Like so many before it, this tale will likely fade from notice in a short time. Which reveals something deeply troubling about American politics today: we are losing our ability to confront corruption, to confront it and punish it, and perhaps more importantly, to deter it.
The New York Times reports that in the final days of the Trump administration, Kushner and Mnuchin crisscrossed the Middle East seeking investment in places such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for an entity. created by the government called Abraham Fund, which was supposed to foster the economic development of the region.
Yet the Times concludes: “Without accounts, employees, revenues, or projects, the fund disappeared when Mr. Trump left office.
Kushner and Mnuchin, however, gained great benefits for themselves: Immediately after leaving office, they both set up their own investment funds, and money flowed in from those same nations.
Did Kushner and Mnuchin use their positions to build their future businesses? Were any contacts cultivated – or promises made – while representing the United States, and if so, what were they? We will probably never know. There will be no congressional investigations or journalistic follow-up; it will likely fall into the hole where we throw everything that happened during the Trump years, when personal dealings were the order of the day.
What this suggests is that the sheer volume of corruption during Trump’s presidency has drained our ability to treat potential or actual corruption as something that matters and needs to be addressed.
Part of that stems from the deal Republicans made with Trump. These days, Republicans use the word “corrupt” all the time. But they rarely talk about someone who took a bribe, made decisions for the benefit of bosses instead of the national interest, or who exploited their position to enrich themselves.
Instead, for many Republicans these days, a “corrupt” public servant is someone who follows the law even if it doesn’t help Republicans. He is an election administrator who stands up to crazy right-wing conspiracy theories about voter fraud. It’s a Justice Department refusing to help a president overturn an election.
Trump himself throws around the word “corrupt” more than anyone. Yet he was arguably the most corrupt president in US history, using his office for financial gain, twisting US foreign policy to target a political opponent and issuing a wave of pardons to his cronies as he quit. its functions. For Trump, being “corrupt” just means you’re not loyal to him.
And yet, as with so many aspects of his behavior, Republicans resolved any cognitive dissonance they might have had in supporting Trump by deciding not that he was innocent, but that the things he had done didn’t matter. were just not problematic. They concluded that the sexual misconduct, the relentless lies, the vulgar bullying, the scams to steal people’s life savings, and all the things he was guilty of were just not wrongdoing at all. The word “corruption” has lost all meaning.
But it wasn’t Trump who gave conservatives the idea that corruption wasn’t something to worry about.
The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has waged a long crusade to narrow the legal definition of bribery to make it nearly meaningless. Before, we had a system of campaign finance laws that even dealt with appearance of corruption as something serious, on the principle that maintaining public confidence in the system was a vital objective.
No more. In cases dating back to United Citizens in 2010, the court allowed money from corporations, wealthy individuals, nonprofits that conceal their donors, and many other sources to flow to campaigns and government officials. Time and again, they have expressed the belief that such payments to elected officials are essentially nothing the law should be concerned about.
Just last week, the court ruled that a candidate can loan out their campaign money and then be reimbursed in full after the election by donors, who will put money directly into their personal bank account while they seek his favor.
Under this regime, a senator would practically at this point put out an ad in the newspaper saying. “I just received a bribe from this company, in exchange for which I gave my vote on this upcoming bill” to be found guilty of corruption.
The Trump Presidency’s Free For All assured ethically challenged underlings that their misdeeds would face no legal consequences. Today, two of Trump’s most sordid appointees — former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — are running for the House and Senate, respectively. They might win, because in the GOP you can’t be corrupt as long as you hate libs.
The Republicans have pulled off a sleight of hand: they have convinced themselves both that anyone they disagree with is corrupt and that corrupt acts and practices by their own side are perfectly acceptable. They’ve degraded our entire system, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get worse.