Americans Think ‘Corruption’ Is Everywhere. Is That Why We Vote for It?

Once you believe all politicians are crooks, it’s a lot easier to embrace the crook who says he’s on your side.

Comments: 105

  1. How did we get to the time when average office workers forwarded outrageously false emails about the obviously decent President Obama? What do so many average seeming, not otherwise deranged, people jump to believe the negative, even cherishing it over the truth shown by provable facts?

    That the concept of corruption is corrupted in small and stupid, widely broadcast ways, leads me to believe in the banal power of evil.

  2. How popular, how long-running, were Scandal and The Apprentice? If you don't instinctively grok our Reality reality you're not watching enough television.

  3. Both racism and ignorance, or perhaps willful denial, appear to motivate many Trumpists. Beyond that, everyone's motives get complicated.

  4. There is a difference between legal corruption (approved by law) and illegal corruption (violation of law).

    Transparency International rates the latter - violation of law

    It does not rate the former - rampant in the US in the form of campaign contributions.

    Transparency International is starting an effort to evaluate political corruption. Let me quote

    "when we think of political corruption. People or organisations ...may secretly give parties big donations.

    .... political corruption isn’t just about election rigging. It can lead politicians in office to steer away from good government. Their decisions can benefit those who fund them."

    It is PERFECTLY legal in the US to give $ 1 Billion anonymously to a politician

    Your guide

    The average US voter is fed up with political corruption.
    In the last election both Sanders (who ran on small donations) and Trump (on his own nickel + master manipulation of the press) were front runners because they were perceived not to be in the pocket of the Uber-Rich.

  5. Sanders was not a front runner; he resoundingly lost the primary! In 2008 HRC & BHO fought each other nearly to a draw (is that the source of your confusion?)

  6. A politician cannot legally accept a billion dollar donation, anonymous or otherwise--not at the federal level and not in most states. A person could spend that much money supporting a politician, but that kind of support doesn't buy the recipient lobster and champagne.

    It's fair to argue that spending in support of a politician is likely to bias the politician in the spender's favor. I think that it probably does. However, when you treat independent spending as just like handing money to the politician for his or her own personal use, then you're doing exactly what the article is discussing: treating something that isn't a bribe as a bribe.

  7. Our founding fathers declared independence from Britain to protect slavery as an economic driver in much of colonial America. During the Revolutionary War, British military commanders encouraged slaves to desert their masters, thus crippling their ability to maintain economic strength.

    I dispute the claim that, historically, Americans have lived in a “clean” country. Our history is filled with violence of all kinds, including genocide against Native Americans and gang wars among competing groups of immigrants in major cities. Our municipal and state politics have often been characterized as corrupt with political control in the hands of powerful “machines” like that of Boss Tweed.

    Our entertainment media churn out films and TV series that portray all kinds of corruption – as though this were some kind of popular sport. It is no wonder, then, that millions of Americans are worried about corruption at all levels of government, especially at the grass roots level. That we now have a president who lies and distorts facts and denies any responsibility for his poor decisions only enhances popular belief in corrupt politicians.

    Yet, there are many elected representatives in our local, state, and national governments that seek to root out corruption and undermine criminal organizations and activities. They must work quietly, often away from the glare of the media. Most of us don’t know how much good they do unless there is a spectacular case that receives wide media coverage.

  8. Violence is not corruption, I think, but the two do ally with each other. It was corruption that ended the Roman Republic after 5 centuries of public probity but established violence.

  9. Thanks for your well articulated and salient post. Especially in the re-emergence of the present nativist nationalism the world over, I'm in a state of near perpetual mystification that the vast majority of U.S. citizenry appear to be without any sense of fact-based knowledge or understanding of some very basic and rudimentary historical truths about the colonization of the Western Hemisphere. The desperate asylum-seekers streaming toward the U.S.-Mexican border from Central America? They are terrified having barely survived the societal collapse precipitated by failed despotic regimes (often installed to bolster U.S. interests). Also, folks seem unwilling or unable to accept the reality that the foundation of U.S. wealth is rooted part and parcel on centuries of systemic injustice and outright theft, regardless of the egregious cruelty such policies and practices visited on huge swaths of humanity. Justified as due to the natural order, entire populations were dehumanized, considered incapable of recognizing basic human dignity or the sanctity of human life.

    Indeed, these American United States (along with many other places in the Western Hemisphere), was indisputably established and enriched by the violence of slave labor and forced indigenous displacement. Simply put, vast sums of Eurocentric America's wealth was produced (wage-free) by stolen people working stolen Indigenous lands. Past U.S. corruption and duplicity continue to permeate our civic engagement still today.

  10. The young Trump voters I know have opined the following: the earth is toast anyway (because of China, not the U.S.) so why bother with environmental regulations; Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician ever-- her nefarious deeds are such that they surpass cataloging-- curiously, they mostly like Bill; and Trump is cool because he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him and will do anything. These beliefs seem to rest on the assumption that our government is so corrupt it should be destroyed. Just don't try to mess with their right to smoke marijuana.

