Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
“Corrupt” in the political sense has a fairly narrow application, indicating, simply, that a political operator is unable to make a clean decision in a civic matter, owing to monetary or other entanglements. As long as we in the United States are free of meaningful campaign finance reform or as long as we permit unlimited “dark money” contributions, American politics will struggle with this mitigation of the public good that is corruption. But there are degrees of contamination. It is possible to have more economic entanglements, more suspect businesses that profit from affairs of state, which thus taint political decision-making more comprehensively.
That the Trump presidency is exceedingly corrupt in precisely this way is obvious. There are the hotels he still owns, such as the Trump International in DC, where foreign heads of state frequently turn up these days. (Of which the New York Times recently observed: “His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials, and others seeking facetime, access or favor.”) There is the attempt to hold NATO meetings at his Scottish golf resort. There is the corrupt control of the Department of Justice, in which it reverses legal decisions involving corrupt administration officials, especially those with insight into administration criminality. There are the deals to pay off Trump’s extramarital sexual partners, in order to secure silence, some of these accounted as campaign expenses, some funneled through friendly tabloids. There are his attempts, as recently as 2015, to do business in Moscow, which in turn generated the appearance of corruption whenever the subject of Russia comes up diplomatically. There was his hawking of certain medications during the early days of COVID-19 pandemic, when he had a financial stake in the manufacturers. There is the tolerance among his staff for boosting the business ventures of Trump’s children; there is the use of the White House for campaign events; there is the use of presidential pardons for cronies, especially cronies with information on him; there is the attempt to use the presidency to shield Trump from all criminal prosecution; there is the solicitation of aid from foreign actors and foreign governments on behalf of the Trump reelection campaign, and so on.
Unlike in other presidencies in which business interests are administered in a blind-trust during a president’s time in office, the better to avoid appearances of conflict of interest, Trump has not only continued to operate his businesses in office, he has connected them directly to the machinery of the state, with pay-to-play arrangements seemingly fully integrated into the presidency at the Trump International Hotel, Mar-a-Lago, and elsewhere. He has effectively made the government of the United States into a partner business. And in doing so, without suffering legal consequences, he has decisively watered down meaningful protections against corruption — legal protections that were envisioned by the framers of the Constitution of the United States to prevent despotism, legal protections that were enshrined to insure that you, a citizen of the United States, could expect the nation to operate on your behalf, rather than simply on behalf of the politically connected. These legal protections Trump has rendered void by his unrestrained pursuit of personal enrichment in a way that can hardly fail to be exploited by others, both in this country and abroad.
For the voter who cares about civic corruption, therefore, who imagines a future in which the state moves toward a diminishment of corruption, toward a government for the many, there is no question but that the vote must be cast for candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
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Rick Moody is the author, most recently, of Hotels of North America (a novel), and The Long Accomplishment (a memoir). He teaches at Brown University.