I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.
Growing up Catholic, I know a thing or three about pardons.
The nuns laid it out for us early with chalk diagrams of the soul, kind of oval-shaped and ghostly, which they would fill-in with small round circles while reciting a litany of age-appropriate venial sins like stealing, pinching a classmate or telling a white lie. Each sin was a small chalk circle and when your soul filled up with sin you were destined to sizzle for eternity in the bonfires of hell.
Harsh stuff for young minds.
You didn’t need a talent for math to realize that one mortal sin added up to a whole lot of venial sinning, all you had to see was Sister Ernestine chalking the entire soul, followed by a proclamation of eternal damnation for those who died with even a single mortal sin on their soul.
I remember this as being nerve-wracking times. While I hadn’t yet coveted my neighbour’s wife or thought about killing someone, I had taken the ‘Lord’s Name In Vain’ in anger and missed Sunday mass a couple of times feigning sickness. All mortal sins of equal weight. Even as a child I questioned the equivalency of murder and missing mass. But not for long. It was… ahem… above my pray grade.
Walking the mean streets of 1950s Edmonton with a mortal sin blackening the soul induced childhood anxiety in a sensitive believer. A misstep at the curb of a busy street, faulty bicycle brakes, falling off a garage roof, encountering a Protestant gang, the possibility of sudden death and the long sizzle loomed large.
Memories of my Catholic childhood are steeped in the power of the Papal pardon, dispensed by the priest I served mass with after sharing my most intimate guilty secrets in the Confessional Box. (Is faking your voice during confession a venial sin that could be compounded to a mortal sin because it goes against the spirit of confessing? Who could I ask? Sister Ernestine?)
Visits to the Confessional Box, which wasn’t a box so much as a closet with screened compartments, one for the priest one for the sinner, (I can hear you anti-clerics sniggering) were preceded by the nagging build up of venial sins, overlapping each other over a period of days or weeks until only isolated pockets of the soul remained clear. One or two more small sins might put you over the top, or rather send you to the scorching bottom.
The all-encompassing stain of mortal sin sped things up considerably, especially if an important Church service was on the horizon and you would be expected by your parents to take communion. Eating the wafer with a mortal sin on your soul was itself a mortal sin and a sure path to the hot spot. Not going to communion was like confessing to your parents. A spiritual dilemma.
My confessions always followed alternating bouts of rationalization, verbal preparation to minimize the offenses, shame and dread. And, of course, the intense fear of fire.
Hang in there, atheist-breath, I’m working up to the concept of political pardons.
Walking from the confessional with a pillow-light, white-as-white, soul is as close to mental heaven as it gets for a 10-year-old altar boy. In those first moments after saying a penance of 10 Hail Marys, before an unkind or impure thought could weasel back into the brain, I was as pure as Michael the Guardian Angel, my namesake, who kicked old Beelzebub off his cloud to tend the conflagration down under.
That’s the way I thought of it, anyway, which brings me around to another Michael who recently received a presidential pardon. Multiple venial sinner Michael Flynn, admitted liar and felon, is walking on air (can Dancing With The Stars be far behind) after fealty to his Lord and Master, Donald J. Trump, also known as Individual One, whose name he never took in vain, earned him earthly absolution.
I don’t know the former General’s religious affiliation, but he is clearly feeling free and clear enough to suggest his Saviour bring in the military to seal the election theft and ensure his place on the Oval Office throne of pardons.
As you may have guessed, I’m no fan of General Flynn, the military man who disgraced his uniform the moment he shouted “Lock her up” at a Trump clan rally. His post military life has been about making money and he has used his rank to lend credibility to dangerous misinformation floating on the fringe of the conspiracy theory universe.
Flynn wanted to hang with the big money boys after Obama correctly sussed his character flaws and gave him the toe as head of DNI, but his lifetime of public service left him short. The unsettling firing sent him scuttling after redemption in deep state conspiracy theories, which he found in Q-Anon, and then in Trump. He was taking money from Turkey while working in the transition and his name came up in a murky 15 million dollar plot to kidnap a Turkish cleric considered a rival of his foreign boss Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
Are those enough venial sins to blacken the soul? Who Knows? Sister Ernestine, perhaps, from her airy perch far from the heat. Trump let him off, but Flynn paid with his reputation and honor, a stiff price after a lifetime in the military. Only Flynn and his confessor know if his soul remains pillow-light and white-as-white.
