I grew up in Mexico. We knew there was corruption and still remember one presidential candidate telling us, “we are all part of the corruption problem, la corrupción somos todos.” It was his running motto for the highest office in the land. This was admission to a long standing issue. We all knew corruption was everywhere. It ranged from the cop on the beat, to the highest office in the land. Enriching oneself, while in office, was expected. An honest government that was clean was something none expected. We joked about it, and we called it mordida.
No, that president did not clean up the country. Corruption continues to this day, to a greater or lesser extent. No, the current populist left-wing government of Manuel Lopez Obrador is not cleaning the stench either, even when that was also a campaign promise. If anything, there seems to be a coverup with COVID 19 deaths. The story in the New York Times was all but shocking or surprising. When corruption is structural, you become inured to it. In fact, it becomes a matter of jokes. In this case, dark jokes.
Which brings me to the United States under Donald Trump. Mind you, some of this has existed in the United States for a long time. We just refuse to see it. There are the well-connected who never face the music, no matter what they do. Short of a few crimes, some people are above the law. No District Attorney will file charges if they want a career. Jeffrey Epstein is a good example of this. But there are a myriad of local examples that are just as bad, if not as public. They can include the building magnate that can violate standards regularly and rarely get any consequence, including fines. Of course, they donate to politicians on both sides, and this is corruption.
When Trump spoke of this during the 2016 campaign, it was a rare moment of truth-telling by the future president. It had zero effect on the populace. Partly because Americans still believe we are exceptional. Most do not know about the political machine at Tammany Hall. Or for that matter, varying degrees in corrupt law enforcement to the present day. Then there is the division among the people. One that may lead to the balkanization of the United States.
At the time, Trump voters called that bit of truth-telling things like they are, forgetting the second part. Trump admitted to the practice. His detractors did not point out how widespread this is.
Why? American exceptionalism of course.
Part of the national myth is that we are a nation without corruption, with opportunities for all. We are that shining city on the hill that others would love to emulate. Oh never mind that minorities know this is not true. If you are of a certain melanin content, you know this American myth is not yours, or you will have to work much harder to succeed. And let’s be honest, you also know you are at greater risk of dying at the hands of the police.
But for white Americans, this is a true myth. We are the best, least corrupt, nation in the world. It does not matter what world indices tell us. Fun fact, we are not. Denmark is. We do not even make it to the top five either. And yes, I heard many times just how massive corruption was in the country if my birth, but how this never, ever, happened in the United States. I learned to shrug my shoulders. I knew Mexico was, but so is the United States, to a lesser degree.
Oh never mind the stories of the Chicago machine. That was an outlier. Don’t even mention places in the Deep South that are well known. Or for that matter some very local examples.
So the other day the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, dropped all charges on General Michael Flynn. This came on the news and left. There was little irony in the reporting, and partly it’s COVID, and the inability for talking heads on air to chew gum and talk at the same time. There was far more coverage in the print media, to be fair.
In that reporting, there is some fear that this is an attack on the rule of law (it is.) And a few pointed out that this could be bad for the future of the nation. When asked, Barr said that history would be written by the winners. Which of course, he expects to be with. So he will write this history. It will be heroic! Most of these people can never conceive of them losing in the end.
Most Americans are dealing with over 80,000 dead (as of this writing) and the Great Depression. We are dealing with the worst possible kind of leadership in Washington. Yet, unlike the people of my youth, we seem incapable of calling this what it is: Corruption.
Yes, you see memes on social media about a banana republic. This is some limited recognition that we have a problem, but it is coming from those who don’t like Trump. The other side called his predecessor a fascist, a Nazi, and a socialist. They call his Vice President, now running for the presidency, the same. They use the same terms for governors enforcing health regulations over a pandemic. In a sense, they chose masks as the hill to die on. Yet, they are also aware there is a problem.
Why the talk of the deep state is so pervasive in the right. It’s a diagnosis, albeit the wrong one, to the crisis. It is a recognition that something is broken in the United States.
This is understood by both sides, as they fight each other. It is as if combatants were about to destroy each other for the same exact problem, even if they name it in different ways. It is time for Americans to talk about this.
Yes, there is deep corruption in the United States. We have allowed it to fester, partly by not recognizing it when we witness it in our own lives. Years ago, decades actually, I had friends of my sister in the car. I was stopped by a police sergeant for making a wrong turn on red, which incidentally, was permitted. We were talking but five minutes before about the fact that yes, there is corruption in the United States, which of course they could not believe. We export the same fantasy in our movies and other popular media. I did the same I did in Mexico City once. I challenged the sergeant and demanded my ticket. I wanted to go to court. He let me go with a warning. As you may guess, he likely knew that he was not going to get a bribe, and he would loose in front of the judge.
La corrupción somos todos, and it starts at that level.
We need to speak of it and to banish it as much as possible. AG Barr dismissing the charges (for which Flynn confessed) is another symptom of this. We have just gotten to the brazen point of it.
So yes, there is a deep state of sorts. It has existed at all levels of government. These are the corrupt officials that occupy powerful offices. Whether it is that sergeant I said no to, or the AG of the United States, or for that matter the president. We must all start to admit this, we are not exceptional. And we must face it for that it is a poison to civil society and civil order.