The good folks at CNN must have been eating the same stuff I do when they planned last week’s GOP debate, because the format seemed to key off of my maxim that the only time you can know that a politician is telling the truth is when he is calling his opponent a liar. The format of the debate, at least the first half hour, which was all I could bother myself with, was to take a quote from one candidate calling one of his opponents – mostly Donald Trump – a crook, and then giving the accusee a minute to respond.
That is, the moderator would hit the candidate with the truth and give the candidate a minute to try to lie his way out of it. “Vote for me, and I’ll make America great again” was the answer to every question, with a few exceptions.
One of those exceptions came when one of the establishment suits castigated the Donald for giving money to the campaigns of Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Trump had been playing the “I’m a businessman” card for a few minutes, so he replied, essentially, “Of course I gave money to them. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.”
No new facts here. When Enron went under some years ago, it was front-page news that CEO Kenneth Lay had given money to Republicans. A few days later it was back-page news that he had also given money to Democrats. “Of course. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.” (Lay didn’t say it that way, of course, but his form of crookdom was different from Trump’s.)
Uncle Sam arms Israel. He also arms Israel’s enemies. “Of course. I gave weapons to everyone. I’m an empire. I need to get along with everybody.” And it works. The corrupt Arab leaders love Uncle Sam for keeping them in power, and Israel loves him the way a wife-beater loves a codependent woman.
Is Donald Trump the only businessman who has to buy off politicians to get ahead? I don’t think I’m reading much into his words: his message to his opponents was, “Cut the crap. This is the way it is for everybody and you know it.”
(At about the same time, Jeb Bush was oh-so-offended that Trump had “tried to bring casino gambling to Florida” and oh-so-proud that he and the legislature had foiled the attempt. Yeah, right. Watch a Miami Marlins baseball game and look at the outfield wall: you’ll see a huge ad for a casino run by an Indian tribe.)
One of the best lines in The Shawshank Redemption is when the protagonist, who has been jailed for a crime he did not commit, tells his friend, “I never broke the law before I was put here [in prison]. It took prison to make me a crook.” Trump’s inconvenient truth is that politics turns business people into crooks to the degree businesses need to get such things as special tax breaks and monopoly status to survive. Absent politics (and present an order in which people and property are safe from violence and fraud), businesses survive or die solely on the basis of their ability to satisfy their customers (which includes keeping their employees happy).
I would love to see that, but neither Trump nor his GOP rivals nor his Democrat opponents have any intention of presiding over such an order. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Should any political part attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
While those guys aren’t “stupid,” I guess as a “businessman from other areas,” though certainly not in the league of Texas oil millionaires nor even of local landscapers, I am. But I read Jeremiah’s words – “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:31) – and wonder: when a guy with no inhibitions, in front of the largest audience a major television network has ever had, makes a virtue of businessmen buying the politicians who supposedly make the laws to regulate them, how can anyone, especially God’s people, think that things will go well in the end?