“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” noted English writer Samuel Johnson over 200 years ago. And yet, it appears to perfectly mirror Donald Trump’s present predicament.
Mr Trump’s presidential tenure officially ends at noon on January 20, a reality that, amidst allegations of sedition, has concentrated his mind so wonderfully that he’s not only accepted his loss but promised a “smooth and orderly” transition to his successor Joe Biden.
The President who never gave a fig for posterity’s opinion of him previously now seems to concede that history’s opinion of his presidency might matter, after all.
Whether history will afford a similarly smooth transition into retirement for Mr Trump is less clear, however. House Speaker Nancy Pelossi wants to impeach him while his allies have belatedly adopted health protocols: they’re socially distancing from him.
It may be time for Plan B, thought the Donald and brooded vengefully about the appalling lack of Christian charity or forgiveness among Members of Congress.
Actually, he had been thinking about forgiveness for some time now. Indeed, he’d first voiced the thought in a 2018 Twitter post: “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.”
It isn’t clear why he felt compelled to shout the P word.
According to Thursday’s New York Times, the President is now floating the idea with his advisors in earnest. The paper described the proposal as something that “would be an extraordinary use of presidential power” by a sitting President.
Mr Trump scoffed. For one thing, he had been standing, not sitting, when the idea struck him, and for another, the correct word the NYT should have employed was “prudential” and not “extraordinary.”
As a businessman who’d presided over six successful bankruptcies, he knew the merit of prudence and judged that a crafty, pre-emptive pardon could keep the wolves at bay.
Mr Trump felt much maligned. He’d been honest in the sense that he thought the average person preferred a simple, uncomplicated lie rather than an incomprehensible truth. And he’d done it his way. In the posh New York neighbourhood where he grew up, the overriding credo ran thus: if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again.
He was old fashioned about things and considered the lack of money to be the root of all evil. And his admirers admired the fortitude with which he, a self-confessed billionaire, tolerated the disadvantage of his great wealth.
Mr Trump has already issued a slew of pardons to political allies and friends including some mercenary contractors accused of crimes against humanity in Iraq. It was fair to say he knew his way around them.
But what might he be afraid of? For starters, newspaper reports have listed perjury, obstruction of justice and the giving of false statements or, in other words, a routine, average, ho-hum White House press conference.
Still, if it ever came to pass, a self-pardon would be unprecedented. No president, not even Richard Nixon, has tried it before, so the courts have not weighed in. In Nixon’s case, he resigned and his successor Gerald Ford subsequently pardoned him.
But there is an old legal axiom that posits that nobody should be the judge in his or her own case.
Stay tuned folks. It promises to get interesting.