Trump to flee the USA? I’d bet on it

At one of Trump’s recent rallies he said this:

Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do? I’m going to say ‘I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics.’ I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know.

This was supposedly said in jest. There’s just one problem. Have you ever heard Donald Trump laugh?

Not me, not once. Trump has no sense of humor at all as best I can tell. That’s because he doesn’t understand the root of humor. What makes something humorous varies from person to person. Mostly it’s about surprise. You expect to hear something but what you get is not what you expect and it’s usually something off the wall, and that’s often what makes it humorous. Would it surprise you at all if Donald Trump left the country after he is badly defeated? It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, I’m expecting he’ll do just this.

There’s also the benign violation theory of humor. Humor arises in if there is both a violation from civil norms and it’s a non-threatening violation. Leaving the country to live elsewhere (likely a country without an extradition agreement with the United States, in Trump’s case) is definitely a violation of a civic norm. Is this non-threatening? Not to most of us. If Trump committed any crimes, we would like him to be held accountable for them. We’d feel threatened if he put himself outside of the law.

He wouldn’t emigrate unless he felt he would be held accountable for violating the law. It would be humorous if Trump chose to move to, say, Sweden. It would be funny because we don’t expect that Sweden would let him become a permanent resident and because it’s a socialist state. But we already sense Sweden wouldn’t have him, so that suggestion would be funny, but it’s not one that Trump uttered. He’s incapable of making this mental leap and seeing the humor in it. We all know what he’s really talking about: moving somewhere outside of the reach of U.S. law and which would accommodate his lifestyle. Offhand, only Russia comes to mind but he wouldn’t be too happy there. Now Trump moving to Iran, now that would be funny.

Trump raises this because it’s on his mind. As I posited in my last post, he knows he’s going to lose. Moreover, he’s getting desperate. In today’s Washington Post we learn that he’s considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray because he won’t indict Joe and Hunter Biden, like he wants him to do. The lack of evidence doesn’t bother him. The same fate may await Attorney General Bill Barr, who generally has bent over backward to accommodate Trump. Waiting until after the election to fire them though assumes that Trump wins. There’s little chance of that. Firing them after an election he loses is kind of pointless. It won’t change the fact that he lost.

Trump is privy to his actual crimes. Even non-lawyers like me can see there would be no problem filing charges. Once he is out of office, there’s no reason not to, as he is no longer untouchable. It’s likely that New York State has a set ready to file on January 21. Trump though doesn’t want to live elsewhere, which is why I suspect before he leaves office, he will try to pardon himself. If he gets too much heat for the idea, he’ll plan to resign on the condition that Mike Pence will pardon him.

Pardoning himself looks legally dubious at best, but with three of nine justices appointed by him, it’s not out of the question they would decide it’s legal. Actually, the constitution seems to forbid it. The clause is:

The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump has been impeached, but not convicted, so there is some wiggle room there. But grant on the other hand has a more specific meaning. In most interpretations, granting is something done to someone else (the grantee) by the grantor. It would take some stretching to interpret it otherwise.

In either event, the safer course for Trump will be to go somewhere else until courts rule in his favor, somewhere outside of U.S. law. So, I can certainly see him holing up in some country like Russia hoping to eventually come home. Better safe than sorry, though.

We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. But if you are looking for someone to say Trump will either try to pardon himself or resign to get Pence to do it, you heard it here first. It would not be surprising in the least. Trump has spent a lifetime dodging accountability, so it’s part of his playbook. And since most of us in our hearts know Trump is likely to do something like this, it’s not unexpected, and also not humorous.

When the extent of his crimes is uncovered, most of us will regret that witch burning was outlawed centuries ago.

The Problem with Vengeance

Saddam Hussein has gone to meet his maker. Shortly before dawn this morning, the former Iraqi dictator was hanged. Reputedly, justice was served. Hussein received the same ultimate penalty that he and his henchmen inflicted on reputedly hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Shi’ites during his twenty-five years or so as national dictator and despot. Hussein at least had the benefit of having his guilt established in an open trial. One thing is for sure: Saddam Hussein will not be around to inflict further atrocities.