  11. Since I don't know any young Trump voters, I can only opine that many young people of all political stripes are abjectly ignorant. Many of them only seem aware of what their cynical social media "friends" think is cool and not cool.

  12. DT's sole goal is putting money in his pocket. If he and his enterprise partner Fox, can use words like corruption in order to rile up the rubes and garner their votes for Republicans , while at the same time rendering the concept of corruption meaningless---then they can just keep grabbing the money, and people will not even notice. Trump is a sly old dog , and has always been corrupt to the core. But so is the primary news source for half of America.
    Its hard to fight that much evil with a notion as simple as honesty.

  13. The people that raged against Obama and adore Trump don’t mind burning down the future as long as they get a small tax break.

    They rage at immigrants and the poor even if they are poor too. Why they aren’t outraged over inequality is the better question. Is it ignorance or is it just racism?

  14. racism, in my opinion

  15. Illegal immigration contributes to inequality in that it helps to suppress wages while raising rents in poor neighborhoods. Basic supply and demand.

  16. Classism, I think, instead.

  17. Thank you, Mr. Homans, for this piece, whose thesis is clear and well supported.

  18. “Is it even worth distinguishing between this unseemly-but-legal [corruption] and true corruption if the outcome is, arguably, not much different?”

    If the outcome is not much different, then this is a distinction without a significant difference.

    I suspect many US citizens believe that corruption is widespread because the “unseemly-but-legal” corruption, due to the role of money in politics, IS IN FACT WIDESPREAD. The ideals, norms and institutions of our democratic republic are being supplanted by an anti-democratic system, Competitive Authoritarianism:

    ~a polarized system in which the major parties compete for donor dollars and base support, and, when in power, impose the policies favored by donors and base on the citizenry as a whole;

    ~a system wherein the trappings of democracy remain in place, but democratic norms are undermined and democratic institutions are severely weakened, primarily through the sharply increased and widespread influence of money in politics;

    ~a system wherein government officials, in unprecedented ways, abuse state power in order to aid their allies and disadvantage their adversaries;

    ~a system in which the considered preferences of the majority of citizens are ignored and abuses of power go well beyond those associated with traditional patronage.

    Competitive Authoritarianism is a plutocratic and oligarchical system. It thorougly corrupts the ideals, institutions and norms characteristic of an authentic democratic republic.

  19. Why should we U.S. voters see “unseemly-but-legal ‘corruption,’” everywhere? After all we have the best electoral system money can buy.

    What is the cause for alarm. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, the influence of money in politics is virtually unregulated. Corporations are legal persons and money is a mode of free speech. Campaigns are long amd expensive—and any attempt to limit the length of campaigns or curtail their costs is deemed a threat to the aforementioned freedom. Politicians must spend close to one-third of their time begging donors to fund their next campaign and must start doing so before the exhilaration of their latest electoral victory has subsided. Reform efforts within the Federal Election Commission, like so much else within the U.S. political system, are stymied by partisan obstructionism.

    Apart from Russian interference in our elections, what’s not to like?

  20. Add to that list the 24/7 in-perpetuity "campaign-industrial-complex" that profiteer$$ and could not care less about democracy.

    Remember what the CEO of CBS said during the election: the media circus fixe$ the eyeball$ and the campaign ad$ makes all the stockholder$ laugh all the way to the bank. Money money money money.....

  21. In the US corruption is legalized. The influence of K Street is a huge contributor to a system of pushing through laws favorable to various interests including bribes via extravagant lunches, for example. In the Trump presidency, the emoluments clause is flagrantly ignored. Corrupt favoritism in the form of tax rules and other laws is a great contributor to our corrupt system, favoring some while ignoring the interests of the average American. The thing is that the Trump administration is making what has been business as usual more flagrant--ie, a new normal. Parts of the constitution have been outmoded for decades. Does it make sense today that North Dakota has the same 2 senators as New York? This would have been changed a long time ago if it were not for the fact that it favors certain interests at one time or another. I could go on.

  22. Actually Suzanne, it does makes sense that all states in the union have equal representation in the senate, regardless of their population (that's what the house is for.) We wouldn't have a country otherwise.

  23. It’s odd that an editor would largely ignore the massive source of corruption called language. What makes it a “massive source” is the overwhelming amount of “discourse” in the modern world called advertising and its sister (or brother) form called propaganda. We are continuously bombarded with messages proclaiming what is isn’t and what isn’t is, all intended to get people to act in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily act. The corruption of language is indeed rampant, even ubiquitous, and every man or woman on the street knows it.

  24. rjon - very well said. IMHO, the spin doctors have won the propaganda game.... With backing from the Koch brothers, and a plan to move the game down stream, they won... How many governorships? State Houses, and now, the national House, Senate and WH. This is marketing at its best: say something enough times and people will start to believe what is said. It could be a lie, but said enough times, and presented in echo chambers, it must be true. The flip side, the truth can be presented and turned into a lie. Stalin would be humbled by the onslaught and precision of disinformation, misinformation, and lies with a grain of truth.

