Politics & Policy

The Corruption of Congress

(Jim Young/Reuters)
Members of Congress are willingly surrendering their intended role for the pleasures of a few hits on MSNBC or Fox News.

When people think of corruption in high places, they tend to think of elites feathering their own nests. Bill and Hillary Clinton monetized political power into a personal fortune of hundreds of millions and played the system better than any couple since Napoleon and Josephine. Paul Manafort is alleged to have sold his services to sketchy foreign powers (including a Putin puppet in Ukraine), pocketed multiple millions, evaded American taxes, and, according to evidence presented in his trial, spent up to a million dollars on cashmere suits and ostrich jackets (being rich doesn’t mean having taste).

President Trump is defending his former campaign chairman: “Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion — a Hoax!” The president might answer a few questions too. Why didn’t he do any background investigation of Manafort? His career representing tainted foreign leaders like Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi was public knowledge. Allegations that he received off-the-books payments from overseas interests were also only a click away. In 2016, Manafort flatly denied the allegations: “The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. . . . I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by the New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.” That didn’t age well.

Another question for President Trump: Didn’t it strike him as odd that a man of Manafort’s tastes and lifestyle would agree to work for Trump (supposedly a billionaire) for free? Didn’t he pause and reflect, “Hmm, I wonder what he expects to get out of this, and from whom?”

Manafort is the poster child for Washington corruption of the old-fashioned variety — the influence-selling and pocket-lining kind. A remarkable number of Trump’s people have displayed a similar foible. Just in the first 18 months, the secretary of HHS (private jets at taxpayers’ expense), the secretary for Veterans Affairs (vacations for the family at government expense), and the EPA chief (a soundproof booth inter alia), have all been forced out for misusing government funds for their own little luxuries. The secretary of HUD (a $31,000 dining-room set), the Interior secretary (a land-development deal adjacent to his property), the Commerce secretary (shorting stocks on non-public information), and the Treasury secretary (misuse of military aircraft) have all been accused of improper spending as well. Far from drained, the swamp has been stocked by this administration.

But there is another kind of corruption that is more disturbing for the health of our republic — the retreat from governing in favor of posturing.

As Yuval Levin notes in a Commentary essay “Congress is Weak Because Its Members Want it to be Weak,” the 21st century’s profusion of technologies permitting transparency have had some good but many baleful effects. Because virtually everything is televised, politics itself has become less and less about actual governing, with the trades and compromises that requires, and more like performance art.

Because virtually everything is televised, politics itself has become less and less about actual governing.

This tendency among legislators to grandstand and to posture as the brave truth tellers condemning the “dysfunction” of their own institution is actually the true dysfunction. When nearly every member seeks to be a cable- or local-TV star rather than a lawmaker, it’s no wonder that very little actual legislating gets done. As Levin notes, even controlling both chambers and with a Republican president poised to sign anything they send up, the Republican Congress has achieved very little. They passed a tax cut, but concerning the other priorities they campaigned on for years — reforming the health-care system, adjusting the immigration laws, confronting the entitlement crisis — they have done nothing and seem to have no plans. As for the chief job of Congress, developing a budget, well, for the first time in 40 years, neither chamber has even considered a budget resolution. And while Republican leaders demur, the president is again threatening a government shutdown.

That we have a president who struts and howls and shows little interest in the mechanics (to say nothing of the norms) of governing, is well known. But the Congress, designed by the Founders to be the most powerful branch, is willingly surrendering its intended role for the pleasures of a few hits on MSNBC or Fox News. That is an outcome that the founders didn’t anticipate and that will likely outlast our current Tweeter-in-Chief.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

Most Popular

Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More
World

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More