Iron County Progressive


Trump’s vilest legacy

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in

the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most

precious windowpane of all—American democracy.

By Robert Reich - Nation of Change - December 28, 2020

Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to reelect Donald Trump—46.8

percent of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election—don’t hold Trump

accountable for what he’s done to America.

Their acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist

George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community

signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is

thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows. The message:

Do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in

poor communities. But America’s most privileged and powerful have been

breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out

while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet no major Wall

Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the

members of the Sackler family who own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did

nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud

customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max

Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police

under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they’ve got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a

wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all—American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels’ investigations of his

wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors

general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse

congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his

opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being “fake

media” and “enemies of the people,” and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his


A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of

evidence—and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those

who voted for him.

Trump’s recent pardons have broken double-paned windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted

because of a petitioner’s good conduct after conviction and service of sentence –

but he’s pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them,

he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential

witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law’s father, who pleaded guilty to tax

evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal

Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi

civilians, including women and children; Border Patrol agents convicted of assaulting

or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found

guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It’s not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according

to Wilson and Kelling. It’s the willingness of society to look the other way. If no

one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including

criminal charges. But it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a selfpardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue

against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a

crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan

brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents—strengthening

congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general,

demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who

break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress—a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution—cannot

rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don’t want to weigh in on political


The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away

with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American

presidents. The giant windows he’s broken are invitations to a future president to

break even more.

Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of

Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.