Why Trump is letting a corrupt Democrat out of prison

Published on Thursday, 20 February 2020 20:03
Written by Paul Waldman

“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f---ing golden,” said then-Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois in 2008, referring to his ability to fill the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama. “And I’m just not giving it up for f---ing nothing.”

We know this because Blagojevich’s phone was being tapped by the FBI; his efforts to get personal benefit in exchange for that Senate seat made up some of the multiple counts of bribery and extortion that resulted in his conviction and 14-year sentence. But now, a savior has ridden to Blagojevich’s rescue. According to The Washington Post:

“Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One that he had commuted the sentence of Blagojevich, noting he’d seen Blagojevich’s wife advocate for him on television and that the Democrat had appeared on the Celebrity Apprentice.

“’He’ll be able to go back to his family after serving eight years in jail, which was a powerful and ridiculous sentence in my opinion,’ Trump said.”

Why would Trump do this? After all, Blagojevich was a Democrat, and not a longtime friend who was convicted of crimes in Trump’s service, like Roger Stone (though there was that predictably pathetic four-episode run he had on “The Celebrity Apprentice” while awaiting trial). Was the president motivated only by his strong sense of justice?

Maybe somewhat (and before your jaw drops, I’ll explain). But there’s a strategy at work too, one that relates directly to this fall’s election.

Given everything we’ve seen from the president, it’s almost certain that Trump sincerely believed Blagojevich’s sentence was unfair.

So he tried to shake down a children’s hospital, using state funding as a way to extort campaign contributions. What’s the big deal? That’s just shrewd dealmaking. Would we really want to live in a world where public officials can’t wet their beaks?

But more than that, what Trump is really after is the normalization of corruption. The fact that Blagojevich was a Democrat makes it all the better.

In politics we often argue that some misdeed a politician commits will make thereafter make it impossible for them to criticize their opponents for doing something similar. In this view, hypocrisy is something to be avoided, since it is assumed to be politically damaging. But Trump always operated on exactly the opposite principle: Not only can I accuse my opponents of the very thing I’m guilty of, it’s even better if I’m guilty of it.

So this spectacularly corrupt candidate accused his 2016 opponent of being “crooked.” The man who had been accused of various degrees of sexual misconduct and assault by two dozen women held a news conference with women who had made similar accusations against Bill Clinton.

And the president who appointed his own daughter and son-in-law to key White House positions argues that it’s just awful that Joe Biden’s son got to sit on a corporate board while his father was vice president.

The point was never to say that he was innocent. It was to say that everyone’s guilty.

If you believe that, Trump’s own behavior no longer seems aberrant, nor does it mean you shouldn’t vote for him. The worldview Trump wants us to accept is one in which there are no rules, no morals, and no principles that must be obeyed.

The most cynical ideas about politics - all politicians are crooks, government is never used to benefit ordinary people - not only support the broader conservative view and undermine Democrats who try to convince people that government can be a force for good, they’re particularly beneficial to Trump himself.

Paul Waldman is an opinion writer for the Plum Line blog.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Thursday, 20 February 2020 20:03. Updated: Thursday, 20 February 2020 20:05.