Creeping Corruption

Creeping Corruption

Accusations of corruption have hounded the Trump administration. Be it the income generated for the Trump Organization by Secret Service attachments having to rent space at Mar-A-Lago, multiple foreign governments and domestic companies renting space and investing in construction at Trump properties, the granting of Chinese patents for the Trumps, extravagant spending in Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development and Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency...the list can continue ad nauseum. But the Trump administration is far from the first government to be burdened by corruption; corruption has been an intrinsic part of governance throughout history.

A government lives and dies with its legitimacy. Legitimacy is gained by its ability to protect its constituents and abiding by social norms. Keeping a government functional enough to preserve legitimacy requires investment, monetary or otherwise, by powerful figures inside its domain. Thus, while the public good is of at least nominal interest for all governments, every government requires keeping necessary private investors loyal to the structure made by the government.

In feudal society, this meant that a king had to keep his dukes, barons, bishops and mayors happy. This often meant that income gathered by the government would be distributed to the necessary cogs in the feudal machine. In the Kingdom of France in the late 1700's, this took the form of government offices distributed to members of the nobility and clergy that would reward them with a stipend. An attempt by the king to reform this institutionalized corruption led to an uproar by the beneficiaries of this system, which would lead to the calling of the Estates General and eventual collapse of the Kingdom into revolutionary anarchy. 

One of these beneficiaries was Talleyrand, memorialized by Napoleon Bonaparte as "shit in a silk stocking." Corrupt to the core, Talleyrand was a master at political maneuvering, holding political office in every iteration of the French Revolution. It would be Talleyrand who was responsible for the XYZ affair, which led to the Quasi-War between the fledgling United States and Republican France. The affair hinged on Talleyrand demanding loans and bribes before formal negotiations between the two governments could begin. This was a normal circumstance in Europe, but found corrupt and disgusting in American society. 

The American aversion to corruption would not last. The granting of political offices to political supporters would become a common circumstance throughout 1800's America, culminating with the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 by a man who was denied a government job. The Pendleton Act was passed two years later, affirming that government jobs should be awarded based on merit rather than political affiliation; Theodore Roosevelt would take this attitude to heart as the Civil Service Commissioner and continue his magnificent political career with the spirit of reform.

The British government would have a similar realization of merit overriding politics when they enacted the Cardwell Reforms. Prior to the Cardwell Reforms, officer positions in the British military could be purchased by anyone with the cash available. This meant that thousands of British lives, the outcome of a battle, and the entire strategic outcome of a war could be decided by a rank incompetent with more bullion than brains. Prussian merit-based military efficiency in the Franco-Prussian War made the British realize that this system was woefully inadequate for modern warfare.

As the structures of government change, so does the method of corruption. In the United States of 2018, our form of institutionalized corruption is the usage of lobbyists and corporate campaign financing to promote political representatives that would support their causes. This has expanded in the wake of the Citizens United ruling in 2010; discovery of Russian money being funneled into the NRA for political purposes has highlighted that it is not just domestic interests that corrupt the system. In fact, it is not just Russia that has tried to steer the American electoral process - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel are all implicated in the ongoing electoral interference investigation by Robert Mueller's investigation.

How much longer will the current system of corruption stand? That depends on who wins elections from here-on-out. So far, many Democratic candidates such as Texas senatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke have refused money from Super PACs and corporations, representing themselves as ambassadors for the public good and not private interests. Whether this strategy is successful and whether these candidates are sincere in their representation has yet to be decided, but a recent poll has suggests that nearly half of Americans think corruption has increased since 2016. Some think anti-corruption will be the flag to rally around for the political future.

But while our attention is on reducing corruption, it is probably impossible to eliminate it. We should absolutely strive to fight it where we see it, but the game that seems to be inevitable is that the levels of corruption, and who benefits from the corruption, can only be controlled - never completely eliminated. In the end, the voters will decide - as Joseph de Maistre is often paraphrased, "Every country has the government it deserves". Hopefully, America deserves better.

Revanchism

Revanchism

Jesusism

Jesusism