It’s football season. Two football teams, the Blues and the Reds are playing a match. What makes this game different is that the match officials are selected by and are drawn from the Reds squad. They set the rules of the game, which can change as needed to promote, you guessed it, the Reds.
Fair football fans – not the Reds and their fans – would cry foul that the rules favor the Reds and expect the league commissioner to step in to restore the integrity of the game. Watching the game would be pointless and worse. still, the Blues could also rely on underhand methods to match the Reds. The game would be corrupted.
Well, that’s what happens to our political process. It is corrupt because the Republicans (the Reds), in the majority in the state chambers, are gerrymandering neighborhoods. They make it more difficult for certain segments of the population to vote. Concrete example: fewer polling stations in minority neighborhoods coupled with restricted postal voting eliminates minority voting.
A majority of Conservatives conveniently believe the lie that the election was stolen. The lie and corrupt practices in which their leader – Donald Trump – engages have become water mills for much of the party. For them, politics has become a blood sport.
International Transparency explains corruption as the abuse of power for personal gain. It is corrosive because it erodes trust, weakens democracy – repeat: Weakens democracy – hinders economic development, exacerbates inequalities and tribal divisions. Based on its Corruption Perceptions Index, the United States ranks 25th, which is practically the last among the major democracies in the first world.
Coming from a part of the world flooded with corruption, I can attest that it is a highly destructive force, degrading norms and values from within. The sense of fair play and community is eroded as more and more citizens try to play the system in their favor by being more and more willing to break the rules for personal gain.
A concrete example: Until she turned around on Friday, the University of Florida had refused to allow three political science professors to be expert witnesses in a voting rights case. Why the refusal? Was it because Republicans knew they would be exposed? A check and a counterweight were denied in the light of day. Now we are informed that several other UF professors have been barred from providing testimony going against the interests of the GOP-dominated state government. It is the dirty face of the abuse of power.
The National GOP knows it’s a pickle. Their older voters meet the grim reaper, and not enough younger voters join their party. Some of their prominent leaders have tacitly admitted that their economic policies have not uplifted the working class and now recommend – by their own definition – “socialist” policies. They distract their constituents by focusing on corner issues, primarily xenophobia.
The Economist sees the United States as a flawed democracy, under pressure from growing polarization and declining social cohesion. There are extremely low levels of trust in political institutions and parties, deep dysfunction in government, growing threats to free speech, and a degree of societal polarization that makes it nearly impossible to achieve consensus. It ranks 25th, again practically last among the first world democracies.
Power tends to corrupt, and as Lord Acton, the British historian said, absolute power absolutely corrupts. History is replete with examples of societies that have imploded due to corruption and decay. Let’s not join this list.
Murad Antia teaches finance at Muma College of Business, University of South Florida (USF), Tampa.