  25. The underlying message conveyed with the lies is pretty corrupting, too: “Buy, and you will be loved.” “Buy, and you will be famous.” “Buy, and you will be healthy, wealthy and wise.” Etc, etc, etc. Tough on teachers like me who are given a Spartan production budget by comparison in order to tell the truth to children.

  26. Sometimes it's difficult to define what "corruption" covers. What about the South under slavery and Jim Crow, where nearly government action was rooted in deceit and racism? Was that corruption? I think in the broader sense, it was.

  27. It's only corruption if it doesn't benefit you. Looks like many people feel they have lost status, don't know why, and see the very societal mechanisms that once benefited them as now symptoms of corruption.

  28. The new national motto is "Never give a sucker an even break!" W C Fields American comedian.

    Our politics and finance has become an utter fraud.

    Long ago when the Snake Oil Medicine Show came to town the Sheriff would run them out. Now the Snake Oil salesman runs the town. (see Trump)

  29. Cynicism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think all elected officials are interchangeably loathsome, you won't mind a loathsome person who is on "your side."

  30. If the standard by which corruption is measured is the country's own laws, then the countries that most legalize corruption will be ranked as least corrupt.

    The largest scale corruption racket in America is our health care system. At $3.3 trillion, it is double or more of the share of GDP (18%) of other wealthy countries, with the same or worse outcomes. The corruption, perfectly legal in America, pervades the pharmaceutical, medical device, provider and insurance sectors. It reaches into research universities, the US Patent Office and HHS.

    The Hep C drug Solvaldi, developed almost exclusively with public taxpayer money, reaps billions annually in private profit, paid mostly by Medicaid and Medicare, also taxpayer funded.

    The medical lobbying industry is the largest and most bipartisan of all lobbying groups and is consistently the largest donor to politicians everywhere.

    If we could tackle just that one, we would go a long way toward reducing total US corruption.

    Instead, we are likely to soon have a Supreme Court that solidifies legal corruption on an unprecedented scale.

  31. Thank you for making this obvious point, which entirely refutes the author's absurd argument.

    Americans are evidently smart enough to recognize the difference between what is legal and what is just. If only the same could be said of certain NYT contributors.

  32. The HepC drug Solvaldi was not developed with public taxpayer money. It was developed by a small pharmaceutical company in New Jersey (Pharmasett). and later acquired by Gilead.

  33. I would add to this, based upon the feedback from friends to whom I had forwarded the NYT article about breast milk and Ecuador, that Americans are grappling with the new feeling that the United States is "the bad guy".

    While we may have a long tradition of cynicism about corruption, it is very new for us as citizens to feel that we are Not the shining example a great democracy. And that we are actually the bad guys.

    The feeling that we are a great country is instilled in us from kindergarten onwards and is actually a component of our characters as people. Feeling that we are not 'good' is a new situation that signals a clear and present danger.

  34. I will take him,” she replied. “Because I know what Hillary did already.”

    And from where did she learn “what Hillary did”? If the news media did its job properly and honestly we wouldn’t be in this situation because people would see things more clearly.

  35. This obsessive belief in the Clintons' corruption is the result of 30 years of Fox News lies & misogyny. But research shows that people do not generally change their minds when confronted with facts, they discount the facts. So while I agree the reality based news industry should have done a better job to correct the lies & misrepresentations about Hilary, that would not necessarily have changed the minds of those predisposed to dislike her.

  36. They are, without a doubt, fox "news" addicts. Truth can't penetrate that network.

  37. I'm sorry, but it's not the fault of the media, but Trump himself. He made the masses believe Hillary was the boogie woman. And that immigrants were raping our wives and stealing our jobs.

  38. The author aims well but misses the mark with his thesis. Instead, he should focus on the deliberate 40-year old Republican/conservative campaign to erode the public’s faith in government competence. By instilling doubts about government’s ability to effectively solve any problem and even questioning whether it should play an appropriate role in vital societal functions, the Right has done more to create our current climate than any other force in the political system. Corruption? That perception is a mereby product of their insidious process.

  39. Excellent point!

  40. My main takeaway after serving in the Peace Corps after retirement was a heightened interest in and awareness of corruption and "state capture"/grand corruption. The U.S. has a deep, well-established financial and political infrastructure that keeps corruption at bay: GAAP; government procurement laws and procedures; anti-bribery laws; election laws; a free press; and a legal infrastructure that allows the successful prosecution of corruption at all levels of government. All of these things are missing to some degree or another in my erstwhile country of service. Citizens are obligated to offer bribes in daily life for medical care, grades, and everyday bureaucratic tasks. The entire judiciary is corrupt, so whoever has the most money wins. And so on up through the levels of privilege.

    It took the U.S. centuries to establish our safeguards, especially taking into account the common law and norms that were brought over from Europe. But for corrupt countries it will require major cultural transformation to bring corruption to bay.

    So: I used to get a little frustrated when I would tell my stories here and people would say "oh, it's like this here." No, it wasn't. But NOW I'm seeing threats to our carefully built infrastructure. At this point it's mostly in actions of the administration and Congress when they prioritize power and wealth to undermine our carefully built and painstakingly maintained bulwarks for honest and fair dealing. How long can our culture withstand this?

