Trump actions illustrate why Congress must pass the For the People Act
President Trump took the United States down the path trod by scores of developing-world nations which — after letting their guard down for just a second — ended up on a path of violence, insurrection and dictatorship.
When Trump began sowing the seeds of doubt in vote by mail and absentee balloting, he set the stage for both inciting and organizing an insurrection whose violence is not yet over. Before this, his shameless purges of administration officials who questioned both the legality and the morality of his attempts to pressure Ukraine into assisting his reelection campaign were done to clear his administration of any pesky naysayers who might give voice to democratic values.
These ploys are reminiscent of the various strongmen who have ruled many foreign nations for decades. In my 16 years of work that stretched from Libya to South Africa, from Sri Lanka to Brazil, from Afghanistan to Moscow, I saw the same brazen lying, the same awful cynicism, and the same clear-eyed contempt for any rule designed to check absolute power. In many of these countries, the playbook is the same. Sophisticated propaganda methods, force, denigration of the press, and a contemptible cabal of enablers who live in the reflected sunlight of the great man they choose to serve.
And let’s not forget the equally brazen ways in which Trump — like those same strongmen — enriched himself while in office.
Let’s not forget Vice President Mike Pence staying at a Trump property on the west coast of Ireland while his meetings were across the country in the east. Let’s not forget the hundreds of foreign dignitaries paying thousands of dollars to stay at the Trump Hotel just blocks from the White House, directly benefiting the president. Let’s not forget the ugly and brazen nepotism as the president appointed family members to key positions in his administration even though they are unable to pass basic background checks. These appointments are for jobs that demand extensive background checks precisely because they require access to highly classified material.
And let’s never forget candidate Trump taking from his charitable foundation to enrich both himself and his campaign. Some of these charitable contributions were used to buy a nine-foot portrait of Trump that he later had displayed at one of his country clubs. As any tin-pot dictator will tell you: Above all, omnipresence.
Zimbabwe’s late dictator Robert Mugabe and a dozen other corrupt leaders like him were masters of no-bid contracts, and of tribute payments to the strong man. Mugabe’s government was infamous for using public money entrusted to the government for personal and political gain.
Trump and the late Mugabe would probably have a good laugh about how easy it is to get away with self-dealing right in plain sight. Indeed, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites over 2,000 conflicts of interest involving Trump and his administration, his businesses and those seeking to influence him.
Our duty as reformers is to root out corruption by officeholders and government officials at every level of government. We must demand that all future presidents divest themselves completely of any assets or holdings that can be used to benefit them monetarily during their time in office. And we must pass the kinds of comprehensive campaign finance laws that restore faith in the men and women who represent us in the United States Congress.
Many of the provisions of H.R. 1 — the For the People Act — would go a long way in ensuring that the representatives we send to Washington would work for the common good, and not primarily for their own political advantages or personal financial gain. Other H.R. 1 provisions would bolster much-needed election integrity measures so that a master propogandist crying foul will never be taken seriously again.
Now is not the time for small steps or half-measures designed to provide incremental solutions to the deep wounds that the lawless and utterly corrupt Trump administration has inflicted upon our nation.
Now is the time to act.
If we don’t, then we will become indistinguishable from those countries where corruption and violence are simply a matter of course. Countries where corrupt strong men rule, and notions of democratic representation are thrown aside. Where the strong man’s personal gain is put ahead of the people he is entrusted to serve.
If we do nothing after watching the president of the United States enrich himself, lie about the election, and use the tools at his disposal to incite unspeakable violence against the American people, then the specters of corruption and violence that have haunted the Trump administration will never be put to rest. They will be as embedded in the American system of government as they are in any country ruled by those for whom corruption and violence are a way of life.
The For the People Act can help us make sure that a would-be tinpot dictator can never take advantage of our political system again.
Matt Keller is Vice President of Democracy 21 in Washington, DC, former Executive Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE, and legal counsel at the United Nations World Food Programme.