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There is no ignoring a bully
...and God forbid we pardon one
When I was in eighth grade, I was bullied by two boys every day. Throughout that miserable year, my loyal, feisty friend, Mary Teresa, spoke up in my defense. But she and I were outnumbered by the raft of adults who never intervened and our scores of fellow students who either laughed or looked the other way.
When I asked my parents what I could do to make the boys stop, they repeatedly told me to just ignore it. So I did. The abuse never let up until I graduated at the end of the year.
What I learned from that lost year is two-fold: Doing nothing never makes a problem go away. Ignoring bullies only emboldens them.
This is not a bid for sympathy, but to explain my core belief about the perilous times we will experience in our country and our politics in the next 18 months.
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Donald Trump is facing 78 felony counts in three criminal cases as I write this and may soon rack up more charges in a fourth. Many people are terrified of the implications of his legal troubles and the unrest that may roil the country in the coming months. There are legitimate worries over the prospect of Trump being indicted, convicted or even facing prison time. His supporters are threatening violence if a court finds Trump guilty and he faces imprisonment; others are saying guilty verdicts would spark a civil war.
Like the political arsonist he is, Trump has encouraged the turmoil by doing what he does best: lying and threatening. He has run commercials riddled with falsehoods attacking all the prosecutors in the cases he faces. The lawyers involved have gotten repeated death threats, particularly Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, whose major offenses are that she is black, female and seemingly unafraid.
In the face of all this any number of pundits have suggested that President Biden should pardon his predecessor. A Google search on “pardon Donald Trump” brings millions of hits. Articles suggesting the possibility of a pardon have run in The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Hill, and other credible publications.
But Trump is a bully. Pardoning him would essentially ignore all he has done to damage democracy and reward him for his sociopathy. It would make his behavior worse. For as I discovered at 13, a bully cannot be ignored. A pardon or any short-circuit of the legal consequences that Trump is facing would only encourage another fascist wannabe to run for president.
Our democracy must not crumble in the face of this confrontation.
We’ve been here before, of course, and not just when President Gerald R. Ford in 1974 granted Richard Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon” of any crimes he committed during the Watergate scandal. Dozens of people were indicted and convicted, but Nixon had the legal cloak of immunity from the consequences of his actions.
But go back further.
After the Civil War, federal troops remained in the South for a decade while Washington tried to enforce political equality for African Americans, nearly all of whom were formerly enslaved, and voting rights for men of color. But a political deal after the contested 1876 presidential election ensured that the troops would withdraw. The unwillingness of the North to continue fighting for policies of equality, its desire to walk away, enabled mostly southern states to terrorize African Americans for more than 80 years. More than 4,000 died in lynchings. Countless others were tortured. Voting rights were quashed. Jim Crow segregation became the new way to oppress people of color. It also became the appalling model for Nazis to discriminate against and segregate Jews.
The unpardonable cost of ignoring bullies crushed a people for years.
I have not one doubt that the next year and a half in the life of our country will be hard. And, frankly, I have avoided writing a column on The Donald because I am truly and utterly sick of him. He has sucked the oxygen out of the news for eight years and will apparently continue to do so for quite some time.
Attention on him takes away the focus on so much else, especially good things: Picking sunflowers. The incongruous, but joyful experience I had last week of watching my 72-year-old brother Tim play hopscotch with my 4-year-old granddaughter Ellie, both taking turns skipping down a Buffalo sidewalk. And then there are the beautiful Perseid meteor showers, which appear every August and which peaked Sunday night.
There is so much life to believe in. That’s what I prefer to think about and write about.
Trump is both a bully and a problem of democracy. I learned at 13 that there is no going around a confrontation like this. He is the playground thug that nobody should pardon or back away from and none of us should ignore.