  41. Just a note: I looked at the Transparency Index link and the index presented there is called the "Corruption Perceptions Index" -- it is an index of how corrupt a country is believed to be by businessmen and country analysts. It is not an independent analysis of actual corruption, just perceived corruption. So I think it may be problematic to use this index to suggest that corruption levels are actually lower than is suggested by public opinion polls, since both are essentially measures of the same thing. The argument you would have to make is that the respondents in the Transparency Index are more savvy than the respondents in a general poll.

    By the way, right before reading this article I came across an article in The Atlantic by Jay Cost entitled "The Swamp Isn’t Easy to Drain" in which he makes exactly the claim Charles Homans is arguing against, saying essentially that "Corruption has been inherent to American government since the Founding Fathers—and acknowledging that is the first step toward containing it." The Atlantic article focuses on the corrupting influence of money in politics. And indeed, I would find it hard to argue that this is not a huge example of corruption that is skewing our society towards rule by the rich. Hopefully, our high standards of not abiding corruption at any level will eventually turn back this tide. And the reform spirit that followed previous Gilded Ages gives me hope that this will be so.

  42. Never forget the timeless truism of the Golden Rule: They who have the gold, make the rules.

  43. The dems didn't help this view of widespread corruption after the crash when as the dominant party they let truly corrupt financial institutions and individuals off the hook--not even attempting to claw back bonuses or change the tax code to tax carried interest as income. While at the same time doing nothing to help financially and emotionally devastated Americans. That cemented the view that there is no, or little, difference between the two parties. Sadly, we aren't seeing much from the dems now to rebuild their reputation, nor to distinguish themselves from the very dangerous trump and his sycophant GOP.

  44. if we ever had the chance to convince ourselves that corruption was rare that Citizens United had put that illusion to rest. that political organizations can receive unlimited funds from undisclosed interests us the nail in the coffin of accountability. add gerrymandering, voter room purging, closing if polling places in poor districts, voter intimidation and no wonder that the belief in democracy is fading.
    how anybody could have thought that Trump is the benevolent dictator in this is being comprehension, though.

  45. Openly corrupt people like Duterte, Trump and Putin also have this in common: the willingness to tap into citizen’s insecurities that their nation might be weak, and therefore that they are—unless they put their faith in a strongman who isn’t afraid to break the rules to get the nation back on top. This is the toxic side of patriotism. The people in the US who consider themselves patriotic are not necessarily those who love democratic institutions the most. They look at Trump and see someone who loves America so much he will do anything to “make it great again.”

  46. For the past 50 years Holywood has been selling cynicism as realism. Movies in which politicians are habitually corrupt and bent on their own advantage, in which the ends justify the means. That has its effect on a society. It becomes the norm. It is what people expect. It is okay.

  47. I think what needs to be pointed out is: there are two types of corruption: in "public" domain and in "private" industry.

    These two phillipina ladies know that corruption in private industry in Philippines is rampant because government has a thumb on scale of free market competition.

    Luckily, in America - by and large corruption in private enterprise whether outright stealing, nepotism, fixing bids etc is minimal because government largely allows them to police themselves. Of course we have laws for big time criminals even in private industry.

    So, Americans associate corruption with public officials and politics - because as an individual, they have little control over the outcomes.

    And public officials engage more in corruption when they collide with private companies - as in bidding on contracts, favors to politicians whose vote can make or break a company.

    Like Philippines, India is another prime example of where corruption is endemic in both private and public - because government and politicians have their thumb firmly planted on scales of free market and competition.

    So, let's be clear, most Americans when they think if corruption is public sphere corruption - and rarely associated with private industry.

  48. Just before I read this article, I read a Newsweek article about an AZ stare representative who tried to (and apparently did) get out of a speeding ticket by claiming “immunity.” Of the handful of comments were multiple people saying a version of, “They all do it.” I have long thought that this kind of cynicism is the flip side of naïveté, the pretend wisdom of someone who doesn’t want to bother with fine distinctions.

    The healthy skepticism brought on by the Vietnam War and Watergate has since then curdled into a widespread distrust of almost every American institution except the military. The casual bigotry of a Donald Trump might have been acceptable to past generations, but the contempt for these institutions and for the idea of the US as a moral exemplar would not.

    The systemic flaws that some call corruption are important, but it is still worth noting the differences between those things and the rampant corruption of individuals that the US has so far not experienced.

  49. The thing I don't think we still understand fully or appreciate is: Why is it that close to a majority of people in this country feels disenfranchised? What made them feel so unrepresented, that they voted for Trump (and continue to be enthusiastic supporters) despite knowing most of what this (and other) articles talk about?
    Who was supposed to be looking after their interests? And why did they fail to do so?

  50. After numerous conversations about government corruption in the US, reading way too many Facebook posts alleging same, and digesting numerous media accounts of people asserting that government corruption is why they voted this-or-that way, I've concluded that, leaving politicians aside, the people who assert that government is rife with corruption: (a) have the least actual experience dealing with the government; (b) are least able to identify specific instances of actual corruption; and (c) are unable to define what they mean when they use the word. In short, most of these allegations are mere blather, but blather with unfortunate consequences in the voting booth, as political marketing asserting that "I'll stop the corruption" (drain the swamp, end fraud, waste, and abuse, jail the crooks, etc.) are an effective vote-getter.

