When two parents get a divorce, their children often wind up changed by the ordeal.
Preoccupied with the conflict and confusion of a breakup, parents let slide child supervision. Sometimes, the parents bribe the child with gifts to one-up each other or assuage their guilt at sundering the family.
Pretty soon, they wake up to find they live with a spoiled, run-amok teenager who has learned to play the parents against one another, flout control, and cajole for goodies.
The American culture war since the 1960s resembles an escalating divorce between progressives and conservatives. The teenagers in this analogy are America’s politicians.
‘AS AMERICAN AS SOFT CORRUPTION’
While Americans have focused on savaging one another over cultural issues like abortion, gun control, and gay marriage, they have allowed the political class to get away with making the United States the soft-corruption capital of the First World.
Average Americans don’t apprehend much about soft corruption. There has been an unspoken agreement among the political class to focus on exciting cultural issues during campaigns and avoid discussing one another’s soft-corruption transgressions. This worked out well all around. The corruption is so rampant that few politicians can withstand counter-scrutiny. And for voters, discussing corruption is boring and uncomfortable.
That all changed when Donald Trump attacked the corruption of Hillary Clinton, and the chant “LOCK HER UP!” rang out.
Bill and Hil elevated soft corruption to an industrial art form, as painstakingly detailed in Peter Schweitzer’s book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Without getting into the weeds, the mechanics of soft corruption are quite simple. For example:
“Oh, you want me to help you in my job as secretary of state? Fascinating. On a totally unrelated note, did you know you can hire my intern-diddling husband to speak for an hour at your conference for the bargain price of $500,000?”
There are many variations. But the essence of soft corruption usually boils down to: I will do something for you; and you hire my family member or pay my Global Initiative Foundation fat stacks of cold cash.
“In 2013 the [Clinton] foundation took in $140 million but spent only $9 million on direct aid. The rest went toward administrative expenses–salaries, bonuses, conferences, travel and development. Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, looked at the financials in 2015 and concluded that the foundation appeared to be run as a slush fund for the Clintons.”
The best part of soft corruption is that–unless authorities can produce evidence that a quid pro quo was explicit–soft corruption isn’t illegal. After all, why shouldn’t Hunter Biden be allowed to “work” for Burisma? Who are we to say he’s not worth $37,000 a month as a board member and consultant? Can we bar politicians’ families–like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife–from scratching out a living by the hot sweat of their brow? Of course not!
BREAKING THE CORRUPTION TABOO
Bringing up soft corruption with progressives often provokes white-hot denial and shrieks of “Whatabout…!” On the charge of hypocrisy, they have a point: plenty of Republicans have dipped into soft corruption to enrich the clan.
But denial, not hypocrisy, is our focus here. Progressives seem ready to overlook any amount of legal corruption–or even illegal corruption–so long as the offenders will fight their culture war for them: “Do whatever else you want, but defend abortion-on-demand, take Deplorables’ guns, and send the Bad Orange Man to super-prison.”
If the Bidens or the Clintons get rich in plain sight by dubious means, no big deal. The socialist utopia will unfurl soon anyway and redistribute everything.
When Candidate Trump broke the corruption taboo, he unlocked the floodgates.
Following upon Clinton’s callout came scrutiny of Hunter Biden. Schweitzer wrote another detailed account, Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite, that chronicled the corruption adventures of Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and of course Demented Joe and The Family Biden. Schweitzer’s new book reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Soon after Trump’s inauguration, Democrats fought back with a hilarious “Whatabout!” maneuver using the so-called emoluments clause. This ploy accused the president of violating the Constitution’s prohibition against receiving foreign bribes:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
How were foreigners emolumenting President Trump? Why, by paying for rooms and event venues at Trump properties! Prima facie corruption by the hotel load! (Full disclosure: I one time bribed the Queen of England by purchasing a ticket to tour Buckingham Palace. She took my money, but Her Majesty still hasn’t renamed the country ‘Tealand’, as I asked.)
Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un also bestowed the title of “Dotard” on President Trump without Congress’s consent; but Democrats have seemed far less interested in pursuing this offense and removing said title of nobility from a foreign potentate.
Not only did the emoluments farce get thrown out of court, but the campaign backfired. The mainstream media’s eager coverage brought still more public attention to the issue of corruption among the political class. The attention bolstered the president’s populist case. No matter how hard they might deny it, the public could not unsee the scope of the problem.
TRUMP’S CORRUPTION BAIT-AND-SWITCH
Don’t get the wrong idea: American’s on both sides are still preoccupied with the culture war. The populace shows no signs of setting aside symbolic issues, donning their accountant spectacles, and demanding with one voice a stop to gray corruption among their leadership.
But that doesn’t matter, because President Trump seems to be making corruption a front of the culture war.
Without saying the abstract and uncomfortable word ‘corruption,’ President Trump is leading the attention of culture warriors–friend and foe–toward issues touching corruption, again and again. In the last three years, the low-information man on the street has become familiar with the phrases ‘pay for play,’ ‘quid pro quo,’ and ‘pallets of cash for Iran.’
But by far the most important corruption-adjacent issue the president has highlighted is SOCIALISM.
“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”
How does ‘socialism’ relate to corruption? (If you are laughing so hard you are crying at this question, you probably have studied socialist states. But for everyone else …)
Socialism occurs when the government manages just about everything in a society. But in the real world, governments cannot manage everything. Societies are too complex, and governments are too clumsy. So when socialist governments fail at managing everything–and private enterprises aren’t ALLOWED to–corruption unfolds to get things done in spite of the government.
The United States already experiences some of this corruption born of ubiquitous government involvement:
“From TARP, to the Export-Import Bank, to the tariff protections offered to favored industries, there is a growing concern that the federal government has become a necessary business partner, and that the (imagined but not entirely imaginary) free-market capitalism of the past has been transformed into a wasteful crony capitalism that favors well-connected special interests. The fact that 81 percent of the government’s green-energy grants went to Obama’s 2008 campaign donors should be troubling regardless of one’s stance on climate change.”
Many Americans–and younger Americans in particular–feel like the United States economy isn’t working. No matter the GDP, the money isn’t making its way to them. They have no idea that the root problem isn’t “billionaires,” “capitalism,” or “Republicans,” but corruption. Corruption takes a staggering toll on any economy, and the U.S. is no exception. Corruption is robbing a generation of prosperity, both in lost income and lost opportunities.
It’s no good trying to explain that socialism is manure on the flowerbeds of corruption. Many Americans have bought the canard that ‘socialism’ just means ‘sharing’; so they think socialism is the solution to economics woes, not a catalyst to make them much worse.
But by making socialism a cultural football rather than an economics lesson, President Trump is goading Americans to reject its growing influence and empty promises.
Rejection of socialism may prevent a corruption explosion, but it won’t erase corruption from the United States. As long as Americans are divided into factions struggling to agree on basic moral principles, unscrupulous politicians will exploit the division to fleece the public and funnel public money to their family, friends, and donors.