Blagojevich finds parallels between Lincoln and Trump
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.