Donald’s Prison Problem

May 15, 2024

In 1872, then-President Ulysses Grant was arrested for speeding recklessly through D.C. in his horse and buggy. Although taken into police custody, he was ultimately given a fine and released. Now, 152 years later, we’re facing the very real possibility that former president Donald Trump won’t get off so lightly and may actually be put in prison.

Last year, four different criminal indictments were filed against Trump. They range from paying hush money to silence news of two seedy affairs ahead of the 2016 election, to inciting the violence on January 6. Those indictments (and a mug shot) let America know we were in some deeply weird territory. The odds are very good that Trump will be found guilty in at least one of those cases, each of which carries serious jail time.

The idea of incarcerating a former president of the United States seems almost unthinkable. But it shouldn’t be. Since 1980, about half of the world’s countries have prosecuted or jailed (or both) their leaders. Members of that sketchy club include former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye did five years in the clink for corruption. Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is battling not just Hamas, but serious charges of corruption that could take him out of office.
 
So, it looks like America is on track to join that club. And join it we must.

Gerald Ford may have thought pardoning Richard Nixon would end “our long national nightmare” and help put Watergate behind us. Sadly, it only emboldened future politicians like Trump. We need to rectify that and clearly prove that “no one is above the law” or who knows how bad it might get?  (Here’s a hint: Vladimir Putin just got “sworn in” for his fifth, um “term.”)

While some leaders, like former IL governor Rod Blagojevich, did eight years inside for corruption, would that same set-up apply to a former president? The logistics are tricky, mainly due to the need for the Secret Service (although they wouldn’t be so “secret” in The Joint). As of this writing, Trump has been threatened with a short stint in jail should he keep breaking the gag orders around his Stormy Daniels Hush Money trial; any other defendant would wind up at Rikers. That’s not likely, but some have suggested a special trailer outside the courthouse where security stands guard and Trump has no access to either his phone or his beloved social media feed (and wouldn’t that be nice?).

Of course, the bigger question is, what if he’s found guilty of espionage (for his theft of classified intel) or treason (for January 6th)? These are exceedingly serious charges; an electronic ankle monitor seems hardly sufficient. For context, Air Force veteran Reality Winner did over five years in prison for releasing to the media a few pages of an intelligence report showing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Applying the punishment laid out by law to anyone who’s committed serious crimes is tricky; when it comes to a former POTUS, the degree of difficulty increases exponentially. But we cannot lose our nerve. You or I would get no leeway; just because someone once sat behind the Resolute Desk shouldn’t grant them a pass, either.


Cindy Grogan is a writer, lover of history and "Star Trek" (TOS), and hardcore politics junkie. There was that one time she campaigned for Gerald Ford (yikes), but ever since, she's been devoted to Democratic and progressive policies.

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