There is an inevitable price to pay for tolerating corruption.
Corruption has been around for a long time. The biblical prophets assailed it as an affront to God. Amos speaks for them all:
They have sold for silver those whose cause is just
And the needy for a pair of sandals
Who trample the heads of the needy into the ground
And make the humble walk a twisted course.
Father and son go into the same girl
And so profane My holy name.
Power is not necessarily the problem. God is the ultimate good, and power is one of God’s attributes. That we human beings exercise power does not profane God’s name.
No power structure is corruption-proof. Amos was talking of a nation set up under divine laws but which still went off the rails. Profaning God’s holy name means that people can actually bring discredit to God through their perversion of power, the power that God wishes us to use for good and necessary ends.
So, it should not be surprising that our government of the people, by the people, and for the people could and has at times become the playground of corrupt people. Even in the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln, an exceptional politician in any age, there was corruption. Carl Sandburg writes of how Rep. Thad Stevens complained that Secretary of War Simon Cameron was so dishonest that the only thing he wouldn’t steal was a red-hot stove. Cameron, of course, took offense, and Lincoln tried to calm things down by asking Stevens to retract. “All right,” goes a version of how Stevens replied, “I will retract. He would steal the stove, too.”
In the words quoted, Amos skewered the use of power to obtain sex as well as money. History confirms that this too is a proclivity of powerful people. Whether we speak of the constant parade of women through the bedchambers of such monarchs as Charles II of Britain or Louis XV of France, or of similar parades through the chambers of the Kennedy White House or of wherever Bill Clinton went, or the line of the powerful who flew on the Lolita Express, there is much evidence that power is a supreme aphrodisiac. In grimmer governments, force was used instead (which was made the object of very dark cinematic humor in the British masterpiece The Death of Stalin).
Implicit in Amos’ words is that there is an inevitable price to pay for tolerating corruption. Skilled politicians, adept at feeling the pulse of the people, lose their sharpness through their indulgences. As their corruption increases, competence decreases. Managing the many pretenses that hide its ill-gotten benefits takes up more and more time and energy. Lies need more lies to hide them and so the story keeps getting more and more complicated and less and less plausible. Leaks spring in the dike that quickly become controllable. The collapse can come very quickly.
Boss Tweed ran New York City politics after the Civil War. He found ways to please enough people by whatever means to keep him and his ring in power. He used that power to extract off-the-book deals with all city contractors. Anyone doing business with the city would pump up his bill, collect that inflated bill from the city, and then give back that pumped-up portion of the bill to Tweed and his ring. Public account books showed only the normal fee; Tweed’s crooked auditor kept a second, secret book that detailed the real cost to the city.
Tweed built up a grand fortune and his friends in his ring feasted from the crumbs. But then Tweed stumbled.
The occasion was a happy one, a wedding. Tweed felt, as many do, the need to have a fabulous blowout of an affair, and to make it as grand as he could afford — which was grand indeed. All the newspapers attended and reported on the magnificence of the fabulous party he threw, of the incredibly expensive gifts, and of the magnificent, bejeweled attire of the hordes of the rich and powerful who attended.
Historian David McCullough wrote of it:
The wedding was the high-water mark of the Ring’s opulence and for Tweed it was a great blunder. The public, dazzled and delighted at first, began to ask questions afterwards. How could a man who spent his whole life working in moderately paid position with the city live in such style?
Suddenly, the reality of the corruption was exposed. It did not last long. Within a short span, Tweed’s empire would crash in ruins and he would die in jail, convicted of having stolen tens of millions from the city he ran. (READ MORE: Trump Was Right: The Political Establishment Is Utterly Corrupt)
What will be the Tweed wedding of the current corruption? When does the aha moment come when the razzle-dazzle of the high-tech self-styled elite no longer obscures our vision and suddenly, the enormity of the grim truth grabs everyone’s minds?
Perhaps the moment came with the New York Times‘ backhanded acknowledgment that the Hunter Biden laptop poses some extremely troubling questions about the integrity of the Bidens. This was stunning, as readers of The American Spectator know all too well how the New York Times and all the court media did a very successful job of effectively censoring this story, which would have been deadly to Joe Biden’s campaign had it been believed.
Has some moment of realization come? A pattern begins to become dominant. Maybe it is the simple question that McCullough wrote of — how did a person who has spent his entire life in public service amass such a family fortune?
Many things start to connect and interlink: the organized suppression of the truth about the laptop and its compromising evidence; the incompetence of the humiliating rout in Afghanistan, the chaos at the southern border; the tossing away of American energy independence, the return to begging oil of despots who hate us, and the flat-footed non-response to Putin’s poorly disguised threat to Ukraine.
There is a stench of corruption and rot. This is not just a question of a different approach of competent people to a lively democracy. It is the presence of decay, of a cancer that is sucking the life force from the body politic.
We are reaching the point where the pretenses behind which corruption hides have become transparent. They hide the ugly truth from fewer and fewer people. This has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism. It is about whether our democracy will regain its health and thrive again. We should have common cause with a vast majority of our fellow citizens.
Let’s make this our top priority. Reagan showed us how to do this. Our ideological nuances come later. We need the republic to survive for those nuances to mean anything much.
Help the truth emerge from its prison. With it free, we can rid ourselves of the rot and devote all our energy to healing.