Most Americans think that their government is corrupt.
According to a 2014 Gallup study, the number is 75 percent, a jump from 2009, when only 66 percent of Americans believed the same.
When this represents the good old days, where does the present-day stand?
“The perception that there’s widespread corruption in the national government could be a symptom of citizen disengagement and anger,” Gallup’s Jim Clifton wrote in early 2016. “Or it could be a cause -- we don’t know. But it’s very possible this is a big, dark cloud that hangs over this country’s progress. And it might be fueling the rise of an unlikely, non-traditional leading Republican candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump.”
‘Vox’ reporter Sean Illing went to Trump’s inauguration and reported that “Amy Kellash .... traveled with her family from Gilman, Minn. For her, Trump’s victory ‘meant ending the corruption of the previous administration and politicians in general.’
“She didn’t specify what corruption she was referring to, but that wasn’t the point. Trump won, Clinton lost, and that meant ‘hope for me and my children.’”
The stench of corruption permeated around Hillary Clinton’s candidacy like thick, black smoke pouring out of a coal power plant. It was unavoidable, unpleasant, and unacceptable for millions upon millions of voters -- which is why they ran far and fast away. Whether this meant supporting a third-party candidate, not going to the polls at all, or actually voting for Trump does not matter.
The fact is that the appearance of corruption enveloped Clinton and made her lose otherwise receptive segments of the electorate. Of course, the fog of business impropriety surrounded Trump, but folks will push forward through mist. These very same individuals dare not brave blinding, choking smoke, however.
Call it unfair or cowardly -- though I certainly would not -- but this is the way things are.
Many a citizen now look back on that time before Citizens United as a golden age which must be revisited. However, I would caution anyone from growing too nostalgic. Pay-to-play corruption has long been part-and-parcel of Capitol Hill.
If you have ever seen the film ‘Amistad,’ you might remember that Spaniard nobleman who advised Queen Isabella II: Angel Calderon de la Barca y Belgrano.
Less than a decade before his death, he told American writer Orestes Brownson the following: “The government struck me as strictly honest, and your statesmen as remarkable for their public spirit, integrity, and incorruptibility. I was subsequently sent to Mexico; and when, recalled from that mission, I was offered my choice between Rome and Washington, such was my high opinion of the American republic, and the honesty and integrity of its government, that I chose Washington in preference to Rome, though the latter was more generally coveted.
“I have been here now for several years a close observer, and I have seen every thing change under my eyes. All my admiration for the republic and for republican government has vanished. I cannot conceive a government more corrupt than this government of yours. I see men come here worth only their salary as members of Congress, and in two or four years return home worth from a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand dollars.”
Brownson pointed out that these words were “said in 1852, when corruption was very little in comparison with what it has become.”
This last sentence was written in 1873.
In many respects, little has changed in Washington, DC throughout the ages. Those of us who wish to see cleaner, more responsive federal politics would be wise to consider Belgrano’s words very carefully.
The entire system is flawed. Checks and balances might separate the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, but they cannot produce an entity which functions as -- supposedly -- intended: “Of, by, and for the people.”
It is difficult to see how an unlikely overturn of Citizens United or McCain-Feingold redux will fix the situation. I do not mean to sound hopeless, but a flawed system produces bad results.,
Joseph Ford Cotto is, the editor-in-chief of The San Francisco Review of Books. Email him at email@example.com.