Blago­je­vich finds par­al­lels be­tween Lin­coln and Trump

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist Fol­low Dana Mil­bank on Twit­ter, @Mil­bank.

Rod Blago­je­vich knows a valu­able thing when he sees it.

If he were a lesser man, he might have taken it as a ca­reer set­back when he was sen­tenced to 14 years in prison af­ter he tried, as Illi­nois gov­er­nor in 2008, to sell a U.S. Se­nate seat for cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. But not Blago. Im­peached, re­moved from of­fice and con­victed, he has seized the chance pre­sented him by his con­fine­ment to rein­vent him­self as a lead­ing pris­oner-his­to­rian.

His lat­est schol­arly work: a New Year’s Day es­say trac­ing some strik­ing par­al­lels be­tween Don­ald Trump and Abra­ham Lin­coln.

“I, like most peo­ple from my home state of Illi­nois, am a great ad­mirer of Abra­ham Lin­coln,” Blago­je­vich writes from his cur­rent home state of Colorado, lo­ca­tion of the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion-En­gle­wood. His own “un­happy ex­pe­ri­ence,” he ex­plains, pro­vides “this in­ter­est­ing and unique perspectiv­e about im­peach­ment as I sit here in prison.”

Blago’s perspectiv­e is in­deed unique. He writes: “To­day’s Democrats would have im­peached Lin­coln for ob­struc­tion of Congress and abuse of power when he uni­lat­er­ally is­sued his Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion.” They also would have im­peached him, he writes, for “Con­fed­er­ate col­lu­sion,” bribery and an “il­le­gal quid pro quo.” Well. “It’s hard to know where to be­gin,” Rut­gers Univer­sity his­to­rian David Green­berg replied when I in­quired about Blago­je­vich’s his­tor­i­cal schol­ar­ship. Green­berg ul­ti­mately set­tled on “spe­cious,” “sopho­moric” and “non­sen­si­cal.”

But Blago­je­vich is likely to get rather higher grades from an­other em­i­nent his­to­rian: Trump him­self, who has made many im­por­tant dis­cov­er­ies in the same field, no­tably that “most peo­ple don’t even know [Lin­coln] was a Repub­li­can” and that Fred­er­ick Dou­glass “is get­ting rec­og­nized more and more.”

Re­cently, Trump has rec­og­nized his own pres­i­dency as su­pe­rior to the Great Eman­ci­pa­tor’s. He tweeted out a poll show­ing that a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans think Trump is a bet­ter pres­i­dent than Lin­coln was.

Trump fur­ther con­cluded that, cam­paign­ing on to­day’s Demo­cratic plat­form, “Abra­ham Lin­coln could not win Texas.” He seems not to have known that Lin­coln couldn’t win Texas then, ei­ther; the Repub­li­can Party wasn’t even on the ballot.

Blago­je­vich has been an­gling for Trump to com­mute his sen­tence, a pos­si­bil­ity Trump has floated; Blago­je­vich’s wife has made ap­peals on Fox News, and Blago­je­vich re­cently ap­peared shirt­less, Putin-style, in the prison yard. But this may not be ex­actly the en­dorse­ment Trump wants: the most ex­trav­a­gantly cor­rupt politi­cian of re­cent years de­fend­ing the man who is giv­ing him a run for that ti­tle?

Blago­je­vich and Trump both at­tempted to trade, in Blago­je­vich’s mem­o­rable phrase, a “f — king valu­able thing” (a Se­nate seat in Blago­je­vich’s case, mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine in Trump’s) for their own ben­e­fit (cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions for Blago­je­vich, a take­down of a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent for Trump). Both schemes were re­vealed when the con­tents of a phone call leaked.

The dif­fer­ence: Blago­je­vich’s fel­low Democrats joined in drumming him from of­fice.

Trump speaks of Blago­je­vich (whose pre-prison re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­fort in­cluded a stint on Celebrity Ap­pren­tice) with some of the lan­guage the pres­i­dent also uses to de­fend his Ukraine en­tan­gle­ments: “He’s been in jail ... over a phone call where noth­ing hap­pened.”

Writ­ing for the Trumpfrien­dly web­site News­max, Blago­je­vich won­ders “what would have hap­pened had Nancy Pelosi been the Speaker of the House when Abra­ham Lin­coln was pres­i­dent.” Well, for one, Lin­coln prob­a­bly would have gob­bled a hand­ful of the blue mass upon dis­cov­er­ing that a woman was run­ning the House 60 years be­fore suf­frage.

But Blago­je­vich con­cludes that Democrats would have im­peached Lin­coln for eman­ci­pat­ing the slaves, not­ing that “the Democrats of that day op­posed it.” Thus does Blago’s time ma­chine skip 150 years of history in which the par­ties switched places on race.

He ar­gues that to­day’s Democrats

would have im­peached Lin­coln be­cause he “didn’t ask Congress for per­mis­sion when he de­clared an end to nearly 250 years of slav­ery” — ig­nor­ing Congress’s 1865 ap­proval of the 13th Amend­ment.

He asserts that to­day’s Democrats would de­mand a spe­cial coun­sel be­cause Lin­coln of­fered com­mand of the Army “to a guy who would go on to be­come the top mil­i­tary com­man­der of the other side” — sidestep­ping the fact that Robert E. Lee was still a colonel in the U.S. Army when of­fered the job.

And Blago­je­vich spec­u­lates that Lin­coln would face im­peach­ment for shenani­gans at po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions, ig­nor­ing the cru­cial dis­tinc­tion: He didn’t use his of­fi­cial pow­ers for per­sonal gain, as Blago­je­vich and Trump both did.

Come to think of it, Trump should com­mute Blago’s sen­tence, and soon. With four more years in prison, there’s no telling how much more dam­age the for­mer gov­er­nor could do to U.S. history.

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