Washington Post - May 23, 2019
American politics has become a case study of the type that college professors employ in Ethics 101. If the economy is good, does presidential corruption actually matter?
That President Trump and members of his circle are corrupt has been established beyond doubt. There is the financial corruption of using the presidency as a marketing tool for Trump businesses; of foreign governments seeking influence by spending at Trump properties; of close associates being paid for influence by foreign entities; of industry advocates and lobbyists being appointed as industry regulators; of the Trump Organization expanding overseas operations with the help of foreign governments; of possible money laundering through Trump properties. And all of this in the context of a president fighting tooth and nail to shield his financial records from public scrutiny.
There is a political corruption of inviting a foreign government to interfere in a presidential election; of seeking politically motivated investigations against opponents; of attempting to block and discredit legitimate investigations of Trump’s own questionable activities; of directing secret payments to women with potentially damaging information; of attempting to influence ongoing federal investigations.
These activities do not need to be illegal to be corrupt, just as the president does not need to be a criminal to be a deceitful schemer who undermines important legal and ethical norms.
But so what? Why should financial and political corruption matter if the unemployment rate is less than 4 percent?
For guidance, we might turn to “The Death of Outrage” by William Bennett. “No great civilization — none — has ever been judged great because of wealth alone,” argued Bennett. “. . . If we have full employment and greater economic growth — if we have cities of gold and alabaster — but our children have not learned to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then the American experiment, no matter how gilded, will have failed. A strong economy is a good thing. But it is far from everything.”
Bennett went on to talk about how capitalism itself depends on good private character; how our system of government requires leaders of integrity; how failings of character can’t be neatly compartmentalized. “A president whose character manifests itself in patterns of reckless personal conduct, deceit, abuse of power and contempt for the rule of law,” he wrote, “cannot be a good president.” ...
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