I certainly understand the need for the survivors of Hussein’s tyranny to see Hussein suffer some small measure of the pain that was inflicted on them and their loved ones. Mesopotamia, after all, gave us Hammurabi, the Babylonian king. Nearly four thousand years ago he invented a form of justice that was still evident in Saddam’s hanging today: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Saddam’s hanging of course could not begin to really equal the voluminous misery he inflicted on others. Still, death is the ultimate penalty. Having Saddam spend a couple of years in prison knowing he was going to pay the ultimate penalty was probably a very miserable experience.

The problem is that by hanging Hussein, the justice that was served did nothing to solve the underlying problem. Rather, by hanging Saddam the violence in Baghdad is likely to worsen. Ninety-two people died from violence in Iraq today. A curfew imposed later in the day will hopefully staunch the violence, although most likely the violence will keep recurring until it is fully expressed. Sunnis will feel even more aggrieved by Saddam’s execution. Shi’ites and Kurds will feel even more righteous. If national unification is the goal, it is hard to see how serving this kind of justice, no matter how lawful and fair, will serve Iraq’s national interests.

Real solutions to Iraq’s sectarian problems can only be solved by changing hearts and minds. Saddam’s execution was thus counterproductive toward those ends. All sides will be more inclined to dig in their heels and less inclined to work toward national reconciliation. Imagine if during our Civil War we had captured General Robert E. Lee and had him hung for treason and for ordering the murdering hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers. It is unlikely that the Confederacy would have suddenly felt the desire to sue for peace.

What then does this execution really accomplish? While it does give survivors some feeling of vengeance, I am not persuaded that vengeance as a form of justice will be much of a deterrence. By definition, no sane people would engage in violent crime in the first place. Millenniums pass by and regardless of how lax or strict the execution of our laws is, violence continues at roughly the same levels it always has.

I think that vengeance is like throwing wood onto a fire: it keeps it going. What is needed is something that will douse the fire. What justice for Saddam Hussein would have served both as punishment and have served the interests of the stability of Iraqi society?

In countries like Liberia and South Africa, truth and reconciliation commissions have proved to be effective vehicles for mending societies torn by decades of strife. Such a commission in Iraq could have done much to reduce sectarian tensions by allowing victims to air their grievances. Now that Saddam is dead, those who did not have a chance to formally air those grievances feel in some measure that they were not heard, and consequently justice was not served for them. The Kurds suffered thousands of deaths because of chemical attacks ordered by Saddam Hussein. Their rage, which should have had the opportunity to be expressed in a proper forum, is instead bottled up and unchecked instead. As a result, this rage is likely to cause further destabilization and violence in the future.

I think it would have been better for all parties had Saddam been tried by the International Criminal Court. It was established precisely for these kinds of crimes. By having his crimes adjudicated by an external court, it would have had the pleasant smell of impartiality. Instead, Saddam was tried in an Iraqi court. While the evidence of Saddam’s guilt was clear enough, impartiality was simply not possible. Lacking impartiality, the verdict smelled malodorous. It is true that had the International Criminal Court convicted Saddam Hussein, he would not have been executed. Most likely, he would have lived out the rest of his life in isolation in a prison in some place like The Hague. There, isolated, alone and unempowered, a rough form of justice would have been served in the form of impotence and obscurity.

Too often justice is merely a code word for vengeance. We need to understand that society’s purpose in seeking justice is not to elicit vengeance. Instead, it is to elicit true repentance from the criminal if possible, ensure future behavior does not recur, and to ensure the rest of society is safe from a criminal’s actions. We need justice that does not amount to being Band-Aids on society’s gaping wounds. Instead, we need actions that promote the wound’s healing. Unfortunately, as Saddam’s execution points out, the need for vengeance simply helps ensure that future Saddams will likely reemerge from the toxic environment he left behind. Therefore, the karmic cycle will repeat until someday, perhaps, Iraqis learn the lesson and get it right.

Saint Paul got it right in Romans 12:19-21:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.