Op-ed: Buying democracy

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, May 2, 2018 2:01pm
  • Opinion

Let’s face it, the United States of America’s government is not a democracy like the textbook propaganda claims. No matter the intent of the founders, we have evolved into a pay-to-play oligarchy, where money rules.

I have to say, I appreciate it when someone is so honest about his or her own dishonesty. Rarely, however, is someone so candid as Mick Mulvaney. He now heads the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget, and even more damagingly, has been appointed by the president, on an interim basis, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB was formed out of the rubble of the economic debacle in 2008 to, as the name suggests, protect the consumer, particularly against the excesses and outright thievery of the financial industry. Over consistent Republican objections, the agency issued regulations that would offer some federal protections against these behemoths whose executives ran the monetary system into the ground with their greed.

Until Trump. Donald Trump came into office demonizing regulation, and he certainly has lived up to his campaign rhetoric by gutting the rules that were set out to create a greed shield. Mulvaney is a willing executioner. He had already established a harsh record as a South Carolina GOP congressman, a tea party favorite for his limited-government extremism — except when it came to protecting the rich, particularly those who threw crumbs of their ill-gotten gains at politicians like him.

Now in his new role, there he was, speaking to a group of bankers (what else?) when he took his amazing detour into remarkable candor: Speaking of his days as a congressman, he said that, when it came to scheduling meetings: “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” No “might” about it, actually. Like just about every politician in the United States of America who wishes to get elected and re-elected, a huge amount of time is spent fundraising — which is to say groveling for campaign contributions, which is another way to describe legalized bribes. What it gets the contributor is access to the contributee.

Those campaign contributions are mainly used to finance the upcoming election bid and to pay for TV attack ads and all the huge expenses that go with getting more votes than your competition, who probably has kissed the rings of his own godfathers. Now, most of these special interests are especially interested in accumulating added wealth.

For that, they employ the armies of the lobbyists Mulvaney described, who know full well that their wishes will be granted by the officeholders who have been bought and paid for. This corruption saturates the American political system. It is bipartisan; Democrats are as guilty of selling their souls as Republicans. It’s just that the Trumpsters are more blatant about it.

Scott Pruitt is the latest one to wallow in the self-created muck. His public life has been lavishly subsidized by energy companies that don’t want to be bothered by government limitations. In Pruitt’s native Oklahoma, where he was a state senator and later attorney general, he established a reputation of opposition to anything his private-industry benefactors disliked. Naturally Donald Trump picked him to head the Environmental Protection Agency, where after being barely confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he has been hellbent on gutting rules long established to protect the planet from corporate profiteering.

He also has been hellbent on living a cushy life in Washington, financed by these same fat cats (think of his low-cost condo accommodations) and more egregiously, the taxpayers (think of prohibited first-class airfare, etc.).

Again, Pruitt and the other Trumpsters’ conduct is not unique and certainly not limited to Republicans. The Clintons have faced similar accusations. It was Will Rogers who described Congress as the “best that money can buy.” Regrettably, that stain covers our entire political system.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist.

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