Let’s see if we’ve got this straight: The Democrats want to oust President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE for apparently doing something favorable to himself by pressuring a foreign leader to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE … who apparently pressured a foreign leader to do something favorable to himself.
The Republicans say Trump is innocent and Biden is guilty. The Democrats say Biden is innocent and Trump is guilty — of basically the same things. Despite all the fevered spin by each party and their acolytes in the media this week, Americans in Normaltown, USA, see this pretty simply: Both men did stupid, swampy things. Both men used their official offices in a way they really shouldn’t have. And, sadly, the actions of both men are emblematic of a much larger problem.
We have a corruption crisis in this country. Some of it rises to the level of criminal public corruption, but most of it is a corrosive political corruption which grasps at power that, in turn, leads to significant personal wealth. In too many instances, public office in this country is held by individuals who prioritize personal power and enrichment over public service.
If this were not the case, we would not see the manic partisanship we see today, the shrill hate-filled rhetoric that has become commonplace, the attempts at character assassination, the showtime public hearings, the lies and the distortions.
For a sense of scale and pervasiveness, if the politically corrupt were equated to polar-icecap-melting CO2 emissions, Pittsburgh would be beachfront property. That is why the FBI worries about public corruption more than any other criminal violation, and lists it as its top criminal investigative priority.
The reason for this is straightforward. A democratic republic relies upon citizen representatives to engineer governance. Representatives are trusted with temporary authority to work for the common good. When representatives use that authority instead for personal gain, the country suffers in profound ways.
When personal power and enrichment become the priority, severe partisanship holds sway and nothing gets done. We see this in Congress most starkly; that branch of government has withered to a point where, in most years, it cannot perform even its most basic budget-creation duties. We saw it, as well, in the absurd Russia collusion fiasco that paralyzed governance for more than two years and dangerously compromised the FBI.
Criminal corruption normally takes the form of clear bribery, in which money or something of tangible value is exchanged for favors. What ultimately gets charged often hinges on the nature of the value received and the favor dispensed. It is debatable whether the actions of either the president or the former vice president meet the elements of the federal bribery statute.
That said, should we be satisfied with a system that enables incredible personal and family enrichment simply because a public office has been held?
If Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe Mary Trump doesn't see her cousins connecting with GOP Rubio: Biden's new child allowance is 'first step toward a universal basic income' MORE’s old man was not president, she would not have been granted trademark protections in China as her father met with Chinese officials.
If Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE’s wife was not secretary of State, he would not have been invited to give a dozen half-million-dollar speeches to foreign entities during her tenure.
Had Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOur remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 MORE remained an Illinois state senator, he and his wife would not today own multiple residences in choice locations worth millions of dollars.
More than half of current senators own stock in companies that may be affected by legislation they craft. That’s insider knowledge that would leave a Wall Street trader jealous and, likely, jailed.
Being an elected official has become big business, a unique pathway to wealth not envisioned by the Founding Fathers. After leaving office, many cash in on lucrative corporate board, lobbying, media and other positions that leverage the spidery, conflicted relationship network they’ve developed.
The current, career-politician system motivates service to self above service to country. It has bred a culture of corruption among our political class.
So how do we change the system? Perhaps another crisis — the climate crisis — can provide a template. The Green New Deal has received broad endorsement from many in the prosperous political class. They would like us to give up a good chunk of our wealth via increased taxes and energy costs while changing our diet, transportation and straw-sucking behaviors for the common good.
Okay, we’ll trade you. Let’s also have an “Integrity New Deal” targeting politicians’ wealth and behaviors for the common good. The Integrity New Deal could include:
- Term limits for Congress. Three two-year terms for the House, one eight-year term for the Senate.
- Full disclosure of tax returns while in office and for 10 years after.
- No corporate board or lobbyist positions for 10 years after leaving office.
- All book, memoir, speaking engagement and media appearance proceeds to charity.
- Divestiture of stock while in office and no investment in industries subject to oversight for 10 years after leaving office.
- Elimination of pension benefits for serving in office, since terms are now limited.
- Significantly increased base salaries to blunt graft temptations.
An Integrity New Deal would help restore public office to the true citizen representative who puts aside normal business for a short time to serve the country above self and then returns to the community. Gone would be the self-serving career politician, a model that is clearly not benefitting the nation and invites political corruption.
How many congressional and presidential candidates would endorse an Integrity New Deal? Probably not many. But then we would know, at least, who prefers the current corruption-friendly environment.
Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He is a founder and principal of NewStreet Global Solutions, which consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.