My gripe is with the concept of the presidential pardon itself. How is this okay in a republic that lauds its ‘exceptionalism’ ad nauseum, proclaims itself a country of laws, the world’s oldest, and by implication, best democracy, a nation in which no man is above the law, to grant this feudal power to a position that will be occupied with the inevitability of time by a person of low character? Make no mistake, it is the power of medieval kings, emperors, despots and tyrants, past and future.
The power to overrule every court, learned judge and jury of peers in the land with a few digital touches of a fat finger.
After four years of Individual One, the revered U.S. constitution is showing the tatters of its age in its proclamation that the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment.”
Unequivocal. Unfettered. Unbridled.
The founding fathers had mercy in mind. Righting a wrong. Tempering an injustice. Could they have envisioned placing such supremacy into the pudgy fingertips of a corrupt, flesh-bag filled with orange jello, skin oozing over the toilet seat on all sides, malevolent bloodshot eyes staring from puffy mounds into a personal device, gleaming with the ability to exculpate criminals of all stripes throughout the land with a single inane tweet.
Not unless they got heavy into the laudanum or overnighted at the opium den.
Yet, U.S. voters, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, presumably sober and with the full knowledge of man and history available at the click of a button, put the awesome power of the pardon into the small but grasping hands of a lifelong grifter who, in real time, is bilking supporters with bogus legal defense claims out of hundreds of millions before he heads out the door. Americans have handed Caesar-like power to a career criminal who can sell to the highest bidder and/or use it to purchase the silence of co-conspirators before heading off to his Palm Beach lair to plot the overthrow of their cherished democracy.
Outstanding extemporaneous orator, shameless liar and pussy hound Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother, who served a year for a drug conviction. He also snuck in a white-collar criminal in his final hours in the White House, pardoning fugitive billionaire Mark Rich, who fled to Switzerland rather than face tax evasion charges. If any money changed hands afterwards, neither Bill nor his spiritual confessor have made it public.
On the last day of his administration George Bush Sr., with a wink and nod to his political mentor Ronald Reagan, pardoned some of the Iran Contra conspirators that blackened Reagan’s presidency, at least one of whom went on in respectable life to sit on George Junior’s National Security Council.
Under the previous administration of Saint Ronald, former co-star of a monkey movie, wearer of the white hat in B Westerns, Oliver North was granted immunity for his crimes on a legal technicality. Readers of a certain age will remember North, the dirty tricks guy who looked like a choir boy. Ever the good soldier and Boy Scout, he took the fall for people in higher pay grades but served no prison time. He went on to a career on conservative talk radio and a brief stint as head of the NRA, which is dealing with its own scandals.
One of the most famous modern pardons was issued by Gerald Ford, who in the name of unifying the country gave Richard Nixon a pre-emptive pass on any crimes committed between his inauguration and resignation. Ford thought it would be best for the country. Ever the shady deal-maker, Tricky Dick walked to his helicopter, disgraced, but heading for his California estate instead of the crowbar hotel.
It is this pre-emptive strike against justice that is the most egregious in the hands of someone like Trump. He is said to be in discussions with advisers about pardoning his kids, son-in-law and his loony personal lawyer, Oozy Giuliani, who is handling the leaky ‘legal’ side of the defense fund grift.
No reader who has persevered this far will doubt that Trump is scheming to pardon himself and take it all the way to the Supreme Court he has larded with good Catholic-raised judges like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Champions of life and earthly arbiters at the gates of that extremely warm forever place. (What would you give to be a fly on the confessional wall when their Honors close the door to the box and slide the screen in place? Oh, to watch them kneel at their pews doing penance until they alight the Church with souls pillow-light and white-as-white.)
Meanwhile, patriots like cybersecurity boss Chris Krebs, who left a comfortable private life to help the Trump administration ensure American elections remain safe and secure, a monumental task superbly done in the digital age amidst a global pandemic, something all Americans should be proud of, is vilified, threatened with torture and execution by a lawyer involved in Trump’s defense fund grift for the crime of telling the truth. A lot to swallow in a single sentence but worth another read.
Americans, this is what your country has become, and as sure as Individual One is orange, fat and greasy, there will be worse news in the next fifty days. Expect Trump’s pre-emptive self-pardon to include the current defense fund scam and four years of fleecing the MAGA yokels with the 2024 grift.
Not to go all religious on you, but before this is over, a lot more truth-tellers, patriots and their families will be threatened and disparaged in service of the mortal sinner you selected as your commander-in-chief. Do you feel the heat of the flames?