President Trump's Obsession With Celebrity Cheapens the Power of the Office

President Donald Trump waves after speaking at an event on tax policy in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, April 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This past week, President Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother and first-time, non-violent offender who was serving a life sentence in prison in Alabama.


At the end of May, Kim Kardashian, wife of Kanye West, met with the president at the White House. During their conference, Kardashian and President Trump discussed prison reform as well as Johnson’s case.

A celebrity asked for a favor, the president delivered, and (mostly) praise ensued.

It was an odd, but not entirely unexpected series of events for a man and an administration so focused on what others think of them. While the president may ultimately not care how the rest of the world views his words or actions, he sure is obsessed with commenting on them.

Case in point: the NFL players and the kneeling protests.

As myself and others have pointed out, Trump should leave the entire topic alone. However, he can’t abide individuals who have knelt during the National Anthem in the past. In fact, he even said of these athlete protesters, “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” As if one can’t reside in America or be an American unless they do as the president wishes.

Now, President Trump, fresh off of the Alice Johnson commutation, has a solution…of sorts. On Friday, he shared his thoughts on placating the celebrity opposition.

President Donald Trump said he wants to meet with NFL players and other athletes who kneel during the National Anthem so they can recommend people they think should be pardoned due to unfair treatment by the justice system.

“You have a lot of people in the NFL in particular, but in sports leagues, they’re not proud enough to stand for our National Anthem. I don’t like that,” Trump said Friday, also insisting that players should not remain in the locker room when the “Star Spangled Banner” is playing.

He added, “If the athletes have friends of theirs or people they know about that have been unfairly treated by the system, let me know.”
Trump called his presidential power to pardon people a “beautiful thing,” adding that “you got to get it right.”

Is the president truly concerned with case or prisoner mishandling by the justice system?  It would appear that he is not. Ultimately, it seems his goal is to become well-liked or at least tolerated by those in the NFL (and elsewhere) who despise him. Trump views the instances of kneeling as a personal affront to him, as if by being president he represents the very essence of patriotism in word and deed. (If that were the case, he needs to brush up on the lyrics to “God Bless America” which he forget this week.)

Instead, he is recognizing the power of the pardon. He understands that it gives his popularity a boost, albeit briefly. More than that, pardons become situations where he will always win. If someone disagrees with him on a pardon, they’ll appear heartless. He’ll be praised for his actions and other frustrations with the man in the office will be momentarily forgotten.

Thankfully, some see right through the actions and question the motive. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, a beacon of common sense in this age, question Trump’s commutation of Johnson’s sentence. And you know what? Shapiro is right. Why is the Johnson commutation a questionable move? Easy. There is much more to the story than a sweet, little old grandmother and a first-time drug offense.

She was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison for her role as a leader of a multi-million dollar cocaine ring trafficking in 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms in involvement with the deadly Colombian Cali drug cartel. The judge in that case (who now sits on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and was confirmed to that seat by a 95-0 vote in the Senate) called Johnson “the quintessential entrepreneur.” Cocaine trafficking ends with dead people on both ends of the business — in both the gathering and shipment of cocaine, and in the addiction to it by users.

Sorry, that’s not selling a bit of marijuana on a local street corner. It’s serious involvement in a drug empire. Johnson’s age, her grandmotherly appearance, her reformed ways, and her playwriting skills are all fine, well, and good, but they shouldn’t automatically win you commutation.

The real issue remains the motive behind the president’s move. And as Shapiro points out, it should not be praised.

Kim Kardashian’s visit to the Oval Office got Johnson out of prison. If Trump really wants to reconsider the drug war, he should go ahead and do that — it’s long beyond reconsideration. But if he just wants to cater to whatever big names with a sex tape wander into his office, that’s bad policymaking.

The president’s focus on celebrity needs to end. It clouds his considerations and makes the pardon power into some sort of weapon designed to make famous, beautiful, and wealthy people love him. These actions serve to soothe his bloated ego.

If President Trump were truly focused on these issues, as Shapiro says, he would reconsider the drug war or other factors within the justice system. Instead, he is ready to hand out pardons like lollipops and by doing so, is hoping to make friends.

This type of policymaking is not worthy of applause, and that is what the president wants most of all.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Kimberly Ross on Twitter and Facebook.



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