Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Commentary: While most have abandoned hope in Washington, Justice Democrats demand serious change

By Joseph Ford Cotto

People are really fed up with politics right now. 

Congress as a whole -- meaning both Democrats and Republicans -- is tremendously unpopular. Voters from across the political spectrum have lost confidence in their so-called public servants; if any serious belief in them was had to begin with.

Amid an era of pessimism and the apathy it breeds, a new group is rising from the wreckage. They are Justice Democrats, and rather than focus on the sort of dead-end issues which establishment Dems have run (and lost) on, more practical concerns enter consideration.

Chief among these is curtailing the influence of corporate donors on politicians at all levels. Justice Dems are focusing on primary challenges in federal elections next year, but their influence has the potential to be felt far and wide. How so?

Simple: Most Americans think that their government is corrupt.

According to a 2014 Gallup study, the number is 75 percent, a jump from 2009, when only 66 percent of Americans believed the same.

When this represents the good old days, where does the present-day stand?

"The perception that there's widespread corruption in the national government could be a symptom of citizen disengagement and anger," Gallup's Jim Clifton wrote in early 2016. "Or it could be a cause -- we don't know. But it's very possible this is a big, dark cloud that hangs over this country's progress. And it might be fueling the rise of an unlikely, non-traditional leading Republican candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump."

You think?

'Vox' reporter Sean Illing went to Trump's inauguration and reported that "Amy Kellash .... , traveled with her family from Gilman, Minnesota. For her, Trump's victory 'meant ending the corruption of the previous administration and politicians in general.'

"She didn't specify what corruption she was referring to, but that wasn't the point. Trump won, Clinton lost, and that meant 'hope for me and my children.'"

The stench of corruption permeated around Hillary Clinton's candidacy like thick, black smoke pouring out of a coal power plant. It was unavoidable, unpleasant, and unacceptable for millions upon millions of voters -- which is why they ran far and fast away. Whether this meant supporting a third-party candidate, not going to the polls at all, or actually voting for Trump does not matter.

The fact is that the appearance of corruption enveloped Clinton and made her lose otherwise receptive segments of the electorate. Of course, the fog of business impropriety surrounded Trump, but folks will push forward through mist. These very same individuals dare not brave blinding, choking smoke, however.

Call it unfair or cowardly -- though I certainly would not -- but this is the way things are.

Many a citizen now look back on that time before Citizens United as a golden age which must be revisited. However, I would caution anyone from growing too nostalgic. Pay-to-play corruption has long been part-and-parcel of Capitol Hill.

If you have ever seen the film 'Amistad,' you might remember that Spaniard nobleman who advised Queen Isabella II: Angel Calderon de la Barca y Belgrano.

Less than a decade before his death, he told American writer Orestes Brownson the following: "The government struck me as strictly honest, and your statesmen as remarkable for their public spirit, integrity, and incorruptibility. I was subsequently sent to Mexico; and when, recalled from that mission, I was offered my choice between Rome and Washington, such was my high opinion of the American republic, and the honesty and integrity of its government, that I chose Washington in preference to Rome, though the latter was more generally coveted.

"I have been here now for several years a close observer, and I have seen every thing change under my eyes. All my admiration for the republic and for republican government has vanished. I cannot conceive a government more corrupt than this government of yours. I see men come here worth only their salary as members of Congress, and in two or four years return home worth from a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand dollars." 

Brownson pointed out that these words were "said in 1852, when corruption was very little in comparison with what it has become."

This last sentence was written in 1873.

In many respects, little has changed in Washington, DC throughout the ages. Those of us who wish to see cleaner, more responsive federal politics would be wise to consider Belgrano's words very carefully.

The entire system is flawed. Checks and balances might separate the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, but they cannot produce an entity which functions as -- supposedly -- intended: "Of, by, and for the people."

It is difficult to see how an unlikely overturn of Citizens United or McCain-Feingold redux will fix the situation. I do not mean to sound hopeless, but a flawed system produces bad results.

The interesting thing about Justice Democrats is that they are out to change the very system. They seek to foster an environment in which engaged, civic-minded voters create the sort of environment in which voters are taken more seriously by politicians than donors.

Some might say this is a pie-in-the-sky objective. As a staunch sociopolitical realist, I would typically agree, but primaries can overrun conventional wisdom. If enough establishment Democrats are defeated in 2018, then scores of others will surely take notice and -- out of self-preservation -- become more attuned to their constituents. Due to popular sentiment, donors and lobbyists would become perils rather than paymasters.

Let us see how the Justice Democrats do. As a registered Republican, I wish them all the luck in the world. They will need it, and if successful may herald a new dawn in American politics.

Regardless of how productive their efforts turn out to be, they have already done more to bring about positive electoral change than most folks on either side of the aisle.

For this reason alone, we should cheer them on.


Joseph Ford Cotto, 1st Baron Cotto, GCCCR is the editor-in-chief of The San Francisco Review of Books. In the past, he covered current events and style for The Washington Times's Communities section, where he interviewed personalities ranging from Fmr. Ambassador John Bolton to Dionne Warwick. Cotto was also a writer for Blogcritics Magazine and Yahoo's contributor network, among other publications. In 2014, H.M. King Kigeli V of Rwanda bestowed a hereditary knighthood upon him, which was followed by a barony the next year.

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