Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
I’m no stranger to shakedowns. I’ve experienced them, in one form or another, from Asia to Africa.
Sometimes the corruption is subtle. Sometimes it’s naked. Sometimes you press folded currency into someone’s palm. Sometimes there’s a more official procedure. Sometimes a payment is demanded outright. (A weapon might even be involved.) Other times, it’s up to you to suggest that we somehow work things out privately.
Luckily, I live in the United States, and if the 2016 presidential campaign has reminded me of anything, it’s that America is, by definition (and unlike so many of the other countries on the planet), a corruption-free zone. Mind you, no one would claim that the race for the Oval Office is free of unethical behavior. It’s just that the actions and efforts involved aren’t considered “corrupt” here.
Take an Associated Press (AP) exposé last week. It revealed that the campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump had “plowed about $6 million” -- roughly 10% of his expenditures -- “back into Trump corporate products and services.” The campaign paid, for instance, about $520,000 in rent and utilities for its headquarters at Manhattan’s Trump Tower and an astounding $4.6 million to TAG Air, the holding company for the billionaire candidate’s airplanes.
The AP investigation found that the Trump campaign was “unafraid to co-mingle political and business endeavors in an unprecedented way,” while noting that there is, in fact, “nothing illegal about it.” In other words, while it may seem shady, feel fraudulent, and -- to steal a Trumpism -- sound crooked, it’s all on the up and up according to our unique American system.
Today, Thomas Frank, author most recently of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, takes us on a tour of another dimly lit corner of corruption-free America in “The Life of the Parties,” a completely legal and remarkably unethical world that comes with its own guidebook: a newsletter chronicling daily dalliances involving money, alcohol, and political influence. Though it may seem like a foreign world to those of us outside the Beltway bubble, it influences our daily lives in myriad ways. Think of it as a circuit of cocktail hours and cocktail parties linked by a well-greased set of revolving doors; an endless series of social events attended by the influential, the influencers, and those looking -- for the right price -- to be influenced. If it seems like I’m using that word -- influence -- a little too much, it isn’t by chance. Let the influential Thomas Frank explain how influence and Influence have warped Washington and the rest of our world.