I hear the term “corrupt and broken” used a lot in reference to poor or failing governments across the world. It’s a funny label I’ve never seen applied to our government, no matter how dysfunctional our political system gets.
I have theory about this. I think there is an inverse correlation between tolerance for corruption and the relative wealth of a country. We identify and label corruption in poor countries because it’s either overt – the heads of state and top lieutenants take an obvious outsize share of national resources – or there is a constant change in leadership and policy. In richer countries the corruption is just as rampant but the average citizen is more accepting because their lives are easier and prospects higher.
In this country we’ve developed near unanimous agreement that politicians and the political process is corrupt. It serves the few at the expense of the many. There are numerous issues where there is no real debate. Almost everyone agrees that the ultra-rich should pay more in taxes, Social Security needs to remain solvent at all costs, or government should negotiate not just drug prices but any service where they have considerable leverage, to just name a few. These aren’t contentious issues. Nor are they part of the national discussion. They are clear evidence of a corrupt and broken system, where we are constantly fighting about irrelevant and sometimes illusory cultural issues while the corrupt and broken system strengthens itself with stasis. The idea of democracy, even a representative democracy, is that the government should mirror the will of the general public.
How far out of balance does the equation need to be before there is significant and irreparable backlash? I don’t know the answer, but the insurrectionist bent of the right and the ‘othering’ done by the most fervent supporters on either side of the political aisle seem to be a harbinger of decline. If the correlation I’ve asserted is true then our intolerance for corruption, manifested as hatred for political opponents, is probably a symptom of a much larger problem.