  51. I know several people who believe in all this "corruption" -- but they don't know diddly about how the government works.....they just get their opinions handed to them by Faux News and all those other dunderheads trying to stir up the masses.

  52. As a very well travelled non citizen of the US I would say that most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and all of Scandinavia are less corrupt than the US.

    Just like the US's frequently poor democratic systems (eg gerrymandered electorates), the US talks a better game than it delivers.

    You could definitely improve your systems by copying what other countries do better.

  53. The on-line Oxford dictionaries define corruption as "[d]ishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery".

    Is Mr. Trump corrupt by that definition? He is definitely WRONG when I read (in today's Times) that ". . . The Associated Press showed that Mr. Trump’s stopover cost American taxpayers almost $141,000, or more than $100 a minute. The president’s hotel stop itself cost taxpayers $1,000".

    Alas, democracy demands pretty constant vigilance of -- pretty much everybody (especially politicians and businesses). And then, of course, consequences.

    Thank you.

  54. What about 'too big to fail' and the bailout of the financial sector after they crashed the economy? - the transfer of $1 trillion in debt from private to public balance sheets with zero accountability. Next up will be Wall Street raiding the Social Security piggy bank. Sooner or later people will realize that their suspicions are correct and that they are in fact being ripped off at every turn by corrupt politicians and their paymasters in the 1%. How it plays out is anyone's guess.

  55. I hear about this stuff all the time. I agree with the point below about the cynical deterioration of faith in our public institutions; we’ve cultivated an assumption of mass incompetence and corruption, but rather than do anything about it, we’ve come to accept it as our natural state of existence to the point where we justify or dismiss actual corruption or policies that make it possible. We say “the other side does it too” and in so doing betray the depths to which we’ve sold out our ethics. I’m still an optimist at heart. But we’ve started to look at politics as a big culture war where no inch of territory can be surrendered to the other side, and as a result, we’re becoming too complacent and too willing to look the other way when leaders make so many ethical compromises.

  56. It's hard to get someone to believe or doubt what they KNOW.
    However, when people are uncertain, when they have been betrayed by those they have trusted to govern AND when they have seen little or no consequences accrue to betrayers, they are easy marks. Doubt easily takes root and grows quickly.
    America has a history of going easy on corrupt business men (banksters come to mind?) and some harsh exceptions have been easily identified as political punishment.
    But I believe we have reached a point where huge amounts of money, the corruption resulting from greed and human weakness and injustice are combining to change our country in ways that few will like and many won't be able to tolerate.
    For me these days are most disheartening and like so many others, I personally have no option but to watch. Yes, yes, vote, but I am unconvinced that much will happen now except changing one corrupt power holder for another.

  57. Mr. Homens premise is worthy as is his assessment of inevitability of Trump. What’s more revealing however in his jaded approach is his obvious lack of understanding of what caused the ‘08 collapse and aftermath. To agree with his trivial positions without the full knowledge of how it all works and to what end simply projects the complete and utter detachment from reality that quite literally contradicts what he hangs his hat on. To suggest irony is an understatement. How Mr. Homens got the nod to write this piece is strikingly similar to the disdain The Times showed for Bernie in it’s foregone conclusion that Hillary would be president. Look where that attitude got us.

  58. It is hard to imagine a politician who is not out for himself, just as it is impossible to imagine a sales rep who is uninterested in commissions, not pushing to make a sale.

    But all corruption is not the same. A politician who looks to get rich while improving the general strength of the nation, improving jobs, improving the plight of the poor, improving the results of foreign policy is a lot different from a group bent on destroying the status quo to rebuild a society that enriches them personally. It is the difference between "We all win, but I win more" and "I win, you lose."

    The GOP, and Trump picked up on it, convinced the nation that Clinton was somehow different, more corrupt, and that their own corruption would be beneficial while Hillary's was unforgivable. Propaganda at its finest.

    By the time the Trump nation figures out they were sold out for a Justice, some tax breaks and the dream of defeating Roe v Wade, they will be served by a different Administration and blame them instead. Or just still blame Obama. Why change a winning strategy?

    And the Trump ethos will sink down into local governments. Just wait folks, til you can't get a road paved, or streetlight or a building permit or variance without a hefty bribe. That is reality in really corrupt nations.

  59. This is part of the current political conversation. "Corruption" and "greed" are often defined in the eye of the beholder. In the political context, "greed" is when other people wants something that "we" (the good guys) don't think they should have or enjoy benefits that "we" don't, for whatever reason, have access to. The Left, for example, views anything they disapprove of as "greed." Sometimes, of course, people are greedy. And sometimes people are corrupt. But In today's political discourse (or what passes for it), anyone who disagrees with "us" is "Corrupt" and their motives are not only suspect but morally bankrupt. When "everyone is corrupt" it becomes both harder to ferret out actual corruption and easier to ignore anyone who isn't "us."

