One is normal people have something better to do—kids, school, jobs, good health, etc.—than pay attention to politics. Another is that you can’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Then there’s this from the ever-pragmatic Dr. Samuel Johnson: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”
So today I’m reminding you that lots of people do not, or will not, understand what corruption is, especially if they profit from it. But profit isn’t the only blinding force.
Blindness is systemic.
We inhabit a transactional materialist culture, after all, in which something I can do for you is exchanged amorally for something you can do for me. That was more or less a benign state of affairs, I’d say, until the elites themselves started convincing everyone that greed is not only OK; it’s something American society should encourage.
That’s about the size of what happened starting around 40 years ago. It has only gotten worse. Institutions are no longer built on the ideals of responsible citizenship and the common good but instead on the premise of self-interested individuals competing, even if that means cutting each other down. Donald Trump is a terrible person, but it shouldn’t be surprising that his career as an apex fraud has tracked with the last four acquisitive decades. Another nugget of wisdom: we get the presidents we deserve.
At the moment, I don’t suggest we be less greedy to change things. For now, I think it’s enough to say and keep saying what should be completely obvious but it is not: corruption is bad. We need to say this and keep saying this, because our culture is corrupt. If we say this and keep saying this, the resulting awareness might trigger necessary reform. More importantly, by raising awareness, and laying the groundwork for reform, we might prevent the next apex fraud from becoming president.
What is corruption? “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery” is what the dictionary says. But it’s more complex than that. Any definition must include the compromise of morality. Is there anything dishonest or fraudulent about the president saying Saudi Arabia is going to pay the US for sending troops to protect that country? In and of itself, no. In proper context, hell yeah.
Trump announced that decision after ordering US forces out of Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch attacks against the Kurds. Put another way: It was OK to betray our allies while turning self-sacrificing servicemen and -women into mercenary units, making the president’s decision a double betrayal. We are now forfeiting a moral claim of being a force for good in the world. New message: American might is for sale.
Is there anything dishonest or fraudulent about the wife of a man charged with a crime in a foreign country asking the president for help? Again, the context is key.
Kallie Hapgood is married to a wealthy Connecticut banker who ended up killing a man in self-defense after the hotel worker threatened his family’s safety while they were at a Caribbean resort. Scott Hapgood now faces manslaughter charges on Anguilla. His wife has no doubt been advised the best way to get Trump’s attention isn’t through normal channels but cable news. On Monday, she went on “Fox & Friends” knowing he’d be watching to plead her husband’s case. Within minutes, Trump tweeted that “something looks and sounds very wrong” in the Hapgood case and that “Anguilla will want to see this case be properly and justly resolved!”
The merits of Hapgood’s case aside (a toxicology report showed the hotel worker had toxic levels of cocaine in his body), Trump corrupted another country’s justice system by expressing an opinion about it. By casting doubt on the known facts of the proceeding, Trump prejudiced potential jurors. Plus, he sent a message to American elites, the same people who convinced everyone over four decades ago that greed is good: if you have the money and the connections, don’t worry about due process and legal liability. With a single tweet, Trump made a mockery of equal justice for all.
I’m under no illusion that the president is reformable. He has lived the life of a crook. He will die a crook. But an apex fraud isn’t the cause of our moral decay. He’s a symptom. The rest of us therefore must do what may seem completely obvious but isn’t. We must say and keep saying that corruption is bad. Don’t bother making an argument. Just say it. People need reminding more than they need instruction.
Two quotes that defined the first day of public impeachment hearings
Editor’s note: Wednesday was the first day of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. Two career diplomats – William B. Taylor Jr., acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs – gave testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Two scholars listened, and each picked one quote to analyze.
Impeachment Day One: Republicans weaponized nihilism by trying to defend Trump and destroy reality
Watching the incoherent, 52 Pickup-style performance of Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday — which seemed less calculated to defend President Trump for his obvious crimes than to convince onlookers that President Trump is a fictional character, crimes are not crimes and that nothing, strictly speaking, can be said to exist at all — I was reminded of two things. Neither of them was directly relevant, but that’s where we are.
I started thinking about “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” the 1947 philosophical treatise by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno that pretty much launched the field now known as “cultural studies.” A lot of semi-educated right-wingers, not coincidentally, appear to believe that the “Frankfurt School” (to which Horkheimer and Adorno belonged) essentially ruined liberal arts education in America in the ensuing decades and turned it into a system of indoctrination in “cultural Marxism.” It’s a better-developed anti-Semitic conspiracy theory than most (and yes, that’s exactly what it is), which falls apart mostly because the people who believe it are relying entirely on Glenn Beck’s SparkNotes versions of the books in question and have no idea what they’re talking about.
Trump’s latest and most ludicrous con job
Donald Trump is con artist in chief of the United States. His many apparent and impeachable crimes, such as the Ukraine scandal, collusion with Russia and violations of the Emoluments Clause, flow from that fact. Of course, Trump’s long con involves millions and perhaps even billions of dollars. But Trump’s big score, his ultimate goal, is permanent control of the presidency of the United States and the power for him and his family and allies to engage in legal theft indefinitely.
This article first appeared on Salon.