Trump co-opting NFL critics with pardon offer

More than a few hackles have been raised by President Trump's seemingly offhand offer to protesting NFL players to suggest candidates for pardons.  Taking questions prior to boarding Marine One for his journey to Quebec for the G-7 Summit, he stated:

"I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me, because that's what they're protesting – people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.  And I understand that," Trump said.  "They've seen a lot of abuse and they've seen a lot of unfairness."


(Screen grab.)

The tactic of asking critics to take part in the process of fixing their complaint is part of Leadership 101 – a tool that effective executives (and other leaders, especially politicians) need to have in their repertoire.  It can deflect negative energy into positive collaboration under the right circumstances.  I taught MBA students at Harvard Business School this technique.  The technical name for this sort of process is co-optation, and it is a tactic available only to those with power.

It's pretty clear to me that his unpleasant experience with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, especially his gaffe in referencing kneeling in a tweet when the Eagles had a perfect record on the subject last season, has stung the president.  I suspect that that has given some thought to repairing that damage and turning the lemon of athletes boycotting White House visits into some kind of lemonade.

It also appears that he understands that exercise of his pardon power is a good way to address the anger many African-Americans feel toward what they regard as the injustice of the frequency and duration of imprisonment for blacks compared to other ethnicities, in particular whites.  I can see why his foes become apoplectic over such a strategy, as electoral success for many Democrats depends heavily on heavy black turnout and 90-plus-percent support for Democrats.  Thus the constant slander of Republicans as racists.

But I take far more seriously complaints from serious conservatives like Powerline's Paul Mirengoff, who called the offer "absurd."  He writes:

Suddenly, the NFL kneelers have been transformed from unpatriotic sons-of-b‑‑‑‑‑‑ to Trump's partner in doling out justice and righting wrongs.  I never thought the players were sons-of-b‑‑‑‑‑ (unpatriotic, yes at least in some cases), but they certainly deserve no special standing when it comes to the clemency process.

Classic Trump.  Get his critics off balance by an attack, and then further the confusion by a nice offer.  Incidentally, the same complaint about standing was voiced about Kim Kardashian having access to the president and successfully lobbying for clemency.  But whether or not "special standing" is involved, the fact is that in today's media culture, celebrities and athletes and others in the public eye are given a voice that is heard far more than that of Joe and Jane Blow.  That is why so many actors and athletes feel impelled to "speak out" on their favorite causes.  For better or worse, they have a kind of standing you and I do not.

Inviting championship teams to the Oval Office confers "special standing" on athletes in the first place.  So far as I know, only major sports receive this treatment.  Lacrosse, curling, and other less visible sports don't get invitations for presidential congratulations.

Being the homey of an NFL player should not qualify a criminal for consideration for clemency.  Indeed, the mindless, knee-jerk quality of the players' protest (remember, it started with the shooting of Michael Brown whom even the Obama administration could not find to be a victim) suggests they are the last people Trump should seek guidance from.

Realistically, having a visible backer urge clemency does qualify one for consideration because the name gets on the public agenda.  The key, however, is to have a robust vetting process for consideration of pardons.  I understand that the Department of Justice does have a bureaucracy devoted to just such a purpose.  But it would not surprise me if President Trump sought to bolster that group with additions of criminal justice experts and some of his critics.  He seems to enjoy hearing arguments from advocates of clashing opinions, and because his pardon power is absolute and unfettered, he gets to make the decision he wants.

I do think Paul Mirengoff nails the underlying political strategy:

Trump is pursuing a political agenda – breaking the Democrats' stranglehold on the black vote, especially the black male vote.  Trump already has reason to believe he can make inroads with black male voters.  The strength of the economy and the force of his personality are on his side.

Delivering clemency for African-American icons like Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali (if it were possible) should add to Trump's appeal to black makes.  So would clemency for thousands of African-American criminals.

Trump doesn't want to alienate his base, though. That's why he insists that NFL players should have to come on the field and engage in expression they say violates their beliefs.

Trump is trying to thread the needle on the NFL protesters.  There's something for his base and something for African-Americans.

It might work.  Until the first felon Trump lets out of prison murders someone.

That last point is always a risk for parole boards as well as governors and presidents with pardon power.  It is a good reason for the review process to be strict.  And engaging critics is a way to sort through the risks and get them on board.

President Trump is always fighting for his political life against a media and a federal bureaucracy that are out to end his presidency prematurely.  His choice of weapons to fight back is as unorthodox as the tactics of his critics.  Besides, even though bad behavior by other presidents (Marc Rich, for example) is no justification, I don't see any abuses yet, and if critics are heard and addressed, the pardon process can be a genuine benefit to more than President Trump.  It can address chronic grievances of a major segment of society.

