The Insidious Propaganda that “All Politicians are Corrupt”

6 mins read
Graphic by Haanala. CC0 Public Domain

What’s being exposed right now is the depth of corruption in the Republican Party.

Therefore, one of the messages deployed by the bots and trolls is that all parties are corrupt. The Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. Like this:

This is standard Russian propaganda. Timothy Snyder explains that Putin doesn’t deny corruption in his regime, but works to persuade people that all regimes, including democratic ones, are corrupt.

If people believe all politicians are corrupt, going after Trump is indeed a political persecution, or a “witch hunt.” If all politicians are corrupt, it doesn’t matter who you vote for, or whether you vote at all.

The idea that all politicians are corrupt leads to tribalism. “He’s a liar, but he’s our liar. I’d rather stick with our corrupt liar than the enemy corrupt liar.”

It’s one way to kill democracy.

The solution is to vote. The antidote to cynicism is to hold on to your principles and remember that there are people who have them.

Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of censuring Trump. Alexander asked:

Censure is a group vote strongly reprimanding a president for wrongful behavior.

When a House of Congress votes to censure a president, it’s a big deal. It’s only been done once in our history.

Andrew Jackson was the only US president to be censured, and the blot on his record bothered him deeply. His allies worked years to get the censure expunged from the record.

(My source is the bibliography from my own book on Jackson. The story of Jackson’s censure is also here.)

Andrew Jackson

In a nutshell, Jackson hated banks and thought they were engines of corruption. So he dismantled the federal bank by moving all the funds to state banks, which were entirely unregulated. When state banks predictably failed, we had our first economic depression.

It was a stupid move. It was also an illegal usurpation of Congressional power. (Jackson also ignored a Supreme Court decision, giving us the Trail of Tears. He was an unrepentant slaveowner. If you didn’t know, Trump compares himself to Jackson. He even hung his picture)

The Senate censured Jackson for “assuming the exercise of power over the Treasury of the US not granted him by the Constitution and Laws.” The debate over whether to censure Jackson lasted 10-weeks. (Ten weeks. Yeah, things move slowly in democratic institutions.)

There were other censures, but never for a president. The House has censured 23 of its members.

It looks to me like the rules for censure are the same as any resolution. It requires only a majority vote.

The House will keep investigating, but I don’t think Pelosi will impeach again. It’s clear that this Senate will never remove the president. A Senate trial shuts everything down. This Chief Justice thinks his job is to operate the clock.

Pelosi gave the Senate the chance to conduct a fair trial. They conducted a sham.

A strongly worded censure allows Pelosi to:

  • publicize Trump’s crimes
  • publish the evidence, and
  • remind everyone that the Senate is in on the coverup, and can’t be trusted to conduct a fair trial.

McConnell shut down the trial without witnesses because he gambled on people forgetting about it by the election.

They won’t forget if each time Pelosi gets new evidence, she publishes it with the statement that she can’t give it to the Senate because they will just conduct another sham trial and coverup.

Before the Senate trial, Stephanopoulos asked Pelosi her next move. She said “Let’s see what the Senate does. The ball is in their court now.” (She doesn’t tip her hand)

I heard it as a dare.

Think of what’s happening as chess game being played between Pelosi and McConnell. He controls the Senate. But she has stronger pieces on the board. (To continue my metaphor, King Trump has only pawns.) She has evidence, and she’s getting more.

Trump could add one more item to the list of things he has in common with Andrew Jackson: He could be one of two presidents formally censured by the House of Representatives. And Pelosi gets the last word before the election.

The messaging is simple, as Sen. Schumer illustrates here:

Each new piece of evidence is an election year two-fer:

The goal right now isn’t to punish Trump. The goal is to win the election with a large margin. Censure allows Pelosi to keep the nation focused on Trump’s crimes.

Expect a lot of chaos, so that will be hard. She needs to cut through the noise.

Originally posted on Musing About Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.


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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

1 Comment

  1. I get these kinds of arguments a lot. And there is a simple, effective response:
    “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” If I am nasty I say: “Have you been dumbed down to believe that two wrongs make a right?”
    And I don’t think it’s just rhetoric, it exposes their fallacy.
    If all politicians are corrupt then we need to fight that corruption more aggressively. Because there is a victim of corruption: It’s us, the people, our country, our future. So let’s start fighting that corruption from the top, by voting out the corrupt President. If there are other corrupt politicians, by all means let’s vote them out too – though I can’t really think of anybody else …
    The same of course goes for the “lies.” If I lie or you lie – who cares? We don’t matter for anything. But if the President lies, the commander in chief, the most powerful man in the world, the man in which we have entrusted our country – if he lies then obviously that matters. It’s a problem. America can’t afford a lying President. Because nothing good ever comes from lying.

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