President Trump and his administration seem to delight in doing everything they can to harm California and its people. They pair this hostility with so many idiotic policies on immigration, taxation, health care, the environment, women’s rights, and other subjects that it’s a wonder California has only sued the administration 50 times.
In this context, it can be hard to find anything good to say about the president. Lord knows I’ve tried. But Trump hasn’t delivered a single praiseworthy California action—until now.
The president’s pardon of Pat Nolan, a former Republican state legislative leader, was the right call. Nolan pleaded guilty in the famous “Shrimpscam” corruption investigation that dragged on for years in 1980s and 1990s. Nolan was far from blameless in the case, though it’s arguable whether he deserved to go to prison for schemes that connected campaign contributions to official actions, given that doing things for campaign contributors is, unfortunately, the standard business model of American politics. Reading old accounts of Nolan’s case and others, there are clear signs of investigative and prosecutorial overreach, and of the nasty tendency to criminalize political differences.
But Nolan’s actions since his prison sentence show a commitment to criminal justice reform and to the public good. He was a very good candidate for a pardon. And his response to the pardon—that there are many people in prison who also merit forgiveness—was pitch-perfect.
As for Trump, it’s fair to wonder whether his pardon was really to honor Nolan, or whether it was a way to put his finger in the eye of the FBI and the federal prosecutors with whom he is warring. Trump, in other contexts, is now seeking to retaliate against his investigators. The president may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons here. But, if only for this one time, at least he did the right thing.