“I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?’’
Indeed. Thus spoke American President Donald Trump.
Thus did Trump don the moral and political garb of kings through the ages, from the Sun King, Louis XIV, of France, who ruled beyond the grasp of mere mortals and legal instruments (Or Louis XVI, who pronounced, “I am the State) to England’s monarch’s such as Richard II, Charles I and James I with their presumption of unbridled and unquestioned authority resting within the chain that linked them to God.
Given his latest pronouncement of standing above the law, surely the day has dawned where Trump believes he has assumed the throne, and with it the posture of monarch.
To anyone who can say they have the “absolute right to pardon myself” the absolute right and the right of absolutism are the same thing. By the people, for the people. No. Not here.
This is the hall of mirrors. Unlike Louis XIV’s, which was a feature of the Palace of Versailles, and in which great moments of history were observed, such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, this mirrored space contorts reality.
Trump is widely recognised, and proven to be, a serial liar, but here he enters a realm of perversity where what is right and proper in the context and conduct of justice is no longer so, as it applies to him. Here, nothing applies except what he tweets. This is an act of enabling.
Trump pardoning whomever he wants, for his advantage. To whom is he accountable? This is tyrannical monarchy by tweet.
Trump has fired off a few minor shots from the bow to show he can wield such powers at whim at any time, taking an audience with Kim Kardashian on the need to pardon Alice Marie Johnson of drug charges (which he subsequently did), pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio over contempt charges relating to immigrants and Scooter Libby, former adviser to vice-president Dick Cheney; he also said recently he would pardon Muhammad Ali, whose draft-dodging conviction was overturned decades ago, and therefore whose case does not need one.
Nearly all presidents pardon some people as a last gesture when they leave the White House. But Trump, in the midst of battles over investigations into Russia links, has gone on the offensive. He portrays himself as the wounded party, the innocent victim of vindictive, nasty, people.
And so to rise above all, he must invoke the ultimate get out-of-jail card. He can pardon himself. Doesn’t matter the circumstances, this is all-embracing. So what if he is guilty, he is the chief commander of the universe, chief law enforcement officer, not merely a master of the universe, as Tom Wolfe portrayed the major players of Wall Street, but the chief commander. He owns the big guns, he owns the laws, he owns the right to pardon himself.
He makes Richard Nixon look like a kid from kindergarten. And Nixon said after Watergate hit the fan, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
When Trump became president he swore, or affirm as all presidents must, the Inauguration oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
And yet in a letter from Trump’s lawyers to Robert Mueller, who is head of the Russia investigation, they wrote:
“The President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”
From little things big things grow. Columnist Adam Serwer, in The Atlantic, wrote recently “of the absurd logic of a monarchical system, not a democratic one. For the chief executive to use the power of the state to suppress the opposition while shielding itself from all potential sanction or limitation, is the logic of tyranny”.
For where could this path lead? Trump pardoning whomever he wants, for his advantage. To whom is he accountable? This is tyrannical monarchy by tweet.
In 1610, James I delivered a speech to Parliament in which he was seeking the members’ goodwill for his financial advantage, but which made no uncertain point about his divine rights.
“The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth, for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called gods.”
Trump may be incapable of such a flourish with words, but it is immaterial to him. He can, in his own mind, pardon himself of anything. That being so, it can only be described as a dangerous mind.
Image: The abdication of King Richard II by Andrew Sheerboom