EDITORIAL: 'You ain’t seen nothin’ yet' from Trump

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump smiles as he speaks at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast, at the Washington Hilton, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

On the eve of the 1984 presidential election, popular Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan told the nation during a televised address, “America’s best days lie ahead, and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

In the wake of his Republican-furnished, witness-free, bum-rush acquittal this month, President Trump has demonstrated a similar sentiment.

Not the part about America’s best days lying ahead; the nation’s least ethical, most self-serving and endlessly corrupt president put a stake through the heart of that argument years ago. By deed, however, the president has in essence told the nation, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In fact, ever since Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and his Republican partymates in the Senate acquitted Trump for abuse of power, he’s done little else but abuse his power.

More:Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to 40 months in prison

More:Trump ousts top defense official who certified Ukraine aid

More:Trump goes on clemency spree, commuting sentence for Blagojevich, pardoning Milken, others

More:After acquittal, Trump unleashes fury at impeachment

The president’s parade of personal-favor pardons this week is just the latest of his norm-defying, authoritarian and politically provocative post-impeachment moves.

And among the most noxious.

It would be hard to gather a less-deserving crop of deservedly disgraced designees for exoneration. Notorious “junk bond king” Michael Milken, for example, pleaded guilty to several counts of securities violations. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges. And former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was imprisoned for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

None went through the traditional Justice Department review and vetting process. All had some connection to the White House or its media outlet, Fox News. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, for instance, campaigned repeatedly on the network for her husband’s release.

And having seen their crimes expunged by presidential fiat, they’re echoing the defiant lack of contrition the president himself expressed following his Senate acquittal. “This was persecution masquerading as prosecution,” crowed self-avowed “Trumpocrat” Blagojevich — who had the temerity to call himself a “freed political prisoner.” Please.

The pardons, commutations and clemencies are just once facet of what is beginning to look like a campaign of authoritarianism:

  • Several administration officials who complied with congressional subpoenas and testified during the House impeachment inquiry (as they were legally required to do) have been summarily dismissed. 
  • Trump took to Twitter to complain that the Justice Department’s suggested seven- to nine-year prison sentence for his convicted buddy Roger Stone, who was found guilty of seven crimes including lying to Congress during the Mueller investigation, was too severe. Attorney General William Barr promptly accommodated the president by reducing the recommended sentence, leading the four Justice Department prosecutors on the case to quit and more than 1,100 lawyers to demand Barr’s resignation.
  • For good measure, Trump has also berated and disparaged the judge in the Stone case on Twitter and has hinted he may well pardon Stone. The judge ended up sentencing Stone Thursday to a 40-month prison term. Still the unprecedented political pressure sends a clear message: Never mind fair and equitable justice, Trump is the law.

Amid the rampant abuses, it’s easy to forget that the post-impeachment president also called a formal White House gathering to “celebrate” his acquittal (and demean Democratic lawmakers and those who testified at the House hearings), has referred to himself as a king, has been accused in court papers of offering to pardon imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in exchange for Assange saying Russia had nothing to do with hacked Democratic party emails.

It all adds up to a frightening display of tyrannical tendencies and we have Senate Republicans (with the admirable exception of Mitt Romney) to thank for it.

More frightening still: the distinct possibility that we ain’t see nothin’ yet.