to pardon Nixon because it was in the best interests of the country to do so, and the scandal was a “tragedy” that every American played a part in. He also said the “tragedy” could either go on forever, or he could put an end to it then by pardoning Nixon — which he did.
For clarification, Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was unpopular among Americans; his approval rating plummeted from 71% to 50%, according to Gallup. It was also unpopular to Nixon himself, who initially told Ford he didn’t want a pardon because he had done nothing wrong. During these discussions, where Ford had to talk Nixon into accepting a pardon, Ford’s only stance was that Nixon sign a statement of contrition, stating remorse for what happened. Nixon declined to write one, and Ford pardoned him anyway.
For decades, it was unclear to many why Nixon was pardoned. His crimes had been revealed, and the general public had had enough of him. However, in an article from journalist Bob Woodward, Ford was quoted as saying the true reason behind the pardon was his friendship with Nixon.
This is not a story of friendship, however. It is a story of the most powerful man in the country being held accountable for his actions, only for his successor to step in and prevent him from facing justice. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that Donald Trump will be convicted of any crimes. But, if he is, he should not be pardoned, just like Nixon should not have been.
An argument often cited is that it would be incredibly disheartening for the U.S. — as well as the rest of the world — to see a former president face criminal charges. But, isn’t it more disheartening that the president had done something criminal? And furthermore, isn’t it more disheartening for the president to get off scot-free for doing something criminal?
Some may say if their crimes are revealed, the president does not get off scot-free. Their public image is tarnished. To those people, I point to former President Bill Clinton. His use of power, as the president, to coerce intern Monica Lewinsky and others into sexual activities was made very public, and he still shows up at every Democratic National Convention. The general public can turn against someone all they want, but if that person has wealthy friends and money of their own, they will most likely be fine, no matter how heinous the act..
If the U.S. democracy needs to be restabilized and made healthy again, then we need to start by proving that presidents can be convicted of crimes. We need to show that we are a nation of equals, where no one, not even a former president, deserves special privilege.