Editorial: Our Gerald Ford moment


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



On Aug. 9, 1974 a new president, Gerald Ford, addressed the nation for the first time as president and said, “Our long national nightmare is over.”

He also spoke of bringing “brotherly love” back to Washington and of “restoring the golden rule” to politics.

And the cynics scoffed.

But as the late Paul O’Neill, who was the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget for Ford and was later treasury secretary, once said, Ford was exactly the man we needed to heal the wounds of Watergate.

And he did heal the wounds — with goodwill, with decency, with outstanding appointments, and with compassion and common sense.

One of the most controversial things Ford did, to heal our wounds and help the nation move on, was to pardon Richard Nixon.

At the time, there was tremendous consternation, suspicion and outrage.

Many charged that there was a deal: In return for his departure, Nixon was promised a pardon.

Few think that now. And many historians might say that, though the pardon was less than perfect legal and constitutional justice, it was a necessary part of national healing. The country needed to turn the page and move on.

Ford suffered politically for this decision. He may have lost the presidency because of it.

But he did what he thought was the right thing for the country.

And though some called him a hack and a bumbler in his time, he is now thought of as a statesman who rose to the occasion.

Now, we again have a new president, who suddenly does not seem the man we thought we knew, but a man capable of simple eloquence and statesmanship — another man of goodwill, decency and common sense.

Recently, Joseph R. Biden promised us competent and compassionate government, with top-notch appointments. And he promised to bind our wounds and bring us together.

He cannot easily do that if the nation is caught up in, and wound up by, another impeachment trial.

We cannot turn the page if the Trump melodrama is extended and old wounds are reopened.

Why would we put the nation through this?

Why renew the nightmare, especially when it became clear last week, on a procedural vote, that there are not enough votes in the Senate for conviction?

All the Democrats must vote to convict, plus 17 Republicans, for conviction to occur. It now looks as if there would be five or perhaps six Republican votes — not enough.

Moreover, a conviction would likely be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds: Scholars disagree, but impeachment appears to be the Constitution’s remedy for removal of a corrupt, traitorous or incompetent president from office. Donald Trump is out of office. An originalist Supreme Court majority might not see the impeachment power as properly extending to former presidents. And that’s if another 10, 11 or 12 Republicans changed their minds, which they likely will not.

It seems unlikely that the trial will reveal new information.

None of this excuses Trump’s disgracing of his office, first by attempting to reverse the presidential election, and second by inciting a riot on the Capitol and Congress.

But how does redividing the nation, to no purpose, punish the former president?

Sen. Tim Kaine, as true blue a Democrat as there is, indeed the party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, has suggested censure. He said that a trial whose end is predictable is not a good use of the Senate’s time and resources.

Censure is what the Senate did for Joe McCarthy — for abusing his power and damaging our democratic institutions. It did not remove McCarthy from office. But the Senate did, by censuring, say “enough,” and stand up for itself and the rule of law. McCarthy was undone.

For censure there ought to be 17 Republican votes. Republicans would surely be ashamed not to do at least this much to mark the limits of power and warn future presidents.

True, censure would not bar Trump from future office. But isn’t that a decision for the people?

Meanwhile, we have a legal system and prosecutors in Washington and Georgia have recourse if they feel the former president broke federal, state or local laws.

And we have history. Sadly, for the country as well as Trump himself, whatever good he did in four years will likely be obliterated by the memory of Jan. 6.

We have to have a little faith in our system, our people and the long arc of justice.

Meanwhile, the country does not need more posturing, another symbolic fight or more bloodletting. And congressional Democrats are faced with a Jerry Ford moment: Will they seek to heal or avenge? Will they turn the page or wallow? Will they satisfy their spleens or think of the long-term health and good of our country?

We need statesmen, and Ford-like selflessness, now.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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