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REX MURPHY: What Donald Trump would like in a man like Conrad Black

Lord Conrad Black in March 2018. - Jim Wells/Postmedia
Lord Conrad Black in March 2018. - Jim Wells/Postmedia

I do not think it is for supporting him in a time of political cholera that Trump issued the pardon but due to Black's sheer intelligence

Let me not to the marriage of true mind admit impediments.

I am not sure why a nuptial sonnet first wandered to mind when I heard President Donald Trump had issued a full pardon to Canada’s premier historian/journalist, but its first line very naturally did. Perhaps, even beyond the great differences in temperament and accomplishment between the two, and the even greater space between their modes of personal address and communication, there exist still some elements of character in common.

The gap between Conrad Black’s modes of communication and those of the president invite analogies to the scale of the Grand Canyon or the submarine sublimity of the Marianas Trench. They do so talk and write differently.

Trump’s relation to formal or polite written expression is on a plane between cobweb-tenuous to perhaps outright ignorance such expression exists. Historic though his impulsive Twitter howls may be, clever as some of its fusillades are, they will not rank highly in some future thesauri of English at its most telling or elegant. He is perfectly happy with a very limited range of diction and has a virtuoso gift for dismissive epithets. “Creepy” Hillary, “Low-energy” Jeb, “Fauxcahontas“ Warren — the mode is familiar, and is not given at all to the more polished and extended, composed hymns of anathema that have been the choice of all the great polemicists from Gibbon, McCauley, Disraeli, or Lloyd George and Churchill (the latter two both particularly brilliant and fertile in this mode.)

Black, when on extended wing, leans very heavily in the direction of the old masters. He is obviously saturated in the elder, more tailored and elegant forms of verbal abuse — it was, more or less, the chosen mode of aristocrat/politicians for one another. Black is at his most vigorous and inventive when it comes to the scourging of left-wing journalists. I believe he brings his gifts to this particular task more in sorrow than in anger, as an effort towards intellectual hygiene rather than more petty impulses of private revenge over peevish slights. I believe “poltroon” is a favourite of his, and he owns it now by virtue of frequent and joyous employment.

All this is confessedly a digression but the writings and pronouncements of Conrad Black are worth a digression and more. Back to the salient consideration, Trump’s lifting of the stigma of criminal conviction for Black. Some — many — will mutter it is because Black, swimming against the furious tide, has been a defender of the much-derided President against the many who see themselves as magnificently Trump’s better. Black has shown himself a daring man to champion one whom the better classes see as a vulgar, uncouth, a-intellectual, a con man and bully, and derogate the Yankee real-estate self-promoter as a stain on American polity. (The same group who somehow find virtue in the savage tactics and lustful self-enrichment of Hillary Clinton and her handmaid, Bill.)

 I do not think it is for supporting him in a time of political cholera that Trump issued the pardon. I rather hope it is to signal that he sees the sheer intellectual industry of the man — his uncanny ability to produce (in the twilight of his years after a period of some difficulty) so many and so worthy books. I have not met with Black, though sometimes I share the pages of the Post with him, but I may acknowledge that he masters my mind both in the volume and quality of what he produces.

Secondly, I think Trump must simply admire that one who has been brought low in reputation and wealth, “made a byword” to many who once were close, had the fortitude, after his various penalties and prison, not to bow the head, not to retreat in sullen exile and hide from his detractors, but to stand high, walk into controversy and enter his opinions into the great factional debates of our day.

There is a fighting gene in Black, and perhaps that element, rather than his various newspaper, book and panel defences of the President, attracted the attention of the White House holder, who has learned that returning fire in this age of instant and infinite comment is actually something of a route to honour in itself. It was a fine gesture.

So well done, Mr. President, and well-deserved, Mr. Black.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


ERIC H. SUSSMAN: I prosecuted Conrad Black — and this presidential pardon is a mockery of justice

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