  60. Cynicism is dangerous to democracy.

  61. "Is it even worth distinguishing between this unseemly-but-legal stuff and true corruption if the outcome is, arguably, not much different? It’s an interesting question, but one you would only think to ask in a country, like the United States, where illegal corruption is relatively rare."

    You put your finder right on it: the United States where ILLEGAL corruption is relatively rare.

    It's not necessary to bother with illegal corruption since corruption is already baked into the cake.

    The United States justice system is basically an INjustice system where the deck is firmly stacked against the poor and the black and brown. (The severity varies from state to state.)

    Also, the Supreme Court is now bipartisan, i.e. completely lacking in objectivity.

    Consequently, gerrymandering has just been made legal by the Supreme Court, so there's that.

    If the justice system of a nation is itself corrupt you can safely say corruption has become institutionalized and legal. Everything else you want to talk about is a distraction from this simple fact.

  62. The U.S. has no justice system; we have a legal (and penal) one. And from such a "sofisticated" and complex legal system as ours, one invariably receives outcomes solely commensurate to those desired results one can (or cannot) afford to pay for. Such a bureaucratically ligitimized and entrenched practice of monetized "justice" (nevermind "fairness") has absolutely zero to do with the systemically unjust realities of our ever-increasingly litigatious and punitive state. So no, we have no government institution that in all seriousness approaches any domain that can be accurately considered a "justice system" with an even scant modicum of sincerity and honesty.

  63. Trump is being sucked deeper into the swamp of his own making.He is trying his best to normalize this unethical behavior so everyone else will dive into the ooze and gradually sink with him.We all have to say, "no thanks" and stay with our principles of fair play.Mr.Trump's behavior will enrage enough people and be potentially illegal enough that he will lose the presidency.Watergate went on for a long time but finally Nixon left.It was a happy day! A Trump departure would be celebrated.

  64. I have no idea what state you live in, sir, but it's obviously not New Jersey, New York, RI, or Massachusetts. All of which i've lived in at one point in time or another (and California too.) State governments clean as a whistle in your view, no doubt.

  65. I'm rubber, you're glue.... trump sees his own corruption in everyone else. Perhaps it makes him feel less corrupt.

  66. Trump and corruption is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  67. I believe our country is rotten to the core, thanks in large part to Citizen's United and unfettered greed. The oligarchs own the politicians, who don't care one bit for 99% of the people they are supposed to be serving.

    The United States is done. Put a fork in it.

  68. Adrienne, the kind of clueless cynicism you're expressing here is the exact point of this article. This article is about you.

  69. what about the unions that give great amounts of money to Democratic elected officials to "Persuade " them to vote for wages, benefits with perks for their members that are paid for by union members own money (high taxes ) and other tax payers

  70. Exactly right about the paradoxical dynamic of perceived and actual corruption. Leaves out the mirror-image example of that dynamic in the Grant administration, led by a relatively incorruptible president. What you expect is what you get. And corruption is almost as disastrous to republics as privatization of public goods, which is basically just another name for it. Cf Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State on how we helped corrupt Afghanistan.

  71. Corruption seems universal, especially when the one's in power are incompetent 'a la Trump'. It seems that, when given the chance, most of us, but especially politicians in power, are corruptible...and the only thing left to decide is the price they are willing to sell themselves for. One question remains about Donald J. Trump, known to cheat and lie repeatedly, for many years; why did we elect him in spite of knowing we were getting a 'lemon'?

  72. "We" didn't elect him. The electoral college elected him.

  73. Having lived in the great state of New Jersey for many years I can attest to the fact that corruption exists in America. The last time the FBI conducted a sting operation in that state they had to call in Greyhound to take all the suspects to court--and a beautiful rainbow coalition of crooks it was too--Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Jews, White and Black all united in their eagerness to sell their souls for a few thousand dollars.

    This sort of garden variety venality is not the worst part of our system. It takes large sums of money to run for office and even the most well intentioned reform minded politician ends up dialing for dollars. There are only a limited number of big donors out there and they all have things they want. Citizen's United made a bad system worse. It's all perfectly legal. The public interest be damned.

    So what's a humble citizen to do? How do you reform a system when the people who benefit from it are the ones who you must rely on to make the reforms? It's not surprising that many voters turned to Donald Trump, a man who had purchased many a politician during his real estate days, a man who promised to "drain the swamp". What can I say, there's a sucker born every minute.

    Given all these obstacles, I think that we should at least take seriously the proposal of making politicians wear the logos and names of their sponsors--sort of like NASCAR drivers--at least that way we know who we're really voting for.

  74. All Is Suspect.
    All Is Corrupt.
    Know Exceptions.

  75. The article is another example of cynicism.

  76. Close. it's about cynicism - about how cynicism amongst the populace led to Trump.

  77. Corruption moves money to a select few, the winners, and moves money away from the masses, the losers. Evidence of corruption, illegal or legal, instills resentment in the population and invites revolution.

  78. Like all the supposed liberals and progressives who were pushing a Goldwater Girl from the board of Walmart who'd spent the previous few years taking millions from Wall Street??

