Corruption Nation: Acceptance Becomes a Norm

Just about everyone now knows that Senator Joe Manchin is courted by and takes significant donations from oil and gas industry lobbyists. Yet, his blatant though somewhat subtle gaming of the legislative negotiating process clearly smells like quid quo pro. Virtually no other senator who is asked will directly confront that fact. They all dodge it with various polite assertions of his ‘honor’ or ‘thoughtfulness’ on the issues. Please… says that in 2018 Manchin’s net worth was $7,623,534. He ranked 19th in wealth among the 100 members of the Senate. Three million of that was invested in Enersystems Inc., a major West Virginia coal brokerage he founded.  The rest was invested in banks. It seems most senators are millionaires, but Manchin has more millions than most.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Manchin not only wields a lot of political power over energy decisions; he also is heavily invested in the fossil fuel economy. He reputedly meets with oil and gas lobbyists at least weekly, in fact one lobbyist was recorded admitting so. One has to wonder—as if it were not obvious—how such financial-political entanglements might affect a senator’s decisions on the desperately needed transition away from a fossil-fuel economy to renewable clean sources of energy.

But no such wonderings emerge from the mouths of his colleagues, most of whom have their own special interests to attend to. Sorry, but this is what I must call corruption, moreover, institutionalized corruption. The practice of normalized bribery has been well institutionalized in the U.S. legislative branch for a long time. Only now, it may be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to saving humanity from the rages of climate chaos and ecological collapse.

Normalization of Bribery

Consider the fact that none of what I described above is new. In fact, it is so old that in the nation’s capital members of Congress do not even perceive it as remarkable. For them, taking money from powerful corporate and financial interests is just part of doing business—but it is certainly not the people’s business.

The longer a corrupt practice continues, the more normal it becomes. In fact, it goes one further; it becomes a norm. If a reporter gently asks a politician whether her/his income from lobbyists might influence her/his position on an issue, the questioner is summarily dismissed with high-sounding motivational assertions. The reporter immediately drops the topic. And so it goes…

Financial Hierarchy and Moral Turpitude

Democracy is an imperfect system for seeking “the general welfare” of a nation. However, extreme economic systems of political-economic hierarchy overriding democracy are far worse. The normalization of political corruption through financial manipulation of legislation approaches absolute dictatorships in its ability to destroy a nation. A few years ago, a couple of political scientists* compared legislation lobbied for by corporate and other powerful interests with the interests of the public and found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” That is where the U.S.A. stands today.

At a time when clear existential threats to the future of humanity face us with the unbending laws of Nature, the ability of the nation to respond rationally to imminent danger is as important as anything can be. Yet, here we are with a government unable to act rationally because a few senators are too busy reaping profits from their corrupt relationships with the financial power of the corporate state to act in the public interest.

The choice has become too clear. Either we continue on a path of political corruption and face societal as well as Earth-System chaos and potential societal collapse, or we hold the corrupt political system to basic moral standards enabling our society to respond effectively to the dangers ahead.


 *  Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin Page. 2014. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics 12:3 (September):564-581.

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