â€śIâ€™ve got this thing, and itâ€™s f---ing golden,â€ť said then-Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois in 2008, referring to his ability to fill the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama. â€śAnd Iâ€™m just not giving it up for f---ing nothing.â€ť
We know this because Blagojevichâ€™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 Blagojevichâ€™s rescue. According to The Washington Post:
â€śTrump told reporters before boarding Air Force One that he had commuted the sentence of Blagojevich, noting heâ€™d seen Blagojevichâ€™s wife advocate for him on television and that the Democrat had appeared on the Celebrity Apprentice.
â€śâ€™Heâ€™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,â€™ Trump said.â€ť
Why would Trump do this? After all, Blagojevich was a Democrat, and not a longtime friend who was convicted of crimes in Trumpâ€™s service, like Roger Stone (though there was that predictably pathetic four-episode run he had on â€śThe Celebrity Apprenticeâ€ť while awaiting trial). Was the president motivated only by his strong sense of justice?
Maybe somewhat (and before your jaw drops, Iâ€™ll explain). But thereâ€™s a strategy at work too, one that relates directly to this fallâ€™s election.
Given everything weâ€™ve seen from the president, itâ€™s almost certain that Trump sincerely believed Blagojevichâ€™s sentence was unfair.
So he tried to shake down a childrenâ€™s hospital, using state funding as a way to extort campaign contributions. Whatâ€™s the big deal? Thatâ€™s just shrewd dealmaking. Would we really want to live in a world where public officials canâ€™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 Iâ€™m guilty of, itâ€™s even better if Iâ€™m guilty of it.
So this spectacularly corrupt candidate accused his 2016 opponent of being â€ścrooked.â€ť 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 itâ€™s just awful that Joe Bidenâ€™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 everyoneâ€™s guilty.
If you believe that, Trumpâ€™s own behavior no longer seems aberrant, nor does it mean you shouldnâ€™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, theyâ€™re particularly beneficial to Trump himself.
Paul Waldman is an opinion writer for the Plum Line blog.