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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Begging pardon

Not the first order of business, but . . . January 20, 2021 at 4:03 a.m.

"I was absolutely convinced, as I am now, that if we had had this serious indictment and trial, conviction and anything else that transpired after that, that the attention of the presidency, the Congress, and the American people would have been diverted from the problems that we had to solve, and that was the principle reason for granting the pardon."

--Gerald Ford, 1974

From the editorial pages in Boston and Baltimore and Phoenix, to former FBI Director James Comey, to our own Philip Martin, there is a growing number of people who suggest that Joe Biden should offer a pardon to Donald Trump.

Mostly in an effort to move past the rancor of the last four years and unify the country. Not to mention as a benefit to the Joe Biden administration: How get on with important business if the country has to put most of it on hold for a month to hold another impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate?

The new majority leader in the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York state, has proposed holding trial proceedings for half-days and other Senate business for half-days. Like most of Chuck Schumer's ideas, that one's a doozy. And a recipe for another circus. The American people might be sick of circus acts just now.

Joe Biden was quoted back before the election as saying he wouldn't consider pardoning Donald Trump, should Mr. Biden win. But win he did. And the January after a presidential election hasn't the same environmental (or political) feel that October did.

There are other reasons besides national unity for issuing, or at least offering, a pardon. Not that national unity is a trifling aim. Like the turning of the calendar to a new year, the country seems to start again when new presidents are inaugurated; we're briefly united, and the feeling is good.

But January of 2021 doesn't feel like January of 2009 or January of 2001 or January of 1993. Americans could use a real dose of comaraderie and brotherhood. This week's inauguration address will be the most important since, well, the last one. Here's hoping it's viewed with more success than the last one.

As others have mentioned, a pardon of Donald Trump wouldn't apply to those who stormed the Capitol last week. Nor to state crimes that the president may have committed. And Donald Trump might not even accept the offer. For accepting a pardon would imply that he's guilty of something, and, as Philip Martin mentioned Sunday, Donald Trump would have to admit that not everything he did in office was perfect and totally appropriate.

And one would think that accepting a pardon from Joe Biden--who Donald Trump mocked as weak during the campaign--would be particularly galling to The Donald. But this isn't about Donald Trump. Or shouldn't be. Joe Biden should keep that in mind.

Word has it that if Joe Biden offers such a pardon, the progressive wing in his party would revolt. That's doubtful in the first 100 days of a new administration, but in the first 100 minutes? The AOC wing will get over it.

During the campaign, while speaking in Iowa, the Democratic nominee assured reporters that he wouldn't follow Gerald Ford's example. Not in 2021. One reason: "And I think President Ford, God love him--he's a good guy, I knew him pretty well. I think if he had to do it over again he wouldn't have done it . . . because he didn't get re-elected."

Even if Joe Biden is seriously planning on running again in 2024 (and we doubt it) the whole point of a pardon now would be to show the nation that presidents can put country over politics.

What of justice? Mercy is a part of justice, too. And the country sure could use some mercy just now.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein once said, in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, that Gerald Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon was the "final corruption" of that scandal. Years later, however, Mr. Woodward called the pardon an act of bravery: "I have become more and more convinced that Ford made the correct decision in pardoning Nixon. Nixon had already paid the political death penalty of resignation, and for Ford a pardon was the only way of ending the public and media obsession with his predecessor's future."

Joe Biden can end the Trump saga now. Not because it's best for Donald Trump. But because it's best for the rest of us.


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