Nast_cartoon

In the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about the impeachment of Donald Trump, there is a singular omission: the word “corruption.” Maybe it does appear in places. I certainly have read only a minute fraction of everything that has been written, but the focus has been almost entirely on what is impeachable. Merriam-Webster defines corruption in several ways:

1a : dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers) : depravity
1b : inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (such as bribery)
//the corruption of government officials
1c : a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct
//the corruption of a text
//the corruption of computer files
1d : decay, decomposition
//the corruption of a carcass
2. chiefly dialectal : pus
3. archaic: an agency or influence that corrupts

The actions of ex-president Trump and his enablers in Congress meet virtually all of the above definitions. Let me run down this list.

1a) Dishonest and illegal behavior perfectly fits the creation and enunciation of the Big Lie that the election was stolen and rightfully belongs to Trump. Dishonest at the heart, the creation and spreading of falsehoods intended to subvert the most important of the rules that enable our democracy to exist is corrupt at the heart. The fundamental corruption morphs into depravity when the corruptor-in-chief seems to revel in the lies, even in the face of harm to the very system he is bound by solemn oath to preserve and protect and bodily harm to agents with the same obligations.

1b) Incitement to riot is clearly an inducement to wrongful action. The case made by the House managers is irrefutable in this regard.

1c) The Big Lie is about as great a departure as one can imagine from the truth, which is, at heart, nothing but a very special kind of text.

1d) The carcass, in this case, is the Republican party and their representatives in the Congress. The rot is clear, hiding behind trumped (sic) up arguments to avoid acting on what all knew to be true. And this leads to the next item.

2) Pus seems to be a great metaphor for the fluid that runs through the Republican body and exudes its undeniable stench. It dooms any favorable outcome of the proverbial sniff test, a simple test of the worth of a project or idea. If it doesn’t smell right, toss it out. After this last performance in the impeachment trial, the protestations and arguments of the GOP are tainted by the stench of the corruption.

3) Not so archaic, this usage closely points to the focal agency/influence as ex-president Trump. His powers are so great that his mere presence corrupts all those in the vicinity. All the more remarkable for a coward who refuses to take responsibility for his actions, as he has done in the case of the Covid pandemic and other failures.

The primary agent of corruption is gone from his seat of power in the White House, but not from the corpus of his political party, the GOP, which has behaved dishonestly for some time, long before Trump came along and turned up the fire. One of the most dishonest acts was the refusal to forward the nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama’s choice, for consideration, using some trumped up argument. I find it amusing that the use of “trumped up” to describe some kind of improper act, which usage has been around for a while, could have been named for our last President. Other old tales of corruption fit his role as chief agent. We say that a fish rots from the head.

The danger of corruption to the body politic has been known for millennia. Of the many quotes on the danger, I find this one from Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, particularly relevant.

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

Mark Twain’s humor so often was ironic, but he clearly nailed it here, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” In another wonderful irony of a different sort, I found this quote by former Congressman Ron Paul, who just happens to be Senator Rand Paul’s father. His Dad said, “When one gets in bed with government, one must expect the diseases it spreads.” The son is one of those who have promoted the Big Lie, claiming at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, “The fraud happened . . . The election, in many ways, was stolen.” Immediately after the Senators were sworn on as jurors for the impeachment trial, he requested a vote to hold the proceedings as unconstitutional.

I even found several relevant quotes by now President Joe Biden, like this one:

Corruption is a cancer: a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs.

Concerns about corruption go back at least to the times of the Roman empire. Julius Caesar wrote, “Men willingly believe what they wish.” And in the late 1800s, in perhaps the best-known aphorism about corruption,  Lord John Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.” Only the first part of this commentary is usually quoted, but the rest is just as compelling.

The impeachment trial covered acts fomented over a long time, but culminating in a moment of evil, and danger to the Country. Corruption poses a more deeply rooted danger. It is always there, eroding the moral base that is a necessary foundation for a democratic republic, such as the United States. Definition 1c, above, points to untruthfulness, a particularly insidious aspect of corruption that will be with us still, even as its primary agent has lost his main seat of power. Sources that “inform” through lies and mis- or disinformation are as corrupting as are the politicians they empower. So are the social media that spread the lies and falsehoods cloaked in the fabric of truth. So is the role of money in politics that supports the massive campaigns of disinformation. The list is very long.

Corruption is a rot that spreads even to those who believe they are immune to it. I believe that Joe Biden means what he says in the above quote and in the promises he has made regarding his term in office. I believe the Democratic party is committed to the truth. But if Biden and the Democrats do not address the corruption that has pervaded our political system head-on, I fear that it will linger and, like any infection, keep growing until it kills the body.

(Image: Thomas Nast cartoon)

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