What a hullabaloo, what an uproar. Social media is ablaze with stories of political corruption in the US. Where is the novelty? What is so unique and unprecedented?
In politics, corruption is the norm, the daily sport of politicians.
This is clearly an exceptional embarrassment as it involves the son of the former vice president in the Obama administration, Joe Biden, also known as “honest Joe”.
Much as we tried to resist becoming involved in the mire of this widespread scandal, recent events have prevailed. Retelling the sour story of Hunter Biden is unpleasant, except for the fact that his father may become the next president of the most powerful country in the world.
While Dad was VP, son Hunter, known as the black sheep of the family, seized the opportunity to use his father’s name and position as leverage for fattening his pocket. He collaborated with a gas company in Ukraine, Burisma, owned by an oligarch and was soon sitting on the board of directors, receiving a salary of $50,000 to $83,000 per month. He held the job from 2014 till early 2020.
He also accompanied Dad on Air Force II during a trip to China and within 36 hours came home with a $1.5 billion commitment from a Chinese bank for a new investment.
Not bad for a day’s work.
Why is this shocking? It is not. It happens regularly that family members of the high and mighty grasp the opportunity of peddling their power for financial gain.
We must also remind ourselves of the corruption that took place during the Obama presidency, considered one of the 10 most corrupt presidential administrations in the history of the republic.
We mentioned earlier it was the social media that is in a furore over this and not the mainstream media. Media giants like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and major networks, such as ABC, NBC, and CBS, have become political advocates, with all the news they prefer to print or broadcast.
Why even social tech organisations, such as Twitter and Facebook, chose to censor our messages rather than just sending them.
Nonetheless, the story has caught fire, not because of the violation of power, but because of the continuous denial by “the big guy” himself. Father Biden insists he knew nothing of his son’s behaviour, yet there are records of his admitting his involvement as well as witnesses to the veracity of his inclusion. Therefore, it is not the crime itself that is shocking, it is the lies, the deceit, the cover-up.
Remember Richard Nixon, a good president, who resigned in shame not for anything he did, but for burning tapes, lying and covering up a minor offence?
The world is a vulgar place and overreaching is the ambition of man.
The history of corruption began with the creation of law. Even in antiquity the state was already considered an evil, which negatively affects the public administration and the functioning of the political system.
The earliest record of corruption date back to the 13th Century BC — the times of the Assyrian civilisation. Archaeologists discovered plates written in cuneiform showing who accepted bribes.
Under Roman law, bribery was considered a crime, but due to the prevalence of corruption, the law was supplemented by a new law, which predicted compensation for the crime instead.
The early Christian faith condemned corruption, yet corruption later developed greatly in ecclesiastical structures. Martin Luther denounced immoral acts which led to the Reformation and the emergence of Protestantism.
Corruption was also widespread during the Spanish Inquisition, where victims could make amends with money.
Throughout history, many intellectuals dealt with corruption or theorised about it.
According to Macchiavelli, corruption leads to moral degradation, bad education and bad faith.
Corruption is all around us, not merely in politics. Private gain is the name of the game.
Bribery seems to play the major role, followed by extortion, nepotism, money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking and more.
Henry Kissinger once said “power is an aphrodisiac” of which he has partaken fully. We can blame all the Arab unrest, the Israeli lobby, the man-made viruses, directly or indirectly to the power he once wielded. Lord Acton was right when he said “power corrupts”, so does greed, revenge, ambition — the seven sins forbidden by every religion.
There is corruption in every country. For example, 73 per cent of Israelis believe their government is corrupt, while 83 per cent of Greeks share the same beliefs of their country.
How naïve to think that corruption is only prevalent in ’banana republics’, like Central America, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, with a kinder view of the West. Oh no, by no means.
The culture of corruption is blustering in Canada, China, Italy, England, the US, socialist and communist countries, have we missed any?
To be successful often means to choose a crooked road.
There is something half comic/half tragic about a 78-year-old politician helplessly denying the truth. Where does the fault lie?
Geneticists are investing the presence of a “dishonesty” gene. That must be it. A study led by Peter J Loewen of the University of Toronto reveals that everyday dishonest behaviour has a large genetic compound.
Eureka. We have found the answer. We are not to blame. It is all in the genes.
Saying that politicians are honest sounds stupid. Now we can safely add journalists, the media in general and presidents and vice presidents in particular.
“Falsehood has a perennial spring.”
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly