The campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are a public uprising against conflict of interest. For a meager campaign donation or the promise of a private sector job, lawmakers are rented to rewrite the rules to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
America worships the rich and famous – so Trump and Sanders don’t represent “class warfare” as defenders of the status quo cynically intone. There is no axe to grind with the wealthy – simply the greedy who voraciously fleece working families. The attraction of these two political upstarts is that they aren’t going to Washington to get rich. Republicans believe that Trump is so wealthy that he need not pander to special interests, and Sanders’ longstanding ideology is so consistent that people don’t believe he can be manipulated or purchased.
It is my view that Washington should not be a profit center. There should be a lifetime ban on lobbying, or lobby-like consulting, for former members of the House and Senate. The revolving door between Washington and K Street is a national disgrace that epitomizes the problem of how conflict of interest is damaging this nation.
And let’s not forget how rulings like Citizens United essentially legalized corporate bribes to politicians, ensuring the issues of the rich and well connected superseded the concerns of the vast majority of Americans. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending on presidential and congressional races doubled from $3.1 billion in 2000, to $6.3 billion in 2012. No doubt, the price tag has skyrocketed since this time – with a mere 158 families responsible for giving more than half of the cash for 2016 races. Do we really think these families are simply altruistic and won’t be asking for special favors?
The influence of money extends beyond Washington. For example, USA Today reports “drug companies provide so much of the funding for major patient groups that many critics say they’ve stifled a key voice in the policy debate over soaring drug prices, especially over those for cancer.”
In every case where tainted money is involved, those on the receiving end of the cash sanctimoniously swear that the legal bribe has no impact on their decisions. This is beyond insulting to our intelligence. Everyone with an ounce of common sense understands that we are more likely to attend to the needs of those paying our bills.
People are rebelling against the twisted idea that everyone is a carefully crafted image or manufactured brand that can be bought or rented. That is why Marco Rubio’s robotic debate performance rubbed so many people the wrong way. It is why people are legitimately concerned about Hillary Clinton’s $600,000 in speeches to Goldman Sachs. It is the reason that Ted Cruz supporters are disturbed about his penchant to rail against same-sex marriage in Iowa, while sycophantically pandering to billionaire supporters of gay marriage, such as Paul Singer, in Manhattan.
The rest of us see glaring injustice in our everyday lives – such as when we fly. Thanks to deregulation, the airlines have consolidated with little benefit to consumers. Last year, the four biggest carriers earned $22 billion – while taking away our peanuts, limiting the number of flights to keep prices high, and shrinking our legroom. This has led to air rage among consumers who feel squeezed – both financially and in their seats.
While a few airlines are belatedly returning the snacks – they haven’t budged on baggage fees – which were allegedly increased to cover rising fuel costs. Now that gas prices have plummeted – why won’t the airlines eliminate or lower the baggage fees?
Congress should pass a law that automatically reduces the price of flights and baggage in accordance with the fluctuation of daily gas prices. No doubt, software could easily be created to make this idea a reality. Unfortunately, the airline industry has more lobbyists than we do – so the price gouging will likely continue.
Americans don’t mind if people earn their money. But it is difficult to comprehend why the average CEO is paid 216 times more than the median employees at their companies, while they were paid just 20 times more on average in the 1950’s. Have the CEO’s really gotten that much better at their jobs to justify their obscene earnings?
In the course of 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled. Are the graduates four times smarter as a result of the exorbitant fees?
Bernie Sanders and The Donald did not rise in a vacuum. The story of this election is that there is great anxiety in America because there is a deficit of trust. There is conflict of interest, which has severely damaged our common purpose and polarized us into factions. The people have finally figured out that the fox is guarding the henhouse – and they are embracing politicians who promise to outfox the fox.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”