In this July 17, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Party of Arkansas Reagan Rockefeller dinner in Hot Springs, Ark. Trump faced an avalanche of fresh criticism July 20 for questioning Sen. John McCain's heroism. But he’s getting no pressure at all from the one community that could push a candidate out of the 2016 presidential race: political donors. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) (AP/Danny Johnston)

Donald Trump's invaluable silver lining: How the billionaire is unwittingly proving how corruptible our system really is

While Trump's candidacy continues to be a fiasco of epic proportions, he's nonetheless exposing an important issue


Conor Lynch
August 17, 2015 9:30PM (UTC)
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do not have a whole lot in common. Trump is a billionaire many times over, while Sanders has a modest net worth of around $330,507. (Hillary Clinton has made more than that in one speech, by the way.) Trump has changed his beliefs many times over the years, while Sanders has always been true to his own, holding progressive ideals before many of them had become fashionable. Trump has provided nothing but hot air over the past few months, backed up only by his enormous ego, while Sanders has provided comprehensive plans on how to fight everything from income and wealth inequality to racial injustice.

There is, however, one major issue that both Sanders and Trump have been exposing in their own unique ways: The endemic corruption of America’s political system. Sanders has been critical of money in politics and corruption throughout his career, while Trump has been a corrupter of politics throughout his career. The New York billionaire has quite literally been bragging about how he has bought politicians on both sides of the aisle, which is absolutely true. Since 1989, he has contributed $584,850 to Democrats and $961,140 to Republicans, according to the Federal Election Commission and state election offices. Since 2012, it has almost all gone to Republicans -- including, yes, many of his competing candidates. When asked about this at the first debate, he replied:

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“I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people. Before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. And that's a broken system.”

Trump's candor about buying politicians, regardless of where they stand on issues, is refreshing -- and it exposes to a Republican base that has largely ignored the issue just how badly money corrupts our political system.

However, as far as I can tell, Trump has not mentioned the Citizens United ruling, nor has he proposed how to eliminate money from politics, if that is what he intends to do. This is typical of the Trump campaign; he has been extremely critical of our politicians and political system, without providing any substantive solutions on how to fix those issues. (Other than building a big wall.)

On the other hand, Sen. Sanders has provided concrete proposals: On his campaign page, titled “Getting Big Money Out of Politics,” he supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling and “move towards the public funding of elections.” He has also promised that any Supreme Court justice he nominates as president would have to take a litmus test and commit to overturning the ruling.

When asked about the agreement they have on political corruption in America last week, Sanders said:

“It’s easy for trump to say, ‘Yea, I don’t need their money.’ Yea, because he’s a billionaire. The logical consequence [is that] the only people who can run for office in America who don’t have to curry favors are billionaires themselves.”

This is indeed a scary thought, and it seems as though Trump is using this fatal flaw of American democracy to simply brag about his wealth and embarrass his competitors because they must rely on people like him. This is what Citizens United has created. If a politician is not a billionaire, they must cave-in to the demands of their funders, whether from Wall Street or Big Oil or elsewhere -- or they may very well cease being a politician entirely.

In a capitalist system, the owners of capital (i.e. capitalists) must always look for more efficient ways of producing goods and better means of exploiting workers (e.g. outsourcing, automation). If they do not do this -- say, because they don't want to lay off thousands of domestic employees -- they will very likely cease being a capitalist in the future, as their competition will do what is necessary to gain an advantage and put them out of business. Obviously, there is a certain degree of ruthlessness necessary to be successful in such a system. Karl Marx called this reality the coercive laws of competition.

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In our current political system, there is a similar phenomenon for Washington politicians, which may be appropriately called the coercive laws of plutocracy. If you are a politician, and you one day decide to run for reelection without the support of big-money contributors, the probable outcome is that you will cease to be a politician. (Unless, of course, you are a billionaire who can promote yourself without relying on big donors.) Our corrupted electoral system has created a federal government where the great majority of politicians, no matter how noble they were at the start of their career, have become desperate for cash and powerless to actually do their job objectively.

In 2013, the Huffington Post obtained a powerpoint slide that was presented to incoming freshmen by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It revealed what a typical day is for a member of Congress. It is just about as depressing as you might have guessed. Out of a 9-to-10-hour day, four hours are generally spent making fundraising calls, another hour is dedicated to strategic outreach (e.g. breakfasts, press, meet and greets), and just three-to-four hours are dedicated to both committee/floor time and constituent visits. So, more than half of one’s day is dedicated to schmoozing donors and making promises.

As Donald Trump himself has said, “That’s a broken system.” A political leader in America should not have to dedicate more than half of their day to begging for reelection money -- not just because it’s a waste of time, but because it is obvious that donors are not just handing out thousands of dollars because they think it’s the right thing to do.

Certain GOP candidates, such as Rand Paul, have more or less admitted that money corrupts our political system, yet defend Citizens United with the convenient guise of free speech. “Speech, whether you pay for it or not, is speech,” Paul has insisted.

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Of course, it is not really free speech that is being paid for, but a megaphone that only a few with enough wealth can afford. Fortunately, Trump’s grandstanding is exposing just how corrupted our system is to a larger audience, and proving that this so-called free speech is really just legal bribery.

If the people really want to fix this broken system, of course, Sanders would be the one to do it. To Hillary Clintons credit, she has also hinted at eliminating big money from politics and overturning Citizens Unitedsaying earlier this year: “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment.”

Fortunately, more and more people, on both sides of the aisle, are disgusted by our corrupted political system -- which is important, because eliminating big money from politics will require more than just an election, but a movement.

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Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

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