Yesterday, here on the blog, I noted at the end of the post that U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was facing a moral question of how to lead Congress to deal fairly with the Dreamers.
It's a system in which money speaks the loudest. In which the people who most depend on help from the government have the least voice. In which the swamp not only hasn't been drained, it's been regularly filled and refilled with avaricious people seeking personal financial advantage at the expense of anyone who gets in the way.
How did we get to this sad place? One prime answer is found in this terrific Atlantic article by Franklin Foer. It describes the ways in which Paul Manafort Jr. (pictured here), a now-indicted former Trump presidential campaign leader, helped to create this system, which is rooted in greed and hunger for raw power.
My hope is that people of faith will read and digest this information, speak out individually and call on their religious communities to speak out collectively and strongly about the moral collapse of our system of governance.
"Conventional wisdom," Foer writes, "suggests that the temptations of Washington, D.C., corrupt all the idealists, naïfs, and ingenues who settle there. But what if that formulation gets the causation backwards? What if it took an outsider to debase the capital and create the so-called swamp? When Paul Manafort Jr. broke the rules, when he operated outside of a moral code, he was really following the example he knew best."
Throughout his long career as a campaign manager and lobbyist and wheeler-dealer, Manafort lived persistently in what Foer calls "moral gray zones." In fact, he lived there so much and so long that he lost touch altogether (assuming he ever was in touch with it) of any basic notion of what is right and wrong. And with that kind of background -- previously known by much of the Washington world -- he still managed to become director of the presidential campaign of a man who also seems unfazed by and unconnected to any sense of morals.
Foer's conclusion is sobering and utterly disheartening: "From both the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, vast disclosures illuminating previously hidden offshore accounts of the rich and powerful worldwide, we can see the full extent to which corruption has become the master narrative of our times. We live in a world of smash-and-grab fortunes, amassed through political connections and outright theft. Paul Manafort, over the course of his career, was a great normalizer of corruption. The firm he created in the 1980s obliterated traditional concerns about conflicts of interest. It imported the ethos of the permanent campaign into lobbying and, therefore, into the construction of public policy.
"And while Manafort is alleged to have laundered cash for his own benefit, his long history of laundering reputations is what truly sets him apart. He helped persuade the American political elite to look past the atrocities and heists of kleptocrats and goons. He took figures who should have never been permitted influence in Washington and softened their image just enough to guide them past the moral barriers to entry. He weakened the capital’s ethical immune system."
Perhaps most shocking of all, many American voters, who were at least vaguely aware of all of this darkness, hired Donald J. Trump to fix it, to drain the swamp, as he said repeatedly. It was like hiring Jesse James to be in charge of your bank's security staff.
Clearly there is much blame to go around here. And some of it must fall on people of faith who failed to pay attention or to raise alarms as well as on people of faith -- including the roughly 80 percent of white Christian evangelicals who voted for Trump -- who joined the destroyers.
The sad story of corruption in our federal system is not, of course, limited to Republicans. There have been plenty of moral failures among Democrats, too, including, but far from limited to, Bill Clinton's sexual dalliances. But acknowledging that doesn't fix it. Only voters with strong moral centers and deep patriotism can make a difference here. And it's way past time for them to step up to the job.
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SOME TARGETED THANKS TO GOD
"So today," President Trump said at yesterday's National Prayer Breakfast, "we praise God for how truly blessed we are to be American." Which I guess means we also should praise God that we don't live in any of those "s......." countries the president spoke about a few weeks ago. Right?
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column -- about funerals -- now is online here.