November 18, 2020

Message to Joe Biden: Sacrificing Accountability for Unity is Bad Idea

bald eagle

Accountability is important. Specifically, it is important that we hold high-profile offenders accountable for their actions for at least three reasons. First, doing so says something about us (i.e., that we understand the importance of justice and value it enough to pursue it even when we might prefer not to do so). Second, it communicates that nobody is above the law and that money and political power do not entitle one to engage in bad acts. Third, it makes it somewhat less likely that people in similar positions of power will commit similar offenses in the future.

It sounds like Donald Trump may escape accountability for his actions because Joe Biden thinks this will be helpful for his unity agenda. He's probably right. After all, don't you remember what happened when Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress looked the other way on Dick Cheney's confessed war crimes? Remember how may Republicans decided to work with President Obama after all his nonsense about "looking forward?" Remember how Republican voters came together with Democrats in the interest of unity and how much Obama was able to accomplish in his first term as a result? Yeah, that's not how I remember it either. Letting Cheney avoid responsibility for having people tortured in our name did irreparable harm from which we still haven't recovered. While I'm not sure Trump has done anything quite so egregious, allowing him to escape accountability speaks volumes about us. And letting his behavior go unchecked almost certainly means that we must expect more of the same from a future president.

I don't blame Biden for not wanting his administration to become mired in lengthy investigations of Trump that may go nowhere. But this doesn't have to mean relieving Trump of all responsibility. My guess is that whatever investigations and/or prosecutions we might have seen would take place at the state rather than federal level. Biden could get out of the way and let state DAs pursue justice on behalf of their constituents. His administration could cooperate and decide on the basis of the evidence uncovered whether they might need to be involved at a later date. What Biden should not do is what he appears to be doing now and signaling that he doesn't want Trump investigated (or worse, that he might pardon him). He may think this will result in unity, but it will merely result in a mass exodus of progressives from the Democratic party.

Healing a deeply divided nation is going to be challenging, but it cannot mean letting the highest profile offender we have seen in some time escape accountability for his actions. This will do more harm than good. If the investigations yield insufficient evidence to support prosecutions and/or civil suits, then so be it. The thing is, I suspect Biden and his advisors know this is unlikely to be the case. And so, they need to step aside and allow the investigations to unfold without interference. This isn't about pettiness or a desire for revenge; this is about making sure the rule of law applies to everyone.