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Corruption is as American as apple pie

On September 22, influential United States Senator Bob Menendez was indicted on corruption charges along with his wife, Nadine. It is the second time Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has faced such charges.

As per the indictment from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Menendez and his wife received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three New Jersey businessmen in the form of gold, cash, a luxury vehicle and assorted other goodies. In exchange, the Democrat from New Jersey allegedly used his position of power to benefit the three businessmen as well as the government of Egypt, the home country of one of the men in question.

As the old saying goes, power tends to corrupt.

According to US mythology, of course, corruption is entirely the business of other, less civilised nations – particularly enemies of the US – that lack the proper commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and all that nice and noble stuff.

But here’s a news flash for those sectors of the domestic audience scandalised by the Menendez revelations: Corruption is about as American as apple pie. (And a related newsflash: Menendez or no Menendez, the US has spent decades flinging billions of dollars at Egypt’s repressive apparatus – which should constitute a scandal in itself.)

To be sure, Menendez is hardly the only bad apple in this pie. Take Clarence Thomas, the US Supreme Court justice whose corrupt exploits have been thoroughly investigated by the New York-based nonprofit ProPublica. One recent ProPublica report notes that, “like clockwork, Thomas’ leisure activities have been underwritten by benefactors who share the ideology that drives his jurisprudence”.

The report goes on to document said “leisure activities”, which have included at least 38 vacations, 26 private jet flights, eight helicopter flights, and various excursions to luxury resorts, sporting events and so on. Billionaire real estate tycoon Harlan Crow, an enthusiastic collector of Nazi paraphernalia, is but one of the filthy rich right-wing contributors to Thomas’s seemingly eternal “leisure”. Crow has also funded numerous other favours, such as paying for Thomas’s grandnephew to attend an exclusive private boarding school.

In September, ProPublica revealed that Thomas had secretly participated in donor summits for the Koch network, founded by the billionaire Koch brothers and devoted to driving US policy ever more to the right. And what do you know? The Koch strategy includes bringing cases before the very court on which Thomas sits to impact US law.

So much for that silly old concept of “conflict of interest”.

At the end of the day, though, Thomas’s antics are merely of a piece with US capitalism, which is predicated on maintaining a tyranny of the elite under the guise of democracy. In other words, it’s about as corrupt a system as you can get.

That anyone can still apply the term “democracy” to the US with a straight face is, meanwhile, a testament to the corruption of language itself. After all, you can’t very well have “rule by the people” in a country where the Supreme Court reverses campaign finance restrictions and political influence is transparently up for sale.

The list of offenders goes on. There’s Samuel Alito, another Supreme Court justice who this year was exposed as having also accepted undisclosed gifts from billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican Party mega-donor Paul Singer. After being treated by Singer to a luxury fishing trip in Alaska in 2008, Alito ruled in favour of Singer’s hedge fund in a case before the Supreme Court.

And then there’s Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general acquitted of corruption charges on September 16 in a historic impeachment trial, in which he was accused of bribery, obstruction of justice, abuse of public trust and other misdeeds.

Allegations ranged from shady dealings with a real estate developer in Texas and misuse of power to retaliate against whistleblowers.

An ally of former US President Donald Trump and an accomplice in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results, Paxton remains under FBI investigation on separate corruption charges and faces trial on allegations of felony securities fraud. After the Texas Senate acquitted the state’s top law enforcement official, Trump took to his social media platform to celebrate with typical eloquence: “The Ken Paxton Victory is sooo BIG. WOW!!!”

The online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers several definitions of the word “corruption”. The first is “dishonest or illegal behaviour especially by powerful people”; the second is “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means”.

Further down the dictionary entry is another option consisting of just two words: “decay, decomposition”. And as US officials get away with all manner of bribery scandals and the frenetic injection of right-wing money into politics sustains a brutal plutocracy, the whole scene does indeed reek of decay.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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