The American Left is beside itself because President Donald Trump may be about to do the right thing. If that isn’t exasperating enough for them, he’s about to do the right thing where a race issue is concerned. It appears at least some on the left would rather see an injustice stand than see President Trump get credit for righting it.
Trump said over the weekend that he was considering a posthumous pardon (which is rare) for former heavyweight champ Jack Johnson. Full disclosure: I was unaware of Johnson’s story until Trump tweeted that Sylvester “Rocky” Stallone called the president and shared Johnson’s story with him. That’s what has Trump considering the pardon. If, like me, you hadn’t previously heard Johnson’s story:
In the summer of 1912, Jack Johnson met Lucille Cameron, an 18-year-old prostitute from Milwaukee who visited the Café de Champion with a friend. He soon hired her as his “stenographer,” but less than a month after Etta Duryea’s funeral she was seen in public on Johnson’s arm. In October, Cameron’s mother went to the police and charged Johnson with kidnapping her daughter. She told the press, “Jack Johnson has hypnotic powers, and he has exercised them on my little girl. I would rather see my daughter spend the rest of her life in an insane asylum than see her the plaything of a n*****.” On October 18, Johnson was arrested for violating the Mann Act, but Cameron refused to cooperate, and the case fell apart. Less than a month later, Johnson was arrested again on Mann Act charges. On December 4 — less than three months after Duryea’s suicide — Johnson and Cameron were married, an act that outraged the public.
Pardoning Johnson seems to be a slam dunk to me and I have no backstory as to why President Barack Obama didn’t, despite two congressional resolutions urging him to do so. Yet, some on the left are deploying pretzel-like logic to suggest that Trump righting this wrong would in and of itself represent an injustice:
Yet what is even more repellent today is the thought that Donald Trump would be the one to “pardon” Johnson. First and foremost, a “pardon” means that Johnson did something wrong and that guilt must be acknowledged. The language should be that of exoneration. Second, Donald Trump not only lacks the credibility to either pardon or exonerate Jack Johnson—he does not even have the moral standing to have Jack Johnson’s name in his mouth. This is Donald Trump, who still believes the exonerated Central Park 5 to be guilty. Just ask yourself what Donald Trump would be saying if he were around in Jack Johnson’s heyday.
I don’t doubt for a moment that Trump’s motive is at least somewhat cynical. He has countless political reasons for doing this now. And I agree with the criticisms of Trump’s record on race. But does a track record of doing wrong preclude someone from doing what’s right even if, and I’m just hypothesizing here, it is for the wrong reason?
For example, if a convicted bank robber who has served his time chooses to risk his life and intervene in an armed robbery does he not deserve credit? And it’s very possible he did it to try to clear his bad record and not simply to do the right thing.
The first African American president had the chance to do right by Jack Johnson, twice, and failed to do so. Only he knows why. Trump appears willing to do the right thing. Only he knows why. But it’s still the right thing to do and he should do it.