When Conrad Black went off to prison we thought that it was the end of him. For the imperious aristocrat, it was the ultimate in ignominy, a descent into disgrace and obloquy (one of his favourite words) from which he could not possibly recover.
People love to see the high and mighty fall. So what a vicarious delight it was, particularly for Canadian progressives, to envisage Lord Black in an orange jumpsuit. He wouldn’t face up to it, many thought. He would flee the country rather than undergo such an annihilation of pride and ego.
Mr. Black was released in 2012, having spent a total of just more than three years in the crowbar hotel. But he didn’t appear to be suffering to the extent many had hoped. There were no photos of Mr. Black hanging his head in shame. He taught fellow prisoners history lessons and he made friends among the low and unmighty, something snobs are not supposed to do.
Post-prison, he wrote newspaper columns and big books. Canadians who thought they were done with Conrad Black found no such relief. He continued to live in his Toronto mansion – this despite having renounced his Canadian citizenship in a dispute with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien over an appointment to the British House of Lords.
This was galling, but the worst for his legions of detractors was yet to come. It came last week, when – after repeatedly adorning the Trump presidency with sumptuous praise (including a glowing 2018 biography about the U.S. President) – he was granted a Trump pardon.
Given that Canadians regard Donald Trump with as much scorn as they appear to regard Mr. Black, it was too much. It was as if one malefactor was being pardoned by another. In the United States, there was outrage as well. CNN’s Anderson Cooper reserved a spot on his “RidicuList" segment to eviscerate him.
Unsurprisingly, most of the bitterness emanated from left-of-centre circles. Mr. Black’s outsize character is one that rails against the Canadian stereotype of restraint in most every way. He has no chance of finding widespread favour. Having paid the penalty of years of incarceration for his crimes is not enough.
But the pardon, unwarranted as so many presidential pardons are, marked another big step in his rehabilitation. This is not a popular comeback story – from the slammer to redemption – of note.
What was he supposed to do? Refuse the presidential pardon? That he got it, to be sure, was a result of his heaping praise on the President. Does anyone think that it would have happened if he were a Trump critic? Did those who were convicted along with him receive pardons?
Mr. Black is a historian. That he could have such admiration for a President as unread and ignorant of history as Mr. Trump strains credulity. But Mr. Black’s tastes are divergent. He wrote an admiring book on Richard Nixon. Highbrow that he is, he was a big defender of that obstinate lowbrow, the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Even without a pardon in the cards, he likely would have been a fan of the Trump policy prejudices.
Although I and most others think he is far off the mark in his assessments of this President, he was right on a very big call: He was insistent all along that there was no collusion with the Russians. Anderson Cooper might have mentioned that.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Black is irrepressible. He can’t be held down. Like the President, he is overbearingly brash and egotistical, always ready to call down the gods of political correctness and to smear critics who get in his way.
Progressives are understandably bitter toward him by virtue of what he has done to their cause. He founded the Conservatives’ flagship newspaper, the National Post. He bought out the centrist Southam newspaper chain and turned it into a conservative chain, which is now Postmedia and includes the Sun chain. In this predominantly progressive country, conservative pundits, thanks largely to Mr. Black, have a dominant voice.
Having changed the tenor of Canadian print journalism, he is entitled to exalted status among conservatives. For them, the pardon is good news.
When he went to prison, his voice was thought to be disgraced and stilled. It appears now that it will never be.
Back when he was facing the fraud charges, private citizen Donald Trump told Vanity Fair, “Conrad is a tremendously strong man who will overcome these obstacles. … He will prevail.”
It now appears – with help from that rash iconoclast in the Oval Office – to be the case.