It’s football season. Two football teams, the Blues and the Reds are playing a game. What makes this game different is that the game officials are selected by and are from the Reds team. They determine the rules of the game, which can change as needed to favor — you guessed it — the Reds.
Fair-minded football fans — not the Reds and their fans — would cry foul that the rules favors the Reds and would expect the commissioner of the league to step in to restore the integrity of the game. Watching the game would be useless and worse, the Blues might also defer to devious methods to match the Reds. The game would be corrupted.
Well, this is what is happening to our political process. It is being corrupted because the Republicans (Reds), with their majority in state houses, are gerrymandering districts. They are making it more difficult for certain segments of the population to cast their vote. Case in point: Fewer voting precincts in minority neighborhoods coupled with restricted mail-in voting suppresses the minority vote.
A majority of conservatives conveniently believe the lie that the election was stolen. The mendacity and corrupt practices that their leader — Donald Trump — engages in has become grist for the mill for a large swarth of the party. Politics to them has become a blood sport.
Transparency International explains corruption as the abuse of power for personal gain. It is corrosive because it erodes trust, weakens democracy — repeat: Weakens democracy — hampers economic development, exacerbates inequality and tribal divisions. Based upon their Corruption Perceptions Index, the United States ranks 25th, which is virtually last amongst large, first-world democracies.
Coming from a part of the world that is awash in corruption, I can attest that it is a highly destructive force, decaying norms and values from within. A sense of fair play and community erodes as more and more citizens try to game the system in their favor by increasingly willing to break the rules for personal gain.
A case in point: Until reversing itself on Friday, the University of Florida had refused to allow three political science professors to be expert witnesses in a voting rights case. Why the denial? Was it because Republicans knew that they will be exposed? A check and balance was being denied the light of day. Now we are informed that several other UF professors have been barred from providing testimony that runs counter to the interests of the GOP-dominated state government. This is the ugly face of abuse of power.
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The national GOP knows it is a pickle. Their older voters are meeting up with the grim reaper, and not enough young voters are joining their party. Some of their prominent leaders have tacitly admitted that their economic policies have not lifted the working class and are now recommending — by their own definition — “socialist” policies. They are distracting their voters by focusing on wedge issues, mainly xenophobia.
The Economist rates the U.S. as a flawed democracy, under pressure from rising polarization and declining social cohesion. There are extremely low levels of trust in institutions and political parties, deep dysfunction in government, increasing threats to freedom of expression and a degree of societal polarization that makes consensus almost impossible to achieve. It ranks 25th, again virtually last among first-world democracies.
Power tends to corrupt, and as Lord Acton, the British historian, put it, absolute power corrupts absolutely. History is replete with examples of societies that have imploded because of corruption and decadence. Let’s not join that list.
Murad Antia teaches finance at the Muma College of Business, University of South Florida (USF), Tampa.