What to do About our Corrupt Congress?

The long title of this piece is: So, Why Doesn’t Congress Care About Doing What’s Right, and What to do About it?

Some people still wonder why Congress won’t arrange for universal health care like our peer countries already did ages ago to both their citizens’ and their economies’ benefit. They ask: WHY DOESN’T CONGRESS CARE ABOUT DOING WHAT’S RIGHT?

My answer is short and direct: BECAUSE CONGRESS IS BOUGHT! Congress has become the perfect place for wealth-seeking influence peddlers. Even someone who wants to be honest will have a hard time surviving a couple of terms in Congress with his ethics intact. A Congress member has to spend a huge amount of time begging for big donations to finance his or her re-election campaign; and money-padded lobbyists from special interests come constantly knocking to bribe in any number of ways. This has been going on for a long time. In addition, so-called outside spending, has sky-rocketed since Citizen United, which means that our robber billionaires now have no limits on how much they can shape public opinion about candidates through TV ads or bribe or threaten them with dark money flowing through Super PACs. Staying in the “business” of politics without yielding to Big Money’s special interests is therefore quite a trick.

When Congress acts against unprivileged regular Americans on behalf of privileged billionaires – and, in the process, hurts our whole economy – it’s not because of ineptitude or stupidity (although evil can be argued to be a form of stupidity or mental defect). No, it’s because of the role of money in politics.

To fix this problem, we need effective anti-corruption measures like public election funding to replace private funding (the alternative of total donations transparency also looks helpful, but obfuscation will always overcome this (example: outside spending)), a ban on the revolving door between being a member of Congress and a lobbyist, a ban on members of Congress investing in stocks related to their political decisions (coupled with thorough transparency so they can get caught), public debates which allow all serious candidates to the table, and overruling various Supreme Court decisions that currently permit massive outside spending to influence political campaigns and public opinion on political issues from outside our candidates’ own campaign efforts.

We also must clean up our heavily rigged electoral processes, where the rigging ranges from massive voter suppression and gerrymandering to outright vote hacking. In the process we may have to form a new political party which uses a bottom-up-democracy instead of the easily corrupted top-down hierarchy of our current party duopoly. It would further help to modernize our electoral system (for instance implement instant run-off voting or score voting) and maybe have more direct voting on issues and candidates, as we no longer live in an age where voters’ wishes can only be carried to our states’ capitals or Washington via horse riders and stagecoaches. We can also use modern technology for people to shape ideas and express the will of the people directly in a crowd-sourced way, something from which our representatives could take their clues and be less dependent on big-business think tanks and lobbyists to write their law bills for them, as it’s currently being done.

If we ever were to radically transform our government, we could even try something radical that the ancient Greeks came up with when their experiments with democracy ran into the same kind of money-in-politics trouble we now experience: a parliament (I’d say, an additional house of Congress, maybe) formed from randomly picked members of the public for whom this isn’t a career — sort of what we do with our jury system in our courts of law — a kind of congressional jury. Today’s politics is surely more complicated than back in ancient Greece, but if their only task were to veto nefarious bills, then perhaps they would not have to become professional politicians to perform this task which would be a nonrenewable, term-limited side-job. A bit of honest citizenry built into our legislative process. What I am saying here is that we can get creative about how our government runs and is constructed to serve us instead of a tiny number of plutocrats. We don’t have to limit ourselves to the ideas of our 18th century experiment, some of which clearly didn’t work out as well as hoped.

Last, but not least, we need to find the courage to look where we have been conditioned not to look — a portion of society we have been taught to revere, to consider taboo, and to let act any way it pleases: the private sector. And this is why: if we want to completely eliminate money in politics and not have it creep back as soon as we blink, we must eliminate the actual source of money in politics, lest it finds ways to circumvent anti-corruption laws, obtain favorable Supreme Court rulings, and rewrite the laws themselves, to once again legalize political bribery, just like it did in the past.

Eliminating the source of all that special-interests money in politics, would mean reshaping how our business world works. Our business world currently is despotic, utterly undemocratic, and even anti-democratic. When we go to our places of work, almost all of us are serfs and peons ordered around from above, unable to exert any democratic influence on what the company of our employment does (like shipping jobs overseas or replacing us with machines without us getting any share in the profits raised that way) — and a big chunk of the money our work earns is siphoned off by the CEO and shareholders who then reinvest a portion of it as money in politics to make sure this rip-off system stays intact, and to make it even more lucrative for them at our expense, for instance with trade deals that let foreign cheap labor compete with ours, shifting pensions on our shoulders as 401(k) plans where Wall Street then makes huge profits gambling our pensions away, lower taxes for them and higher taxes for us, and so forth. So, our places of work are where money in politics comes from — not from us, but from that handful of people who hold ownership titles over our places of work, rake in huge amounts of money generated by us, and then use it to turn politics and our government against us. This, then, is the ultimate root of the problem, a corrupting influence we must cure, or else any political remedies we somehow enact will eventually be rolled back, subverted, and overcome by those who have huge wealth to command and an incentive to not only protect their wealth privilege but grow it at everybody else’s expense. Quite possibly, not all money aristocrats (people who have other people working to make money for them) are necessarily involved in bribing our politicians. But it is sufficient to corrupt our government when some of them – or their business managers – are.

Fixing this problem, however, is where things get a bit complicated, because we enter a gray zone where a line can never be precisely drawn between rightful ownership and illicit loot. However, we could do far better in that department than we have done so far. We had some reforms around the edges, like ending plantation slavery and child labor, implementing workplace safety laws and OSHA, creating a minimum wage, and such. But such peripheral reforms which make the system of exploitation and undue influence less crass are not enough to pull the problem out at the root. For example, slavery has essentially been brought back through a privatized prison system working hand-in-hand with a deteriorated justice system which places a huge number of Americans into slave-like forced labor conditions without a trial (94% never had a trial, Chris Hedges reports). Likewise, working conditions for working Americans are sliding ever closer to slavery-like poverty, precariousness, and lack of choice. In a gradual return to child labor, more and more kids from poor families, who are struggling in school and are at risk of failing to graduate, are spending a lot of their out-of-school hours working in minimum wage fast food places rather than doing their homework or studying at home. Reforming around the edges simply is never enough. A hard reality to swallow, but true.

Another hard to swallow reality is that most of our beliefs and opinions are not really our own. We uncritically adopted many of them when we were young and have been holding on to them ever since, as happens to be human nature, and – quite conceivably – many of them were engineered by those people who are getting highly paid by our plutocrats to keep feeding us false narratives: bought politicians, academics (including school curriculum writers), and media pundits. So, now, when we are older and have gained more life experience — and when we can see the American Dream with which we were raised unraveling all around us — it is time we start re-examining our habitual beliefs and opinions about our economy, politics, and political parties, no? What do you think?