What will it be like to have a former president in prison?

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For those of us of a certain age, the prospect that a president of the United States might go to prison is not a new one. One other time in our lives did that prospect seem at least possible, if not exactly likely.

Specifically, there but for the grace of Ford went Richard Nixon. A month after he took office in the wake of Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, president Gerald R. Ford granted “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offences against the United States.” And that, as they say, was that.

I remember it well. The word on the street was that Nixon and Ford had entered into a corrupt bargain. Nixon agreed to resign if Ford agreed to pardon him. Nixon would secure his freedom, Ford would get the presidency. A tidy bargain.

As delectable as that might be as an explanation there does not exist a scintilla of evidence to support it. In fact, before resigning Nixon was privately quoted as refusing to entertain such an idea.

In any case, two years and two months later the American people took their revenge on Gerald Ford. We the people granted Mr Ford “a full, free, and absolute” removal from the presidency. But the damage had been done. From that moment to this it seemed as though the president of the United States was immune from going to jail, no matter how heinous the crime, no matter how corrupt the man.

Even when the crime in question meant arranging to keep American hostages in captivity for an additional seven months. That, it seems, was the price the Republican Ronald Reagan was willing to pay to wrest the presidency from the Democrat Jimmy Carter. Reagan had arranged to ensure that the American hostages kept by the government of Iran were held onto until after the 1980 election. The Iranians kept them until one minute after Reagan was sworn in, as a symbolic reminder that he, Reagan, owed them, the Iranians, a crapload of weapons. That debt was paid, and it led to the ignominious Iran-Contra scandal.

Reagan never went to prison for that, either. Though he certainly should have. And thus was strengthened the idea that the presidency conferred a super power unto all officeholders, and that super power was immunity from incarceration.

Until now. It’s beginning to look like Donald Trump really is going to go to prison. Pundits are saying so, even one of Trump’s former lawyers, Ty Cobb, is saying so. Even Trump’s former Attorney General is hinting as much. In the words of Bill Barr, Trump is toast.

It seems at this rate the only thing that might spare Trump from going to prison could be an early death. Whether Nixon made a bargain with Ford or not, unlike Nixon, Trump has nothing to bargain with and nothing to bargain for. There are too many prosecutions coming from too many directions.

And because those prosecutions originate with state level as well as federal indictments, no deal can cover them all and no pardon will work for them all. Besides which Trump has nothing to offer. He’s not president and there doesn’t seem like much chance that he ever will be again. He’s a loser with nothing. He’s a phoney, tinpot, pathetic loser, a charlatan cosplaying a billionaire. He’s the world’s most famous nobody who can’t even get a decent lawyer.

But we’ve got a while to go before it all happens. And no matter how much you may despise him, if you’re thinking clearly, the last thing you want is to deprive Donald Trump of his Constitutional right to due process. In fact, this is the one time our commitment to the ideal of the Constitution will be put to the test.

But that doesn’t mean Trump can’t go to prison right now, before he has a chance for due process. It happens all the time. Defendants who are deemed a danger to themselves or society are often kept in jail pending trial. Trump is no exception to that idea, nor should he be. He is, in fact, a deadly danger. He has a huge and dangerous following that could do a lot of harm to America and American commitment to democracy.

But all those considerations aside, what will it be like to have a former president of the United States go to prison? I don’t know about you, but for me, it will be enormously and unconditionally satisfying. It will feel like victory, it will feel like triumph, it will feel like justice. It will feel like such a sublime and wonderful moment that I can scarcely comprehend it. It will be perfect. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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