Trump's Roger Stone pardon was yet another act of Constitutional defiance
Hours after granting professional dirty trickster Roger Stone his get-out-of-jail card with a commutation, President Trump was teeing off at one of his golf resorts in Virginia. It was the 275th time in his presidency that the Duffer in Chief had hit the links courtesy of American taxpayers to the tune of more than $137M, according to the website trumpgolfcount.com.
The Stone-cold pardon quickly led off that evening’s news cycles. Predicable scolding, condemnations and finger waggling by outraged pundits and Democrats, and the lone resident of his own private island, Senator Mitt Romney, dominated cable news and the minefield known as Twitter. Legal analyst for CNN Jeffrey Toobin roared, “This is the most corrupt and cronyistic act in perhaps all of recent history.” (“Cronyistic” is a word I looked up without success, but I got the drift.)
Yet, for all the “breaking news,” it seemed like just another ho-hum ordinary day in Trumpian America. Just another act of Constitutional defiance by a president whose autocratic tendencies have dragged this nation down into Banana Republic territory. Just another brick removed in the razing of our edifice of democracy. Just another reason to keep up that subscription to Netflix and update the quantity on that prescription for Xanax.
Meanwhile, far away from the D.C. swamp, in the world in which the rest of us plebeians toil, a new daily record was set for the most cases of coronavirus in a single day in the United States: around 67,000. This, just three weeks after Vice President Mike Pence, the obedient bland soldier of faith dutifully crowed—on the date when 39,000 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed (a new daily record at the time)—that we had “flattened the curve.” Mission Accomplished ya’all. And will the last dead person please turn off the lights and lock the door?
Admit it. The barrage of lunacy, lies, and litigation, the constant uncertainties and rampant corruption have worn us down to bipolar zombies that lurch in the bizarre territory between passivity, anger and sorrow. The abnormal is now normal; the new normal a work in digress, hypocrisy no longer challenged.
Forget the past warnings of what might happen if Trump gets away with this or that. He has gotten away with all of it and then some, and he accomplished this with full transparency. To be sure, there are probably scores of horrible transgressions and outright illegal acts that might never see the light of day, but there is plenty on the public record these past three-and-a-half dog years to make the case that our nation’s democracy has suffered terminal damage and is now close to flat-lining.
Trump found the soft belly of our democracy and he broke it open like a pinata. Inside, colorful little babbles of public funds and shady deals fell into the pockets of his family, his friends and maybe a few comrades over in you-know-where. Russia, if you’re listening, we are now open for business…
Flushing out the rat’s nest of incompetency and nepotism in the West Wing, along with a convincing Biden victory this November, are necessary first steps toward a correction, but they will hardly cleanse the lasting stain of a Trump presidency.
Time for radical measures. After all, except for a welcomed Supreme Court decision here and there, our institutions did not adequately protect us from Trump. As we have witnessed in the recent Black Lives Matter and the racial justice movements, what “worked” in America pre-Trump autocracy actually failed too many Americans.
The nostalgia for a 1950s-style country, one that Trump successfully promoted in 2016 with his “Make America Great Again” never existed except, that is, for people who, well, looked like Trump and his supporters.
Conversely, the pinning for the liberal version of “normalcy” within our institutions, a normalcy that supposedly defended and delivered justice and equality for all, might be as big a myth as the Trumpian vision. A badly needed reinvention is in order.
In “Surviving Autocracy, by Masha Gessen, she writes that “what will make Trump’s opponent successful—if he can indeed be successful—is an ability to counter his simple promise of returning to an ‘us’ from a white male supremacist past with a vision of who we are that is more complicated, offers fewer certainties, but is also more inspiring to more Americans—a vision of America as it could be.”
Meanwhile, on the night of his pardon, in Roger Stone’s world, frivolity—like COVID-19 droplets in Tulsa—was in the air. When a Washington Post reporter reached Stone by phone at his home in Florida, Stone had to change rooms to continue the conversation because he crowed, “too many people opening bottles of Champagne here.”
Pop, pop, pop, said the weasel.
Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is "Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times."