But if Trump is unwilling to trust Biden’s forbearance, and chooses to attempt to pardon himself, it would be a direct attack on the whole structure of the rule of law. Nobody knows whether presidential self-pardons are valid. Scholars disagree; courts have never ruled on them, because no past president ever tried such a thing. But a president desperate enough to try to steal an election on a recorded line is desperate enough to try a self-pardon.

If a president can pardon himself as well as his or her subordinates, a president can order any crime, or commit it himself, with absolute impunity. The very notion of a self-pardon is radically inconsistent with democratic accountability. If Trump tries to pardon himself, his successors must fight his attempt all the way to the Supreme Court. And given the Raffensperger recording, who doubts that Trump will try it?

The sensible American majority surely wants an end to Trump controversies after Inauguration Day, a return to normal governance and the crucial work ahead: overcoming the pandemic, restoring the economy, and renewing U.S. leadership of the world. But Trump gets a say too, as he got a say in the impeachment crisis. Trump is abusing the power of the presidency until his last hour in office. And his nonstop abuse seems likely to force a reckoning even by those most eager to move on. Trump will not be ignored; he will not let the chapter quietly close. Show him a red line, and he will cross it. And if the country’s red lines are to be reestablished, Trump will have to face the law he violated and violated and violated again.