  79. Simply, you can fool some of the people all of the time. They're the gullible ones, who make up the G in MAGA. Only the most inherantly corrupt place the likes of Wilbur Ross and Tom Price and Scott Pruitt, et al, into positions of power. Take a dip in the swamp, voters. You've earned it.

  80. Poorly written piece. First it fails to define what curruption is. You cannot discuss things of this nature without defining, what exactly, the parameters are so you understand comparative analysis.

  81. You completely missed the point

  82. You know, like taking a 100,000 dollar trip to Italy on the tax payer dime, using security detail to go to a 5 star restaurant, and finding your wife a six figure position. You know, Corruption.

  83. If Democrats don't call attention to Trump's swampy White House & cabinet members for lining up their own pockets then they deserve to lose. Trump cronies are lining up to grab a share of the tax dollars like operating migrant detention camps. The word is Corruption.

  84. Don’t forget the blatant nepotism, the original form of corruption.

  85. I think we got a small peek at what may be behind the curtain with the Michael Cohen pay-for-access deals. If the consigliere was dipping his beak like this, what about the Capo (or whatever the Russian mob calls the boss)? Of course, no GOP POTUS would ever engage in anything remotely resembling quid pro quo. He's not an Illinois governor or a Clinton. And besides our system is too transparent, has too many checks and balances. And the president's finances are public record... until now.

  86. I was born in Montreal 70 years ago so know corruption and the country I know as the USA was not corrupt is not corrupt and will never be corrupt. What America does have is the greatest advertising and brainwashing system ever known to man, Ronald Wilson Reagan was a pitchman who sold product better than any politician before or after. Whether it was cigarettes or High Treason Reagan was good at selling, a non-smoker after the links were known Reagan's complete lack of morality allowed him to sell cigarettes just like he betrayed his guild members to J Edgar to allow him a spot on television when the movie matinee had run its course.
    Trump is not nearly the salesman Reagan was but is good enough to persuade enough Americans whose patriotism is intense enough to be fooled by a man who cares not for his country but only for the pride he takes in his ability to fool others where he is a master but not in the same league as Reagan.

  87. I probably missed out on a lot during the 2016 campaign, but when people complain about Hillary Clinton's 'corruption', I have no idea what they're talking about. And, if indeed she was corrupt, how does what she did in any way compare to the nightmare of corruption that we have with Donald Trump?

  88. I remember living in Chicago and dealing with citizenship and immigration. It differed from Canadian customs and immigration in only only one significant detail. Nobody in Chicago understood middle-class English and none could deal with the legalese that was part and parcel of what was deemed essential for a similar position in Canada. There was no corruption in what is what is generally assumed to be one of the most corrupt agencies in most the world. Much of the American bureaucracy has not the necessary literacy skills to be corrupt they are simply incompetent.
    They are incompetent because intelligence and good work habits are simply not enough for language and the thought process necessary to navigate a system where knowing the code and manoeuvring through the deliberately complex jargon secures security in the system.
    I watched the House hearing on Thursday and understood the GOP members were not corrupt, they simply do not understand the language we speak and the values we cherish. They are a religious cult and though they may frustrate and anger us our ideas beliefs, mores and understanding are foreign. The foundation of our cult are based in hypothesis experimentation, observations and fact based conclusion.
    This isn't about corruption it is the Dogma/Empiricism debate and dogma always seems to win.

  89. Thanks for this article. Please continue the coverage of corruption. We the people need to know more about its extent and consequences for our very lives. See documentation that I have witnessed since coming to Washington in 1966 to work on air pollution control in the Public Health Service. See

  90. What about revolving doors? The lobbyists? What about Citizens' United? Corporations writing bills that become law? If that isn't corruption I don't know what is.

  91. Trump's strategic complaints about corruption are purely self-serving. These lies do not make everyone else's concerns about corruption either less legitimate or a self-fulfilling prophecy. We hear about the corruption that gets exposed, and if we as citizens decide corruption is not important, there will be more of it - even though it might look like there is less because it is exposed less often.

    Ranking in a top 20 of countries on some corruption index means little. There are not that many true democracies in the world, and one of those distributed toxic cars that likely killed people with diesel exhaust. There is also no reason to think the "least corrupt" country does not also have serious corruption, even ignoring the possibility that failure to expose corruption is what earned that ranking. The country with the lowest rates of disease probably still spends a lot of money to treat and research it, because it is a serious problem. Corruption is similar.

    The Clintons never struck me as virtuous, but the response to this is not to be so cynical as to elect someone who is, at best, a con man. The lesson from Trump's election might even be simply "vote for the less corrupt candidate". It is not "tolerate the Clintons' level of corruption from everyone in all places or else we will get worse". If the Clintons lived like the rules applied to them, they would be living in the White House. Their selfishness, combined with cynicism that they reinforced, helped to elect Trump.

  92. This explains a lot. Trump voters think — know — that the whole system is corrupt, so why not vote for a guy who’s also corrupt but says he’ll protect them from the other corrupt ones? That is, he’s a crook, but he’s our crook. We’ve seen characters like this in America in the past, but not in the Presidency since the 19th century.

