Americans who believe the nation is exceptional do not like to think about our political corruption. In our fabulously projective way, we believe other countries are corrupt (Mexico is frequently mentioned), but not us. Until this year; now it is fashionable. But Americans understand that denouncing corruption is just another fad or market trend with the half-life of a new line of sneakers.
But the ongoing activity of political corruption is a little more premanent and defifnitely more complex for easy comprehension of the various factions mobbing for their candidates this season in the unlikely assumption that comprehension is their aim.
However, those with any special interest in government behavior -- either enforcing or relaxing an environmental regulation, for example -- step through the looking glass into the nation where government is not of, by and for the people; instead it is a government of men and women, not of laws. The first problem is that a bribe requires both a giver and a receiver operating illegally in secret. The giver is generally from the highly vaunted "private sector;" the receiver is from the generally despised "public sector," a member of a governmental bureaucracy or a politician. But who initiates the transaction?
Ah, there's the rub.
And if that sounds vaguely Shakespearian, it is because the giving and taking of bribes, special interests "corrupting" government and public officials "shaking down" the special interests, is as old and much older than Shakespeare (1564-1616), greatest poet of the rambunctious Elizabethan Era. Songs to "Lady Bribery" were a staple in the comedy of Ancient Athens. And the issue of how a citizen forms true opinions was as much a problem for Aristophanes' immortal comic hero, Dikaiopolis, as it was for Plato's brilliant mathematician and soldier, Theaetetus.
So, where are we? We see childlike "investigative" talking heads reporting in tones of disbelief that such-and-such chicanery is being committed by so-and-so in this year's national elections.
Yet older people, a class which traditionally has paid more attention to politics than younger groups, say that the whole spectacle is beginning to resemble the feeling of a river running through your fingers.
Hiding in plain sight, things are just not what they seem.
Trump, new hero of plain-speaking, honest White Folk, turns out at every hint of difficulty to be as much of a liar as any other real estate developers. In short, in the excellent descriptive term of Istvan Meszaros, Trump is just one more "personification of capitalism." Characteristically in the mode of the briber of public officials, Trump, a celebrity real estate mogul, may have calculated that it would be cheaper for him this year to run for president himself rather than dole out millions to the same-old, same-old mendicant hacks.
Bernie Sanders, a New Deal Democrat self-proclaiming as a socialist, is becoming a menacing Pied Piper leading the children of the dissolving bourgeoisie out of Hamelin Town to go occupy the citadels of capitalism. Or anyway have a revolution.
What Trump and Sanders share is that they do not speak as if they are bought and sold in advance, like so many of their supporters -- from Republican CEOs to Democrat union officials -- and all of their opponents. How soon will this fresh approach stale by endless repetition? Love thrives on its little secrets.
What particularly irritates us about the Trump campaign is his program to build a wall across the US-Mexican border while deporting millions of illegal aliens living here now, about half of whom would be dumped in Mexico like subsidized feed corn. The economic consequences of such a policy, at least in California, would be sizeable, starting with destruction of the residential rental market. The social consequences already are felt by communities with large Hispanic populations in an increase of anxiety, suspicion and paranoia making worse neighbors out of better ones in an already traumatized, highly mobile rental market still affected by the real estate crash eight years ago.
Their styles contrast: Trump attacks, belittles, insults and trashes his opponents. His iconic soundbyte is: "You should be ashamed of yourself!"
Sanders treats his rivals with respect. Some see his respect for Hillary Clinton as just being soft on her neocon foreign-relations agenda. The Forward ("News that Matters to American Jews") kvetches that Bernie doesn't make a big enough deal out of being Jewish. But Sanders's respect for office -- his and his opponent's -- and official decorum, as well as the good manners of a serious, experienced grassroots politician, is an atttractive contrast to Hillary's waspish, elitist opportunism and perpetual "triangulation" of factions within the Democratic Party that is such a tired old Clinton cliche. In fact, Hillary's delivery of her material is so "crafted" it has the paradoxical effect of turning everything she says into an instant cliche, rallying one faction, special interest, tribelet, genderette or boutique mob at the expense of the great multitude of the unemployed, under-employed, mis-employed, poorly fed, housed, cared for and educated and, at least in the haughty tones of Ms. Clinton, "unwashed."
So far Trump has been dominating his party's nominating process by being a bigger sonofabitch than his opponents and then whining about how vicious campaigning is. Clinton may cinch the nomination with substantial wins in neo-Confederate states.
It is possible that the usual emphasis on negative campaigning (with the exception of Sanders) may have, by dint of the sheer volume of money and the "information" technology it can buy, reached a crescendo never yet seen in American politics, a situation devolving into its logical, absurd goal. These campaigns have disgusted such a large majority of voters that any election result, however rigged by gerrymandering, voter-suppression laws, and voter-machine rigging will be distorted out of all resemblance to a "free" election.
This political ugliness is just another reflection of sociopathic elites that no longer even pretend to lead. These elites intend to repress and to fleece us, the working and the unworking alike. Although there remains a stale rhetoric of social responsibility and random examples of it in word and deed by the candidates still occur, the consistent direction is toward control of a divided, feuding society by a tiny elite of wealth.
We realize that this is not a brilliant new insight. The year does not require one. --blj