Washington's corruption is like the ancien régime

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Editor's note: This post references an earlier post by Lindsey Grudnicki on National Review Online.

Lindsey, Trey Gowdy is one of the few congressmen willing to speak truth to power from an internal passion for the truth. I’d add to his comments you quote that today’s abuse of power in Washington was equaled only maybe by Rome. More disturbingly, Washington’s level of political corruption is on a par with ancien régime France. Like the doomed Bourbons, today’s insulated, self-reproducing Washington elite lavishes itself with astronomical salaries (whether making over $100,000 as a civil servant in the White House or millions on K Street), luxurious vacations, numerous privileges (from business-class air travel to junkets abroad), and exclusive neighborhoods. In order to do so, they extract more and more money from the productive sectors of the economy, and particularly from those who cannot protect themselves through preferential tax treatment. If the elite doesn’t take those gains for themselves, they redistribute them to the electoral groups that ensure their permanent hold on power.

Sure, an individual congressman, or two, or several dozen, can be thrown out at election time, but as a class, the electoral and bureaucratic elite retains its unassailable position and grows fatter while the rest of the country must make do with less. Once the silent majority become convinced that the system is rigged against them, that fairness is no longer at the core of the system, then the entire structure will come apart. Maybe through an electoral revolution, maybe in some other way, such as widespread flouting of laws, hiding of income, ignoring regulations, sensible or not. Given the power inherent in the government, the elite will be able to protect itself for a long time while society as a whole crumbles (or, more accurate, while the crumbling of society spreads ever wider). Regardless, a government that loses the fundamental trust of the majority of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens is playing with fire.

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  • Michael Auslin is a resident scholar and the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Asian regional security and political issues.


    Before joining AEI, he was an associate professor of history at Yale University. A prolific writer, Auslin is a biweekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal Asia, which is distributed globally on wsj.com. His longer writings include the book “Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations” (Harvard University Press, 2011) and the study “Security in the Indo-Pacific Commons: Toward a Regional Strategy” (AEI Press, 2010). He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar.


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