Surprise! A wealthy, larger-than-life businessman is willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
Because of Conrad Black’s historical ties to Postmedia, and because there are still Canadians out there who respect Black as some sort of intellectual paragon—despite, you know, the crimes and all—he still occasionally writes columns for the National Post. He uses this space to remind us that he’s an Important Historian in addition to being a felon (and Black’s historical writing is fine, so long as you don’t mind there being certain… issues… with his discussion of Indigenous peoples). We are all expected to pay homage to his bloviating about modern politics, receive his wisdom, and take his arguments seriously.
There is a central problem with this thesis statement, which is that Black’s personal biases taint his work. Or, to put it another way, Black has a nigh-terminal case of Old-White-Man-Forgives-Other-White-Men-Their-Foibles Disease; this was particularly evident in his infamous televised interview with Rob Ford on ZoomerTV. It’s also prominent in Black’s columns about the American election, of which his latest is a sterling example—Conrad Black is forgiving of Donald Trump (and there is so much to forgive), and thus needs to explain to us all that, no, the presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton was in fact “even” instead of what actually happened, which is that Trump melted down in front of a massive national and international audience and acted like an incontinent toddler. But never fear: when a conservative contrarian is needed to tell the public what actually happened, Conrad Black is always at the ready!
There is so much to unpack here, but let’s try to go through the lowlights:
Trump, though given to tangents and grating egocentricities, was sensible and his views were not immoderate.
During the debate Trump claimed that the Federal Reserve was abandoning its nonpartisan duty in order to assist the Democrats and Barack Obama. He repeatedly described the United States as a “third world country” and particularly—and nonsensically—complained about American airports in this regard. His justification for being sued in the 1970s for discriminating against Black people was to point out that he had settled the lawsuits and that lots of people were being sued for the same thing. (Which is not really a great defense because there was a lot of discrimination against Black people then.) And this is before you consider all of the insane things Hillary Clinton pointed out that Donald Trump has said during the campaign where he simply lied and pretended he had never said them.
It was indicative of the feebleness of the extreme versions of anti-Trumpism that she was reduced to citing the birther issue as evidence of racism. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Trump, but not because of his extreme views, as he is a moderate in all policy areas and only reached for the Archie Bunker vote with pyrotechnics about illegal immigration and trade deals that have yielded poor results for the United States. (He has no concern with trade with Canada and recognizes Canada as a fair-trading country, and his attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement are about the trade imbalance with Mexico, not U.S.-Canada free trade.) Of course the birther issue was absurd; even if President Barack Obama had been technically ineligible to be president, by the time it got going as a controversy, he had served several years in the office and there was nothing to be done about it. But the question was of his parents’ nationality; it had nothing to do with race, religion, or pigmentation.
We will now all be very, very shocked that Conrad Black thinks that the birther issue wasn’t about racism! It was about nationality. Specifically, it was about the nationality of America’s first Black president, but that is only a coincidence. Similarly, the fact that birthers—like Trump—were not satisfied when the state of Hawaii released Obama’s birth certificate and said “no, he’s an American citizen” and their refusal to accept that a man who just happened to be Black was also rightfully a citizen and president was also not driven by race, but nationality. Indeed, says Conrad Black, Donald Trump would have been just as concerned if Barack Obama’s name was in fact Barack O’Bama, white son of an Irish father. The fact that Donald Trump felt entitled to demand to see the papers of a Black man, to question and demean the legal status of a Black man without any evidence even remotely suggesting this was reasonable, is entirely race-neutral and how dare anybody suggest that race be involved?
Trump’s entire voluminous record of public comments can be ransacked without finding a scintilla of evidence to support the charge of racism or sectarian prejudice.
At this point I think we need a GIF of a confused-looking puppy:
Because Donald Trump kicked off his campaign suggesting that Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. His campaign’s “Black outreach” almost entirely consists of telling white audiences that Black people in America live in urban savagery. He used broken English to imitate Chinese and Japanese negotiators. And that’s just the last year and a half! Donald Trump has a long history of racist behaviour and comments. He is a racist. The fact that Conrad Black desperately wishes to deny this obvious truth is really kind of odd.
As he mentioned, he has sometimes said rude things about some women, usually very obnoxious women, but never about the female sex.
Donald Trump, in a 1990 New Yorker interview: “Women. You have to treat them like shit.” Perhaps this passes the Conrad Black smell test, wherein a ridiculously long list of asinine, hateful, and crude comments about specific women cannot apparently be used to divine a person’s attitudes about women generally.
Everyone who has followed this campaign at all knew what Trump meant in graciously responding near the end of Monday night’s encounter that he had shown great forbearance in resisting the temptation to reply unkindly to her claims that he disrespected women.
