Turning the corner on the 2020 elections, most patriots understand a greater plague than COVID-19 is rampant among us. Activist, singer Bono said, “The biggest disease is corruption. The vaccine is transparency.” Corruption’s in every nook and cranny of our nation, with few exceptions. Hijacking of the presidential election is unprecedented in our history, despite those who say otherwise. Victorious politicians from both parties have already shifted their focus from counting votes-living and the dead-to counting greenbacks to fund their self-interest. Some shenanigans may be “legal” but most would fail the “moral sniff test.” That hackneyed bromide, ”It’s just politics,” must be replaced by a less flattering term such as kleptocracy. How can we mock Moldova?
Most citizens understand the scope of scandal and corruption aren’t new. Around 700 BC, the city of Zion, once faithful, had been corrupted internally. Isaiah’s condemnation reads like today’s headlines, “Your rulers are rebels. And companion of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe, and chases after rewards.” Our relatively brief history as a nation, or state, like Wyoming, is not bereft of the corruptive side of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Unfortunately, corruption’s rarely punished, and it has indefatigable followers wiling to perpetuate its legacy.
Do consumers of political corruption ever get outraged? Sadly, many politicians count on voter’s political amnesia. Every two to four years we take a not-to-serious vow to hold them accountable. This time’s different in Wyoming. After being dethroned from Congressional leadership, CNN quickly provided succor for embattled Liz Cheney, claiming the GOP handed her a “bigger megaphone” to trash talk Trump. She remains defiant. Cheney’s formidable war chest hasn’t intimidated her challengers who know she’s out of step with numerous GOP voters. Perhaps she and her inflated hubris have played right into our hands. Martyrdom isn’t very becoming on her.
Wyoming’s no stranger to corruption. The infamous “Teapot Dome scandal” was investigated by the U.S. Senate, when Democrat Senator Thomas Walsh introduced legislation on April 15, 1922. On the previous day, the Wall Street Journal reported an unprecedented arrangement in which the Secretary of Interior, Albert Fall of New Mexico, without competitive bidding, has leased the U.S. Petroleum reserve at Wyoming’s Tea Pot Dome to a private oil company. “How did Secretary Fall get rich so quick?” GOP leadership quickly demanded an answer to that nagging question. It was reported that two oil company executives “greased the palm” with $400,000 in loans and “gifts.” He was convicted in 1929. It’s always Christmas in Congress.
It’s no secret the majority of lawmakers are multi-millionaires, according to The Atlantic Magazine 2019 survey. It begs the question, “On a salary of $174,000 annually, how do lawmakers become wealthy? Some earned their fortune before embracing politics. Others like Ro Khanna, California Democrat, wealth came via his wife, who’s worth millions from her father’s investments. GOP Congressman Chris Collins, worth $43 million, resigned in 2019, after being indicted for insider trading and lying to the FBI. Corruption’s non-partisan. Some are born with money. Others rode the tech wave. Many found a way in politics to enlarge their fortunes with others largesse.
What is corruption? We know it when we see it. Right? Webster’s definition,“changed from a sound condition to an unsound one; spoiled, contaminated; rotten; morally unsound or debased; perverted; evil; wicked; depraved; taking bribes; venal; containing alterations, errors; or improperly altered word or text.” Not a very inspiring list. Richard Nixon left in shame in 1974. Former President Bill Clinton repeatedly denied any relations with “that woman.” His cohort in crime Hillary destroyed 33,000 emails “accidentally” and the FBI handed her a “get out-of-jail free” pass. When a politico sends out a campaign letter or press release with alterations, masking the truth-or misleading the public-he or she’s corrupt. President Joe Biden, according to RealClear Politics, has a documented trail of plagiarism since 1987.
What about Wyoming’s over budgeted State Capitol renovation in 2016, that exposed a bid process that reportedly “picked winners and losers?” Some recall the law suit that ensued by Karl Allred and Gerald Gay, challenging its constitutionality. Their appeal was rejected in 2018, by the Wyoming Supreme Court. Was it corruption? Or merely “cronyism as usual?” Wyoming is one of many states that has no oversight agency on ethics or transparency. If it did, who’d track that agency? Another unelected bureaucrat? Individual liberty fits well in Wyoming.
In politics, transparency and corruption are compatible bedfellows. However, it isn’t the sole realm of politicians. The 24/7 news cycle keeps politicos front page, highly visible, and are adept at picking winners and losers-Trump’s corrupt-Biden’s not. When we narrowly define corruption as only evil and wicked behavior, there’s a tendency to point our long boney finger at others we deem more corrupt than ourselves. We err by addressing only sins of commission. Corruption is first a state of mind. What about omissions? Knowing the right thing to do, but refusing to do it. Both the Levite and the priest passed the injured, half-dead Samaritan on the Jericho road. James 4:17 is unambiguous, “So for one who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
Temptation’s omnipresent. Turning one’s head when knowing something’s wrong, and electing to do nothing, meets the threshold of corruption. Few of us would rob a bank. How about momentary veniality? Cheating on a spouse? Lying to a colleague? Plagiarism? Perhaps our memory’s too short, and our standards too low. The age of winking at corruption and wrong doing will continue to vex one’s soul, and our nation’s. The human condition is susceptible to feigned flattery, sophistry and ignoble promises.
No one’s exempt from the wiles of corruption. Unwillingness to admit one is wrong-Beelzebub’s at the door. “Never being wrong” casts a beguiling spirit of personal invincibility. One’s descent is inevitable. There’s only One who can claim incorruptibility. Theologians call it impeccability. The towering moral problem of this age has an antidote-beyond transparency-a closer walk with Jesus Christ, moment by moment. Otherwise, it gets mighty wobbly out there.
Whether it’s politics, or any other realm on this revolving orb, don’t be duped by external glitz, vacuous words and duplicitous language. Until we cherish truth and personal integrity, corruption will reign. Sir Edmund Burke aptly reminded those who speak with sophistry, “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent, for never intending to go beyond the promise, it costs them nothing.” What will corruption cost us? Is it in our lexicon to admit, “I was wrong?” What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org