OPINION

In With a Bang, Out With a Whimper.

President Trump’s failure to pardon Julian Assange marks the end of a worthwhile but ultimately wasted presidency.

Out with a whimper, and I suppose we should have seen it coming. Although the claims were always bold: “Drain the Swamp!” “Build the Wall!” “Lock Her Up!” The odds, unfortunately, were never good. Never before had an elected President been so opposed, not just by the elites of both parties, but also by the entire government apparatus and the entire city of Washington D.C.

He [President Trump] could have pardoned Julian Assange, a man who has committed no true crime and yet languishes in prison.

Donald Trump spent nearly his entire campaign, and certainly his time in office under investigation by government officials, by both legal and illegal means; under attack by a uniquely and absurdly hostile press; subject to leaks, insubordination, and outright lies by faceless bureaucrats, all while representing a political party whose leaders did not want him. Given these obstacles, it is unsurprising that little of lasting impact was accomplished over the last four years.

Still, in his final days, President Trump possessed one last weapon, and the ability to do something truly epic and remarkable. He could have pardoned Julian Assange, a man who has committed no true crime and yet languishes in prison. To do so would have been an unmistakable strike back at the worst elements of our government and simultaneously a strike for freedom of speech and truth. If he really wanted to drive the point home and do some good, he could have included Edward Snowden and Ross Ulbricht among others similarly unfairly persecuted.

It is the failure to liberate Assange that is the most perplexing since his freedom would outrage all the right people—the same people in and out of government that so publicly opposed Trump.  Recall that Assange is not some criminal mastermind. Through his actions at WikiLeaks, the U.S. Government has accused him of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.”  Notwithstanding this dubious accusation, his true offense, like Snowden, was releasing information embarrassing to the government and government officials—a job once revered and celebrated by more traditional media outlets. For a better understanding of why such actions are not and should not be criminal, one need look for no further example than the famous Pentagon Papers and the 1971 Supreme Court case of New York Times Co. v. United States.

Instead, Trump chose to cower to Mitch McConnell, apparently fearful that he would lose all support amid his second impeachment, and perhaps even face personal criminal actions. Instead of striking back, he chose to issue midnight pardons to a cadre of rappers and political grifters. Then, the following morning, the always boisterous Donald Trump meekly left town silenced, neutered, and utterly defeated.

Assange poster.

Assange poster.

THE #RESISTANCE FRUSTRATED TRUMP’S POTENTIAL

Democrats chose to join the #Resistance rather than seek compromise on infrastructure spending where they might have found a willing ally in big-spender Trump. Among Republicans, those who were not openly “Never Trumpers,” were possibly reluctant to associate with a President under investigation for colluding with Russia, thereby wasting their House and Senate majorities. By the time Republicans finally realized Donald Trump, the well-known real estate mogul and public playboy, might not be an actual secret agent of Putin’s Russia, they were left with only enough political capital to approve judges and fight back lame attempts to remove the President from office by Nancy Pelosi’s House. It is hard to call this a domestic success.

The recent purge of right-wing voices by the Tech oligarchy indicates this to be a lasting and potentially devastating failure.

Sure, there were the tax cuts and a roaring economy that now seem like a distant memory. Sure, there were executive orders tackling issues from immigration to critical race theory—orders which have already been or will shortly be rescinded by the new Biden administration. And yes, there were the many judges and justices hand-selected by Mitch McConnell. With any luck, perhaps these jurists will be effective in defending liberty against the coming onslaught. Given the Supreme Court’s predilection to avoid all actual controversy, even where it uniquely has original jurisdiction for a controversy between states (see, e.g., Texas v. Pennsylvania), it does not bode well for anything more than a temporary or anemic defense against the planned Democratic policy agendas to restrict liberty and advance the scope and power of government.

It now seems somehow appropriate that President Trump’s actual greatest accomplishment was that which he did not do. As highlighted in his farewell address, he did not engage the United States in any new foreign wars, stating “I am especially proud to be the first President in decades who has started no new wars.” Not to diminish such a laudable achievement—one which has eluded every other President in recent memory—but it is also notable that he was ultimately unable to overcome opposition from within his own party to actually end or significantly draw down any of the current wars. The strides made in the Middle East, brokering movements towards peace between Israel and Bahrain, Serbia, Kosovo, and the United Arab Emirates, are certainly promising, but it is yet to be seen whether they will foster lasting peace in the region or remain mere gestures. Accordingly, all we can really say with confidence currently is that President Trump simply did not make anything worse with regard to our foreign policy.

Domestically, however, it is difficult to be as generous. President Trump was hardly a fiscal conservative. Even before COVID-19 brought about spending at absurdly incomprehensible levels, he spent at an unprecedented pace, allowing the Obama-era entitlement spending to persist. Perhaps most concerning, at least for the liberty-minded is the Trump administration’s failure to recognize the threat to free speech posed by Big Tech until it was much too late. The recent purge of right-wing voices by the Tech oligarchy indicates this to be a lasting and potentially devastating failure. The Trump administration’s lack of tangible achievement, though understandable given the nature of the forces amassed against him, is nevertheless disappointing.

Julian Assange.

Julian Assange.

NEVERTHELESS, TRUMP’S LEGACY WILL PERSIST

That said, it remains important to remember what President Trump accomplished, simply by the event of his unlikely electoral victory in 2016. It is not an exaggeration to say he shocked the world by winning as a complete outsider. He defeated a Bush and a Clinton, in the same electoral cycle.

[A]t least 75 million Americans do not support the establishment and oppose where they have been taking us for the past 30 plus years.

His election was a finger in the eye of the establishment. Perhaps it was unfair to have hoped for more. But despite the fervent opposition, Donald Trump’s detractors never seemed to understand his supporters knew exactly who he was. It is, for this reason, his boorish behavior never shocked them; his support persisted and rarely dipped below 45%. It did not matter what shocking or horrible thing was in the news on a particular day, his support remained. Even after the events at the Capitol, and the hyperventilating media claims of an attempted coup, insurrection, incitement; even after a second impeachment by the House, this time supported by Liz Cheney and other establishment Republicans; and even after the failure and embarrassment of the election contests, his final approval rating was still above 50%.

The takeaway here is not that 75 million Americans are loyal to Donald Trump, although they have been. It is that at least 75 million Americans do not support the establishment and oppose where they have been taking us for the past 30 plus years. They do not support the Bushes, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Liz Cheney, or Mitch McConnell. They certainly do not support the creepy global Great Reset alluded to by the Biden campaign. They have become awakened to lies of the media and their narratives carefully crafted to be rammed down our throats.  What this newly-awakened electorate do now will be critical.

Despite all the challenges he faced, the relatively limited success, and much-publicized failures, he remained little more than a thorn in the side of the so-called Deep State—a mere annoyance who would be gone soon enough. Trump supporters have so far been loyal to the cause but also to the man. It will be interesting to see if that continues. It is my guess that it will not, and that may be a good thing. Because in the waning moments of his term, President Trump failed ultimately and critically.

Written By:

Stephen Little is an attorney living in Texas.