The Forgotten Evil of American Politics

When someone says “politician,” many people immediately think of the word “corrupt.” This stereotype is more prevalent in America than in almost every other developed country. According to a survey conducted by Transparency International in 2017, almost 7 out of every 10 Americans believe the government is failing to fight corruption. 

However, despite the stereotype, only 15 percent of Americans, according to a Harvard University poll, view corruption as a top-three issue in the 2020 race. What most people don’t understand is that solving corruption is the precursor to solving many of our system’s current issues. Ultimately, corruption is the biggest issue in politics for 2020 and, if the American people regarded it as such, the government would finally have the incentive to fight for us.

The power that corruption has over politics is most apparent in the fight for climate change reform. Any modest reform has trouble even coming to a vote in Congress, largely because of fossil fuel lobbyists. A study in 2018 revealed that the fossil fuel industry has spent over $2 billion paying off politicians including members of Congress, influential administration members, and yes, the president himself. It’s no surprise that Business Insider reported that over 130 members of Congress deny or doubt climate change despite almost 98 percent of scientists agreeing that climate change poses a massive threat to the Earth, according to NASA. 

These politicians aren’t stupid –– they’ve been bought. Their campaigns rely on the money that big corporations, including the fossil fuel industry, give. Until politicians stop taking fossil fuel money, progress will be difficult.

Another issue where corruption halts progress is healthcare. Take Pete Buttigieg for example. In February, Mayor Pete praised Medicare for All, a bill authored and sponsored by Senator Sanders, as the compromise position: “In the UK, you’ve got national health care…The true right-wing position is free for all, all corporate, and the compromise position is a single-payer system where you have private doctors but a public payer.” 

However, Mayor Pete’s glowing description of Medicare for All didn’t last long. In September, he stated that “anyone who lets the words Medicare for All escape their lips should tell us just as plainly how they plan to get there.” This is a quick turnaround for someone to make over the course of the same campaign. What changed? Well by mid-July (still early in the campaign), Pete had already taken tens of thousands of dollars from the healthcare industry. It’s no surprise that his viewpoint changed. Mayor Pete provides a perfect example of how politicians fancy power and money over actual integrity. 

Whether it’s the healthcare industry, the fossil fuel industry, or any other corporation trying to get politicians to work for their self-interests, companies don’t view their contributions as a donation, but rather an investment. Ultimately, we can’t expect our politicians to work for us when their jobs depend on corporations funneling money into their campaigns. The American people have a responsibility to call out corruption on both sides of the political spectrum if we really want progress. 

Allow me to start: on the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump promised to pass comprehensive legislation aimed at lowering drug prices. Since then, Democrats in the House passed a bill that would do just that –– but Trump threatened to veto it. Part of this is due to his administration taking millions from Big Pharma (large pharmaceutical companies). Joe Biden claims that climate change is the biggest challenge facing our nation, but the plans he has proposed received an F- from the Sunrise Movement (an American youth-led political movement). His plan to tackle climate change is both insufficient and poorly thought out: and it’s clear why. Despite signing the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge last June, Joe Biden has continued to take money from the industry. Not only that, but Joe Biden also had one of his fundraisers organized by a fossil fuel company founder. 

Politicians are supposed to work for the people that voted them into office –– that’s how democracy works. People like Ro Khanna (a Representative from California), Bernie Sanders, and AOC have proven that it’s possible to win elections without taking money from corrupting influences. They were able to fund their campaigns by raising money from normal people, with large amounts of small-dollar donations. 

That is how campaigns should be run. If corruption were the biggest issue in 2020, and Americans pressured politicians to stop taking money from special interests, we could finally see real change that would help all kinds of people –– and not just those already in power. Then the way we do politics would fundamentally change for the better.