On Wednesday, the president tweeted about a meeting he had with the celebrated cosmetic mogul:
Kardashian met with Trump to push for prison reform and also to ask for a pardon for a long serving prisoner. As The New York Times reports, Kardashian has become a champion of Alice Johnson, “a 63-year-old Tennessee woman who, according to the nonprofit project Can-Do, was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison on charges related to cocaine possession and money laundering.”
Advocating for prison reform with Trump is a fruitless task. Although Trump has made some gestures in the direction of reform, notably by tasking his son-in-law Jared Kushner with the job of overhauling the criminal justice system, there is no sign that this White House can deliver on its promises. Too many Republicans, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are wedded to a lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-keys worldview.
Still, the lesser but valuable goal of pardoning individual prisoners can pay dividends. Celebrities of all sorts, whether in Hollywood, the music industry, or sports, should stop shunning Trump and leverage their fame to help individual prisoners. Trump clearly loves famous people of all stripes and seems willing to grant their wishes in exchange for a photo-op. Trump pardoned the late boxer Jack Johnson at the behest of actor Sylvester Stallone.
Unlike making policy, pardoning is something Trump can do easily. It would be preferable if he had a more systematic agenda, but he should be encouraged to exercise the presidential pardoning power for cases that go outside his preferred ambit of partisanship (as with his with pardons of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Dick Cheney adviser Scooter Libby).
One argument against meeting Trump is that giving him a photo-op helps him politically and normalizes his presidency. But it’s unlikely that pardoning individuals will sway voters. Further, Trump is already president and has genuine power. Instead of worrying about normalization, the better path is trying to push him to use his authority in a positive way, however small.