The U.S. Justice Department instructs that “a pardon is not a sign of vindication.” In other words, a pardon shouldn’t be viewed as absolving of blame or proving that actions were justified or reasonable. Yet listen to President Trump, and that is how he sees his pardon of Joe Arpaio, a former county sheriff in Arizona.

The president repeatedly has argued that Arpaio was “convicted for doing his job.” He has pointed to years of “selfless public service,” adding, as he did on Monday, three days after issuing the pardon, that federal authorities treated Arpaio “unbelievably unfairly.”

That the president pushed aside the Justice Department guidelines hardly surprises. His campaign and administration so far have broken with traditions and shredded norms. The guidelines also describe a pardon as “a sign of forgiveness,” reflecting an “acceptance of responsibility, remorse and atonement.” They are part of a process that usually requires a five-year waiting period before making application, along with a lengthy vetting conducted by the Office of the Pardon Attorney at Justice.

Without question, other presidents have bypassed the usual channels. In the waning hours of his presidency, Bill Clinton issued an egregious pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier whose former wife contributed generously to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library foundation. What makes the pardon of Arpaio so offensive is the defiance of the rule of law.

In July, a federal judge found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stop detaining people merely on the suspicion they were in the country illegally. The practice neglected the need for probable cause. The courts long told the sheriff to cease such racial profiling because it was abusive and unconstitutional. Arpaio went ahead, anyway.

Thus, the sheriff — an officer of the law — put himself above the law.

It isn’t hard to see what the president likes in Arpaio, beyond his “birther” allegiance and early endorsement of the Trump presidential run. Both express a disdain for what they consider politically correct, in this instance, judges, including appointees of George W. Bush, blocking their bad ideas for advancing order. Arpaio infamously housed inmates in a near shambles of a tent city, revived chain gains and otherwise humiliated those he held, to the delight, of course, of many voters.

The president referred to a “so-called judge” in the travel ban case and has yet to grasp, or so it seems, the necessary independence of the Justice Department. He first asked Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, whether the case against Arpaio could be dropped.

Research shows the tactics of Joe Arpaio did practically nothing to improve public safety or recidivism rates. As it is, his failure to do his job was more profound. The old truism goes that this is a government of laws, not of men. In defying the courts, the sheriff made his public work more about himself, about the theatricality he brought to the office. The same could be said about President Trump. And now they have joined in a most inappropriate pardon.