Criminals Masquerading As Politicians

Paul Manafort, L, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, and, R, Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney. (AP images)
Paul Manafort, L, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, and, R, Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney. (AP images)

The president’s former campaign chair and his former lawyer officially became felons on Tuesday. Of course, both men had been felons for many years. What happened this week was merely that they were, finally, held accountable for their crimes.

It can be easy to lose the central thread of the current administration, amid the barrage of cynical distractions and childish feuds. But that thread is now obvious to anyone with a functioning frontal lobe: corruption. Corruption of every conceivable stripe — financial, civic and moral.

Trump himself is best understood as a career criminal whose superpower is a preternatural capacity to dodge accountability, by exploiting our country’s laughably lenient approach to white-collar crime.

Not surprisingly, he staffed his cabinet with feckless plutocrats who robbed the public till and abused the public trust, from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to ex-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

It’s tempting to blame all this on Trump ... but the fact is that the GOP has been eagerly enabling corruption for decades.

This is to say nothing of folks like Chris Collins, the first congressmen to endorse Trump, who was indicted for insider trading, or Duncan Hunter, the second to endorse Trump, who was busted this week, as well, for using campaign contributions to fund family trips to Italy and Hawaii.

If you were to drop all names and identifying characteristics and simply outline the shady deals, criminal charges, and investigations into Trump and his cronies, the inescapable conclusion would be that you were describing a crime syndicate. Because you are.

It’s tempting to blame all this on Trump himself, a maestro of mendacity, but the fact is that the GOP has been eagerly enabling corruption for decades.

Back in 1995, Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” was all about turning Congress into an ad hoc corporation, where lawmakers and lobbyists worked together to service special interests and enrich themselves. All Trump did was to bring this shameless for-profit model to the executive branch.

The solution to this crisis of corruption isn’t terribly complex. In fact, just this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren outlined a straightforward plan that would (to borrow a much-abused phrase) drain the swamp once and for all.

Her proposed Anti-Corruption Act would slam shut the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists, ban lobbying for foreign countries altogether, force the IRS to release the tax returns of candidates and enforce conflict-of-interest laws on the president and vice president. Imagine that.

None of these reforms are radical in the least. They are merely common-sense efforts to close the loopholes that have allowed the greedy and the powerful to infiltrate and dominate our government.

In fact, more than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt proposed similar measures in his famous New Nationalism speech.

His intention was “to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics,” to "defend the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.”

Despite the partisan divide in this country, Americans of good faith should be able to agree on this agenda.

The midterm election offers us a stark choice, and a long overdue opportunity. We can either repudiate leaders who use their public office for private gain, or we continue to enable criminals masquerading as politicians.


Headshot of Steve Almond

Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 12 books. His new book, “Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow,” is about craft, inspiration and the struggle to write.



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