Philip Kotler
7 min readAug 7, 2023

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August 6, 2023

Should Ex-President Donald Trump, if Convicted, be Jailed, Paroled, or Pardoned?

Philip Kotler

The U.S. has never been faced with the problem of what to do with an ex-President who has several serious indictments. Worse, it has no constitutional guidance on how to treat him if he is judged guilty and convicted. The three possibilities for Trump are jail, parole or pardon. Each will have a different set of consequences.

1. Which decision will lead to the most violence or deepen further the growing antagonism between his supporters and his critics?

2. How will each decision affect the view of most nations and U.S. allies of American democracy and democratic values?

3. How would Trump behave if jailed, paroled, or pardoned?’’

Jailing ex-President Trump

What are the grounds for jailing Trump?

According to Politico, “President Donald Trump has been charged in three criminal cases and may soon be charged in a fourth. In New York, he faced 34 felony counts in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. In Florida, he faces 40 felony counts for hoarding classified documents and impeding efforts to retrieve them. In Washington, D.C., he faces four felony counts for his efforts to retrieve them. In Washington, D.C, he faces four felony counts for this effort to overturn the 2020 election. And in Georgia, a local prosecutor is investigating 2020 election interference in that state.”

Trump’s Republican backers claim that all charges have been political and come from a “weaponized” Department of Justice. Republicans see this as a “hate” campaign by those who don’t like Trump. Both sides have their lawyers. Let the juries of independent minded citizens vote on these separate charges.

Who is Donald Trump? A study reported that the ten most common words used to describe Trump are “incompetent,” “arrogant,” “strong,” “idiot,” “egotistical,” “ignorant,” “great,” “racist,” and “narcissistic.” Many countries of the world have been puzzled about how the U.S. with Presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt could elect such a candidate, They saw Trump as an anomaly, much like they viewed Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, another tycoon and narcissist.

If Trump is convicted, prison sentences will be set. That Trump is a former U.S. President does not excuse him from a prison sentence. Nor should the excuse be that imprisoning Trump might lead to a violent armed insurrection by MAGA or other groups. The U.S. Army is large enough to jail all armed insurrectionists. We jailed many who invaded Congress in the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Will jailing Trump deepen today’s divide between the reds and the blues. Should we not have fought the Civil War to end slavery because it could deepen the antagonisms between the North and the South. Yet today commerce is going on between the North and the South. Northerners are not afraid to vacation or buy property in the South.

Jailing a leader who lied about losing the election and attacked science, journalism, medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, our traditional allies, our institutions, and human rights will likely increase the world’s view and respect of our democracy. The U.S. must let the world know that it doesn’t tolerate self-aggrandizing liars and incompetents to run the nation’s affairs.

How will Trump’s supporters react to this decision? Most will react with deep anger and frustration. They see the whole case as rigged by the Democratic party to “weaponize” the Department of Justice. They will accuse Trump’s critics of waging psychological warfare in the media to portray Trump as evil, self-aggrandizing, vicious to his critics, clownish, peevish and a deeply ignorant man. Some of his supporters might stage violent activities to show their disgust.

On the other hand, Trump’s critics will react with satisfaction, relief if not joy on putting Trump in prison. They see Trump as having ruthlessly created or intensified an “us versus them” fatal split in the Republic. They want the poison of Trump’s voice to be shut down or off.

Should Trump receive a short or long prison sentence? His supporters want no prison sentence. Some of his critics favor a light prison sentence (he was a U.S. President and never became a full dictator). Other Trump critics see numerous institutions, norms and individuals who have suffered from Trump’s attacks. They would want him to stay in prison to old age when he may no longer be able to run again for office and release his venom.

Paroling ex-President Trump

Trump supporters don’t want to see Trump disgraced in prison wearing a prison suit. They can recite cases where distinguished persons were convicted but then put on parole as an alternative to imprisonment. Parole could be proposed on Trump’s promise of good behavior and not to engage in hostilities. Or parole could be proposed on the grounds that Trump has a physical or mental illness or where a huge majority of the public think his crimes were not serious enough and that no one was physically hurt.

If a parole is chosen, various conditions must be attached to the parole. Here are some possible restraining conditions:

1. Trump cannot go abroad. He can’t go to other countries and publicly spew his undemocratic ideas. He can’t go abroad and then take out citizenship in another country and eschew any obligations he had as a parolee.

2. Trump would agree not to appear before large gatherings to plead his innocence and paint a picture that he was wrongly accused.

3. Trump would refrain from speeches and written articles inciting the public to resist or possibly rebel.

4. Trump would not run for any elective political office in the U.S.

5. Trump agrees to confess to some specified misdeeds.

The problem of granting parole to Trump is that he will do his best to impugn his critics and motivate anger in his followers about how he was treated. He will continue to divide the public with his lies and disinformation. For this reason, each condition accompanying a Trump parole must include a set of appropriate punishments or fines to be carried out by law enforcers where he violates his agreement.

Pardoning ex-President Trump

Pardoning can only be done by a successive elected President who sees a reason to remove the charge as unjust or to gain favor in the eyes Trump’s followers. Recall that in 1974 President Gerald Ford issued full and unconditional pardon to ex-President Richard Nixon of any crimes against the U.S. as President. Ford became President automatically when President Nixon resigned. Ford said that the pardon was given in the best interests of the country and that Nixon’s family’ situation was “a tragedy in which we all have played a part.” Ford said that some future President would write the end to this drama. Ford said that a pardon carries an imputation of guilt and that its acceptance carries a confession of guilt. The real reason for pardoning Nixon is that Nixon offered to resign only if he was promised a pardon. In taking this step, Ford lost the next election because much of the public thought this pardon was unjustified.

Conclusion

Other nations have treated troublesome or evil leaders in several fashions. France exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba where he eventually died of stomach cancer or arsenic poisoning. The Italians shot Benito Mussolini and his mistress and hung them upside down for display as Allied forces entered Italy and the world applauded this ending. This would have been Hitler’s fate if he hadn’t quickly chosen to commit suicide with his just married wife.

Donald Trump has continued to have a sinister influence in American politics ever since he decided to run for office. He took easily to lying, to impugning some well-known Americans, to disrespecting American institutions and norms, and even encouraging his audiences to talk about hanging Hillary. Here is a vivid picture of how Trump’s critics see Trump:

Nate White, a witty British writer, wrote his thoughts about Trump:

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace — all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing — not once, ever…And that fact is particularly disturbing… to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is — his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

If Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws — he would make a Trump.

The puzzle and paradox are how Trump still manages to retain so many followers and fans in spite of growing news about his crimes and misdeeds. Trump needs and thrives on the limelight. What can be done to this person who is intent on dividing America so deeply without shame or restraint? This is the big question.

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Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)