Democracy Depends on Checks and Balances. What Happens When They Abdicate?

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With the senate set to acquit our current President of what appears to be an act of blatant, unrepentant corruption, the flaws and weaknesses of our constitutional system have become increasingly apparent.

As the shoddy, broken impeachment process in our current Senate has shown us, if you are a member of an incumbent party, encouraging a foreign power to interfere in elections is not a crime, or impeachable. What about tampering with polling places, voting machines, or spreading disinformation about elections? This trial appears to show that a president in power, with a friendly chamber in Congress that will steadfastly refuse to act as a check on that power, can corrupt electoral politics at will.

If you’re the incumbent party, it seems that anything is now allowed. That should concern us now, and it should also concern us for the ugly precedent it sets. Now that the executive office knows there’s no sanction for corruption, it’s very likely that he – and future presidents after him – can take that free rein and scale quickly.

Now, with Congressional abdication to condemn even the most obvious act of corruption, bribes don’t need to be limited to favorable prosecutions for aid. That was small time. Now that we’re scaling, if you’re an outsider who seeks influence on the American election, you don’t have to go through shady conmen – you can go straight to the Oval Office. You get into the family business and influence those nearest and dearest.

The US constitution was not constructed to defend against technological disruption of today’s scale and power. With the fourth estate disempowered and without the belief in its truth-telling authority it once possessed; with the courts packed with politicized judges; with the Senate fully complicit because of the many problems of money in politics; and a President who appears ready and willing to yield the sheer power all that bestows upon him, the Constitution is now used to protect the powerful instead of defend the weak.

I worry that this begins our long slide into an oligarchy where the leader gets to stash billions around the world, along with powerful families and those loyal to the ongoing criminal enterprise that will soon consume all of public life. These kinds of financial crimes will never come to light or be investigated. We will continue to have “elections,” of course, and would-be changemakers will get in, but they won’t be able to do anything substantial because the system is so profoundly rigged against them.

Corruption won’t rest at the top, it will trickle down more quickly than profits in a strong economy. Authoritarians, petty criminals, and sociopaths thrive in this environment. Everyone, from the local cop, to the judge, the building inspector, and the high school principal, could have their own little racket if the rules are so obviously pay-to-play. Soon, almost everyone who can game the system, accept bribes, or cheat for some advantage, will do so before their neighbors doeth unto them. As historian Hannah Arendt said, “when all are guilty, no one is.”

Unfortunately, It doesn’t take that many bad people to ruin things for the rest of us. That’s the problem with our democracy. It is its own worst enemy. Keep to your ideals, and lose, or fight like the other side so you win, but lose the ideals you fought for.
Historians agree that the fall of Rome was caused by losing expensive foreign wars (massive revenue loss), corruption of the elites (specifically the Senate) and the mistreatment of veterans. Of course, those were primitive times, when the world was small, cruel and unenlightened. Things like that could never happen now. Right?

Watching in dismay but without surprise, we will continue to fight for reforms that will stop this corruption from wholly taking root; but with a thumb on the scales of justice, and the fairness of elections at stake, beating corruption just got a lot harder.

DISCLAIMER: The views above reflect those of the contributor, and not necessarily the views of the Patriotic Millionaires organization.

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