More than a few hackles have been raised by President Trump's seemingly offhand offer to protesting NFL players to suggest candidates for pardons.  Taking questions prior to boarding Marine One for his journey to Quebec for the G-7 Summit, he stated:

"I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me, because that's what they're protesting – people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.  And I understand that," Trump said.  "They've seen a lot of abuse and they've seen a lot of unfairness."


(Screen grab.)

The tactic of asking critics to take part in the process of fixing their complaint is part of Leadership 101 – a tool that effective executives (and other leaders, especially politicians) need to have in their repertoire.  It can deflect negative energy into positive collaboration under the right circumstances.  I taught MBA students at Harvard Business School this technique.  The technical name for this sort of process is co-optation, and it is a tactic available only to those with power.

It's pretty clear to me that his unpleasant experience with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, especially his gaffe in referencing kneeling in a tweet when the Eagles had a perfect record on the subject last season, has stung the president.  I suspect that that has given some thought to repairing that damage and turning the lemon of athletes boycotting White House visits into some kind of lemonade.

It also appears that he understands that exercise of his pardon power is a good way to address the anger many African-Americans feel toward what they regard as the injustice of the frequency and duration of imprisonment for blacks compared to other ethnicities, in particular whites.  I can see why his foes become apoplectic over such a strategy, as electoral success for many Democrats depends heavily on heavy black turnout and 90-plus-percent support for Democrats.  Thus the constant slander of Republicans as racists.

But I take far more seriously complaints from serious conservatives like Powerline's Paul Mirengoff, who called the offer "absurd."  He writes:

Suddenly, the NFL kneelers have been transformed from unpatriotic sons-of-b‑‑‑‑‑‑ to Trump's partner in doling out justice and righting wrongs.  I never thought the players were sons-of-b‑‑‑‑‑ (unpatriotic, yes at least in some cases), but they certainly deserve no special standing when it comes to the clemency process.

Classic Trump.  Get his critics off balance by an attack, and then further the confusion by a nice offer.  Incidentally, the same complaint about standing was voiced about Kim Kardashian having access to the president and successfully lobbying for clemency.  But whether or not "special standing" is involved, the fact is that in today's media culture, celebrities and athletes and others in the public eye are given a voice that is heard far more than that of Joe and Jane Blow.  That is why so many actors and athletes feel impelled to "speak out" on their favorite causes.  For better or worse, they have a kind of standing you and I do not.

Inviting championship teams to the Oval Office confers "special standing" on athletes in the first place.  So far as I know, only major sports receive this treatment.  Lacrosse, curling, and other less visible sports don't get invitations for presidential congratulations.

Being the homey of an NFL player should not qualify a criminal for consideration for clemency.  Indeed, the mindless, knee-jerk quality of the players' protest (remember, it started with the shooting of Michael Brown whom even the Obama administration could not find to be a victim) suggests they are the last people Trump should seek guidance from.

Realistically, having a visible backer urge clemency does qualify one for consideration because the name gets on the public agenda.  The key, however, is to have a robust vetting process for consideration of pardons.  I understand that the Department of Justice does have a bureaucracy devoted to just such a purpose.  But it would not surprise me if President Trump sought to bolster that group with additions of criminal justice experts and some of his critics.  He seems to enjoy hearing arguments from advocates of clashing opinions, and because his pardon power is absolute and unfettered, he gets to make the decision he wants.

I do think Paul Mirengoff nails the underlying political strategy:

Trump is pursuing a political agenda – breaking the Democrats' stranglehold on the black vote, especially the black male vote.  Trump already has reason to believe he can make inroads with black male voters.  The strength of the economy and the force of his personality are on his side.

Delivering clemency for African-American icons like Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali (if it were possible) should add to Trump's appeal to black makes.  So would clemency for thousands of African-American criminals.

Trump doesn't want to alienate his base, though. That's why he insists that NFL players should have to come on the field and engage in expression they say violates their beliefs.

Trump is trying to thread the needle on the NFL protesters.  There's something for his base and something for African-Americans.

It might work.  Until the first felon Trump lets out of prison murders someone.

That last point is always a risk for parole boards as well as governors and presidents with pardon power.  It is a good reason for the review process to be strict.  And engaging critics is a way to sort through the risks and get them on board.

President Trump is always fighting for his political life against a media and a federal bureaucracy that are out to end his presidency prematurely.  His choice of weapons to fight back is as unorthodox as the tactics of his critics.  Besides, even though bad behavior by other presidents (Marc Rich, for example) is no justification, I don't see any abuses yet, and if critics are heard and addressed, the pardon process can be a genuine benefit to more than President Trump.  It can address chronic grievances of a major segment of society.