In the words of one pundit, Attorney General Merrick Garland faces a “gargantuan decision” on whether to indict former President Donald Trump if the many investigations now underway produce persuasive evidence of illegal conduct before, during or after his presidency.

The FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago raised a huge fuss about it being the first such raid on a former president’s home. So yes, the fuss would be even greater if Trump were indicted and prosecuted. Nevertheless, Garland’s decision should be easy. If any investigations find that Trump broke laws, he should be prosecuted like any other citizen. He should be punished to the full extent of the law if convicted because we should hold presidents to a higher standard of conduct than the rest of us.

Why? Because presidents set the nation’s tone of amity or enmity, establish America’s reputation in the world, affect our faith in democracy and arguably have unchecked power to end civilization when in office. A sitting president commands one of the world’s largest military forces and serves as the CEO of 2 million federal employees entrusted with responsible stewardship of trillions of dollars annually in taxpayer money.

If the Justice Department prosecuted Trump, Garland would inevitably be accused of playing politics. But in reality, the previous attorney general was the one who politicized justice apparently to protect Trump from being held accountable under the law.

If the evidence is clear and conclusive that Trump has broken the law, the allegation of politics will eventually fall flat. And if Trump supports riot in our streets, so be it. Law enforcement can prosecute them, too.

Federal ethics officers have given Trump passes aplenty for ignoring rules against nepotism, forcing officials to give his son-in-law a security clearance, pardoning cronies convicted of crimes, using his private phone for public business, promoting commercial products, charging exorbitant rates for his secret service details to stay at his resorts, flushing government documents down the toilet, and using a congressional appropriation to strongarm another country to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

Investigators are focused now on far more serious crimes at the heart of democracy and national security: inciting insurrection, trying to manipulate election results, and absconding with top secret government documents for reasons not yet known. It’s inconceivable that behaviors like these would set precedents that tolerate similar acts by future presidents.

The abuses the Justice Department, The House Jan. 6th committee and other public officials are investigating are far too serious to go unpunished. The failure to indict and prosecute Trump would reinforce the idea that the United States is an autocracy rather than a democracy and that we should treat presidents more like kings than public servants.

Holding Trump accountable could have other benefits, too. It might help revive some of the traditional values that made America great in the past: our allegiance to laws, truth, facts, civility, honor, justice, integrity and high standards for the people we elect to lead us.

Even though several investigations of Trump are still underway, one verdict is already evident: We must never again entrust so much to a man we can’t trust.

William S. Becker is a former U.S. Department of Energy central regional director who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies programs, and he also served as special assistant to the department’s assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate and energy policies. The project is not affiliated with the White House.

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