On Friday, President Trump announced that he would meet athletes who kneel during the National Anthem to ask them for recommendations on presidential pardons. “I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people who were unfairly treated,” Trump stated. This follows hard on Trump’s decision to commute the sentence for convicted drug-dealer Alice Johnson at the behest of Kim Kardashian, and to posthumously pardon boxing legend Jack Johnson at the behest of Sylvester Stallone.
Trump also mentioned the idea of posthumously pardoning boxer Muhammed Ali. Ali’s attorney responded icily, “We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammed Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”
Now, it makes perfect sense for Trump to reach across the aisle to the players he has been bashing in order to attempt to bridge gaps. In fact, that’s precisely how he should have handled the Philadelphia Eagles debacle — he should have invited all the players to come to talk about the issues bothering them, and if they refused, they’d look petty and vindictive.
But there’s something disquieting about the president using the pardon power as a sort of Celebrity Apprentice redux. Why should celebrities be lobbying the President of the Untied States for pardons of particular people? If Trump wants to change policy, he should pursue changing policy with his Republican Congress. He shouldn’t be using his office to gain photo ops with satisfied celebrities seeking specific treatment for specific people. This cuts against the very nature of the rule of law rather than the rule of men.
As a publicity tactic, Trump’s new proposal is likely a winner — somebody gets pardoned, everybody is happy, he gets the photo op. As government policy, this is foolishness and would be no matter who the president is.