Yes, we all did, which is because Trump pulls the “I’m not going to say [x]” rhetorical trick all the time. It is, of course, a sixth-grade-level dodge, because the person claiming they don’t want to say something then gets to say the thing anyway, and indeed Trump made specific unkind allegations about Hillary Clinton’s claims of sexism both before and after the debate. Remember, Trump initially invited Gennifer Flowers, Bill Clinton’s former paramour, to attend the debate, and there is literally no good reason to do that except to suggest that Bill’s moral failings are somehow Hillary’s as well—a stance Trump has emphasized repeatedly during his campaign, because he’s a scumbag.
In a signally sour and nasty action, the usually gentlemanly George H.W. Bush (the senior president Bush), said last week he would vote for Clinton. Bush has served his country with distinction as a combat naval aviator all the way through to its highest office. But he was handed victory in the Cold War and an economic boom and a strong Republican party by Ronald Reagan. He allowed his party to be splintered by the billionaire charlatan Ross Perot in 1992, and fumbled the White House into the hands of the Clintons, who would not have been nationally known but for Bush’s ineptitude as party leader.
This is the part that’s actually sort of amazing to this writer, because Conrad Black being sympathetic to an old white male mediocrity isn’t surprising, but Conrad Black getting basic history wrong on the facts is surprising. His own problematic views aside, when you remove the issue of race from historical narrative, he’s usually pretty good at surmising the historical record, and he’s flat-out wrong here. Ross Perot didn’t “splinter” the Republican party in 1992; polling revealed that he drew support from both Bush and Clinton equally, which means that in a two-person race Clinton would have also defeated Bush. Bush lost the presidency in 1992 not because of Ross Perot but because he was unpopular, in large part because he recognized that the “economic boom” created by the Reagan administration had been fueled by uncontrollable deficit spending and instituted tax hikes to try to combat those deficits when the boom ended. This is pretty basic modern American history. It’s kind of surprising Black doesn’t know about this!
But really, this isn’t about what Black does and doesn’t know, but rather about what he wants and doesn’t want to exist. Which explains why in his head, there is a different Donald Trump:
Trump stands for tax reform
His tax plan is “reform” only in the sense that it is a series of massive tax cuts targeting the most wealthy Americans. It is understandable that Black is for wealthy people having more money—because, despite recent setbacks, Conrad Black is wealthy people.
much less hypocritical favouritism to Wall Street and special interests than has greased the wheels for the Clintons for 25 years
Trump wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, has stated he doesn’t want “to break up the banks,” and has turned to a number of large institutional investors (like Carl Icahn, Ken Langone, Anthony Scaramucci, and John Paulson, among many others) to fund his campaign.
serious health care and not the hemorrhaging ineffectuality of Obamacare
Trump’s proposal for health care is to replace the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts, which encourage people to avoid spending money on preventative care and penalize low-income earners because the tax credits involved in HSAs are meaningless to poor people; to allow cross-state insurance purchasing, which will create a race-to-the-bottom market for health insurance regulation similar to what has happened with credit card companies in the United States; and to turn Medicaid into a block-grant system, which will remove federal requirements for how Medicaid funds are to be spent on poor people and children and let individual states use the money as they see fit, which usually means “badly.” Trump has many ideas about health care, but none of them are “serious.”
the ability to utter the words “Islamist terror” (and to do something about it beyond apologizing to the Muslims), and a foreign policy down the middle between George W. Bush’s trigger-happy, locker room towel-snapping quick draw, and Obama’s Peter Pan peace offerings to America’s mortal enemies.
Setting aside the standard conservative whine about not saying the word “Islamist”—which, as Barack Obama has pointed out, changes literally nothing for the better anyway, other than possibly giving the Conrad Blacks of the world tiny, throbbing erections—Donald Trump has, during his campaign, actively encouraged nuclear proliferation, claimed that he would go to war with Iran because Iranian sailors made rude gestures at American troops, and has repeatedly promised to invade Syria and seize their oil fields.
Black’s suggestion that Trump is a sober moderate on foreign policy is laughable, but, like most of his column, it makes sense if you recognize that Black forgives Donald Trump for his many, many mediocrities (and worse). It is, perhaps, a projection of sorts, because Conrad Black is a man who needs a lot of forgiveness in his life, and at times he has sought it and not received it: it was, one has to admit, particularly delicious to see Black come snivelling back to Canada in 2012, hinting that he wanted his Canadian citizenship back after he withdrew it so he could play dress-up as a British Peer. Unfortunately for Black, the whole “being a felon” thing kind of got in the way of that, and also got him booted from the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Privy Council.
We’re listing all of this because it’s important to remember that Conrad Black is a bad person, a bloviating snob and son of wealth who bounced around private schools and universities in his youth in the way that only really rich people get to do, and who turned his inherited wealth into much more wealth via tactics that were often criticized by business partners and onlookers alike. And it’s important to remember all of this when looking at how Black writes about Donald Trump, who is a lot like Black in many ways, albeit cruder.