How America increasingly accepts corruption

This, from Franklin Foer is great, “We’re Losing the War on Corruption: Paul Manafort and Felicity Huffman are twin avatars of an elite that still acts with impunity.”

In fact, the lawyers had a point. Manafort is being sent to prison for crimes that are systemic, hardly hidden, and usually elicit little more than a yawn or shrug. [bold is mine; italics in original] According to a Justice Department report in 2016, there had been seven prosecutions for failure to comply with FARA since 1966. What makes this figure so galling is how many eminent ex-government officials have served as “strategic advisers” to dictatorial governments.

They might represent foreign governments, but technically do not lobbyCongress on their behalf; they make millions, while never subjecting their work to public scrutiny—or themselves to personal embarrassment…

Or take the more rampant problem of tax evasion. While Manafort will serve time for failing to pay his bills to the government, armies of lawyers and accountants are feverishly devising novel methods of enabling the rich to cheat the IRS, depriving the U.S. of nearly $200 billion in revenue each year. As one old joke holds, the difference between tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (which is not) is the wall of a prison.

This is the same pattern made visible by the college admissions scandal. The public gets inflamed over a supposedly outrageous piece of behavior that is really not so far from the standard elite procedure. When a wealthy donor contributes $10 million to a university, imagining that their child will someday attend, administrators call it a “gift” and applaud the gesture of philanthropy. But it is, in effect, institutionalized bribery, and it creates new templates of moral behavior. It makes recognizing as wrong under-the-table payments to college coaches harder for parents, when these payment so resemble the gift-giving they see officially sanctioned.

America never had an edenic period, when the country resided in a state of pristine civic virtue. But the past half century has ushered in an era of rank indifference to the perils of corruption and bribery. Not so long ago, the United States had a far more robust definition of what counted as a bribe. That broad definition constrained the growth of the American lobbying industry. Back in the 1960s, lobbying hardly existed in Washington—at least not in the form and on the scale that we now know it. The ledger of officially registered lobbyists extended into the high double digits. By the 1990s, the population of lobbyists had swelled to well over 10,000.

If Americans are more comfortable living in a world of bribery, perhaps it’s because American jurisprudence has legalized so much of it…

Paul Manafort also helped invent this world. He pioneered the structure and practices of the modern K Street lobbying firm. At each step in his career as a lobbyist and consultant, he kept pushing the boundaries of the acceptable, because his experience had shown that he would always get away it. Until Robert Mueller came along, Manafort had every reason to believe that he would never pay a price for his malfeasance. The fact that he will now serve time is a victory in the war against corruption; that he will encounter so few of his own kind in prison is a testament to the fact that we are still losing the war.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to How America increasingly accepts corruption

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Perhaps the acceptance of corruption is more pronounced now but Trump’s election was a sign that the public got it. That’s what the swamp is, of the campaign slogan “drain the swamp”. They just picked the epitome of the swamp, not the one who would drain it.
    Elites think they are smarter and more worthy than everyone else. Trump has said that his practices are merely being smart.
    Remember, the term “Yankee trader” was put on our merchants in revolutionary days. People who dealt with them had to read the their agreements and contracts very carefully. So we have a history.
    Our elites buy tax laws that funnel money to them, they starve the IRS so they have less chance of getting caught cheating and they proclaim their brilliance for doing this. And lately they are discovered to be buying their way into prestige universities.
    At least the aristocrats had an ideal of “noblesse oblige”. Not that they lived by much of it.

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