  93. I think this story is really about cynicism, false equivalencies, and conspiracy theories. I see all three in the comments section, especially those that support this administration. Everyone is equally corrupt, so Trump is no different = Cynicism. So and so kept a pen that wasn’t theirs, so Scott Pruitt’s corruption is the same = false equivalency. The Clinton campaign is running child porn ring at a pizza shop = conspiracy theories. Together, these attitudes are undermining our institutions and society.

  94. It is true that America is not corrupt in the manner that is easily defined, but it is corrupt in a different way, and perhaps even more deeply. Our politics is a chase for money and power. Menendez in NJ (my senator and I will vote for him again) may have gotten caught, but the hold of money over men like Mitch McConnell or any of a host of legislators who vote for money and against the people, and in favor of staying in power over advancing popular interests, suggests that corruption is so widespread as to be the norm. And no, I am not Trump voter. Yes, we are not corrupt in the manner described by the despots here, but we are entirely corrupted and lied to. I still vote, but wonder what for.

  95. Exactly this. There may not be bags of cash being handed over directly and you usually can't slip $100 to a cop or government clerk to get what you want but the whole system is of the corporate monied interests, for the corporate monied interests and by the corporate monied interests. The legislators and their friends get paid in many ways.

  96. Apparently you continue to vote for the corruption. At some point even party members need to step up and vote against politicians with demonstrably unethical practices. I am always interested when someone will, on the one hand state that he would absolutely continue to support a seemingly corrupt politician while railing against others (of the opposite party) simply because one "got caught" and other they disagree with politically. Don't you think that change is required when unethical behavior is demonstrated or are people simply too partisan?

  97. True, the U.S. is not corrupt in the way that some nations are. Plain old bribery happens (I live in New Jersey), but it is not an everyday occurrence. But we do have a vast system of legalized bribery, which we euphemistically call "campaign finance." Lobbyists and big donors have undue influence, and our Supreme Court has condoned it as "freedom of speech," oblivious to its unfairness and harm. And the two major political parties, which are no part of the U.S. Constitution, have woven themselves into the fabric of our laws and campaigns. If some government officials refrain from enriching themselves while in office, many former officials, including, I am sad to say, many members of the Obama administration, cash in by joining corporate boards, landing six- and seven-figure jobs, receiving lucrative book and speaking deals, etc. So, yes, I do think our government is corrupt, to the extent that it is unduly steered by $$$. Call me naive, but I would like to offer a simple formula: If you want to get rich, go right ahead. This is America, after all. But do not enter into public service with the goal of enriching yourself. Government should represent its citizens, not the power of organized money.

  98. I have no doubt trump and his companies have been corrupt for decades as they are now. What I don't understand is why our policing authorities, DAs, FBI, etc., why they have let him alone. Why? If anyone, ANYONE, committed the series of crimes he has, he would be jailed a long time ago. Have any of the readers been audited by the IRS? Scary, right? Even for someone using the 1040, it's a mess of documents. Has trump been audited? Any of his criminal businesses? Why not?

  99. The reality is that people get the government they deserve and and large segments of America believe we deserve Donald Trump. This is why that just when you think Trump can not get any lower, from attacking a war hero such as John McCain to his scam charity and scam Trump University, none of this matters to much of the country. We need to either find a way to go back to when America was a beacon of hope and opportunity to much of the world or accept that Trump marks the turning point when the United States gave up up it's position as the leader of the free world. Will America embrace Trump's cynical and corrupt zero sum vision of humanity and the world or return to the leadership and idealism that once made America great? It's our choice.

  100. I think we put way too much energy into punishing people after the fact. This is a pretty hard way to deter things we don’t like. We should instead look to build incentives for the sorts of behaviors we want to see. Finally, the only real solution is sustained engagement by the public.

  101. I just love when someone comes up with a new angle from which to make sense of what's going on.

  102. “...because I know what Hillary did already.” Which is what? Incredible lack of critical thinking, poor judge of character or I dare say values, that led to the election of Duterte and Trump

  103. Two parties both corrupt. No chance for a third party to get in front of the American people. Money and private organizations controlling the voting process with public money. Lobbyists buying votes from politicians who do their bidding over their constituents. No one prosecuted after war crimes, torture and blatant lawbreaking on the part of banks and financial institutions. Habeas Corpus revoked, citizens threatened with indefinite detention and torture. Need I go on?

  104. @Joe. Well put, the elite are making us fight in the trenches on social issues while at the top they are laughing all the way to the bank paying off their buddies along the way with positions in the USAO and court system. Check out McConnells friend ex-USAO and ousted Lt. Governor Stephen Pence. The in the pocket SEC acted like they were going after him due to the optics of a past case. After embezzling probably millions and lying to auditors BDO he was hit with a 200k fine, a lifetime ban of being a director but can still practice as an Attorney helping McConnell’s corporate friends at his insider law firm Frost Brown Todd and Lobbying group CivicPoint conspire to commit fraud. I complained to the SEC and got no response.

    Good lord where is this country headed

  105. In my view corruption can be painful.