Continuing the project that Jill and I started a few weeks back, I’d like to take a look at a subject that encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our politics today.
What is corruption? According to Merriam Webster, corruption is dishonest or illegal behavior by powerful people, such as government officials or police officers; an inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (such as bribery).
Sound familiar? The fate of our politics in 2020 has never been more perilous. We’re now in the midst of perhaps the most corrupt administration in history, whose leader was impeached by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.
It seems every time you turn around, someone in power is doing something he or she shouldn’t. When folks obtain a level of power in our society, especially in the Washington D.C. political world, the lure to keep that position is sometimes too hard to resist. And the way the rules are set up, our whole system of democracy becomes more fragile by the minute.
And what is the result? A public that believes it’s all part of the game. We become numb to much of the wrongdoing, and we develop a grudging acceptance that nothing is ever going to change. The big corporate and wealthy interests have such a hold on our politicians; we never seem to get things done that matter so much to so many people. The choice, by millions of Americans, is to throw up their hands and give up.
Malaise sets in, and what you get is a public that doesn’t show up on election day. Of course, there are other reasons for that. But yes, mistrust of politicians and our whole system of government plays a role too.
We need to change that narrative. There are things we can do that will put some trust back in democracy. Over time, if the public sees movement in the right direction, participation in our electoral process would surely increase.
When Trump campaigned in 2016, we heard him talk a lot about draining the swamp. Most people took that to mean that he would change Washington to the point where it would finally start working for the people and not the wealthy corporate elites. It resonated with many who supported him. But those of us who did not vote for him knew he was selling snake oil. And he’s proven it every day since.
Rather than drain the swamp, he’s filled it quite nicely with people who toe the line of corporations and the wealthy. We know he’s filling his coffers with taxpayer dollars. Millions of dollars flow into his hotels from the Secret Service, as well as other members of his administration. This is not what our Founders had in mind, folks.
But Trump is merely a symptom of an overall bigger problem. He wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last to engage in corrupt behavior. Until we firm up our laws and develop robust rules of the road to follow, we’re going to be stuck right where we are.
So what can we do? A great place to start is an organization called RepresentUS(representus.org). It’s a group consisting of independents, progressives, and conservatives whose goal is to pass federal anti-corruption laws through grassroots efforts in state and local government.
According to the website, in 2018, twenty-three transformative anti-corruption laws were passed in cities and states, ranging from anti-gerrymandering and ranked-choice voting to sweeping ethics and transparency laws. The group is non-profit and is committed to making our government work for the American people—not just the wealthy and corporations.
People who sit on their advisory board include Richard Painter, former ethics adviser to President George W. Bush, Norman Ornstein from the American Enterprise Institute, and Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School Professor, as well as many others across the political and business world.
One of the most promising proposals from the organization is a comprehensive reform law entitled The American Anti-Corruption Act. The Act lists four main provisions to be adopted that would go a long way towards giving us the government we deserve.
Stop Political Bribery
*Make it illegal for politicians to take money from lobbyists.
*Ban lobbyist bundling.
*Close the revolving door of lobbyists and special interests offering politicians lucrative jobs.
*Prevent politicians from fundraising during working hours.
End Secret Money
*Immediately disclose political money online.
*Stop donors from hiding behind secret-money groups.
Fix Our Broken Elections
*Let all voters participate in open primaries.
*Let voters rank their top candidates, avoid “spoilers.”
*Automatic voter registration.
*Vote at home or at the polls.
*Reasonable term limits.
*Change how elections are funded.
Enforce The Rules
*Crackdown on super PACs.
*Eliminate lobbyist loopholes.
*Strengthen anti-corruption enforcement.
Is the American Anti-corruption Act a panacea? Will it solve all of our problems? Of course not. But it’s a start. We’ve got to start somewhere, and this is as right a place as any. If any or all of these provisions became codified into law, we most certainly would begin to see our government come back to where it belongs: to us. We, the taxpayers should have a say in this, and I don’t mean just those who can write checks for millions of dollars.
One thing we know for sure, however, is that the current president does not have a plan for such a thing. Perhaps he’ll work on one in the coming days. I’m not holding my breath, though. Frankly, he’s not into anti-corruption. And why should he be when he continues to corrupt our system every day?
It’s going to fall on us, my friends. We have to get to the polls to elect those who can and will make significant efforts to change the system we have now. Whomever the nominee ends up being, let’s hold their feet to the fire to ensure they tackle a corrupt and rigged Washington, D.C.
The challenge will be tough, going forward. The resistance to such anti-corruption efforts will be strong and fierce. But it’s worth it. With so many obstacles already in place as far as voting is concerned, if we can give the American people hope we’re on the right track, perhaps they’ll decide it’s in their best interest to participate.
Only an overwhelming turnout will ensure we get the change we so desperately need. Thanks to Trump, we’ve taken a severe step back. But, with some hard work and diligence, we can make sure he’s a one-term president. Our democracy hangs in the balance.