AMAC Exclusive – By Garrison Grisedale
Late last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) issued another round of subpoenas for bank records relating to the Biden family’s foreign business dealings. But while the Biden family’s corruption has repeatedly made national headlines in recent months, it is just the latest in a long line of abuses by the country’s elite class – a history that is often misconstrued or ignored entirely.
These days, too many Americans know relatively little about our history, the teaching of which is out of fashion in schools. The hubris of the present outweighs appreciation for the past — but, like the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Human nature being such that it is, there has never been an age without corruption. But corruption was much more subtle in the early years of the republic than it is today.
Take, for example, the case of President Ulysses S. Grant, who famously led the Union to victory in the Civil War. If you ask a random American on the street what he can tell you about the Ulysses S. Grant administration, odds are the answer will be something resembling “not much.” On the off chance you get an answer, it’ll be along the lines of “Reconstruction,” and possibly a mention of a presidency rife with “scandal” or “corruption” – a common misconception.
There is a tragic irony in that of all the aspects of Grant’s legacy, one of the that stuck with him is the charge that his administration was “corrupt.” Grant himself died relatively impoverished, hurriedly penning his autobiography on his deathbed for upfront cash advances in the fear that he would leave his family without a stable financial future. In this sense, it is even more ironic to hear the corruption charge leveled against the great general by people living in the far more corrupt present day.
Think of an aging Grant, the two-term president, the Civil War General, the legendary West Point horseman, stuck in bed lying in pain as throat cancer slowly drained him of life, scrawling his memoirs to ensure his wife and family would be financially stable without him. A situation like Grant’s is almost unimaginable to our modern sensibilities.
Then consider our political class today. Politicians regularly become millionaires and billionaires on a couple hundred thousand dollars yearly salary, and nobody even bats an eye. By today’s standards, the few incidents that earned Grant accusations of corruption – which were primarily the result of placing too much trust in his friends and family rather than intentional wrongdoing – were incredibly mild.
Today, Members of Congress with access to inside economic and regulatory information — often prepared neatly for them by taxpayer-funded aides — regularly outperform the stock market averages. One of the most infamous examples of this phenomenon is former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who, with a net worth estimated over $100 million, was regularly trading stocks of companies affected by pending legislation.
Hunter Biden has been paid millions of dollars (not to mention covered expenses like luxury hotel rooms, private jets, etc.) from Chinese and Ukrainian energy companies for his “consulting services,” despite lacking a background in the industry. His oddly unimpressive artwork has also raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars on the “market.”
Politicians also regularly write “New York Times bestsellers” which go unnoticed in the public eye but are purchased in bulk by the candidate’s own campaign or PAC, so the political figure gets the cash in an out-in-the-open money laundering operation. Military leaders and defense officials who have never won a war walk around loaded with enough medals to make General Patton blush and openly operate in a revolving door between the Pentagon and Northern Virginia defense contractor consulting gigs.
Public figures also regularly leverage their positions of power to funnel money to personal endeavors. Donations to the Clinton Foundation dropped by nearly $200 million, or 88 percent, in the year after Hillary lost her presidential bid. During her tenure as Secretary of State, the Clinton Foundation pulled in an average of $254 million per year. Al Gore, the prophet of climate doom, has crossed $300 million in net worth despite his dismal accuracy in predictions.
Politicians also cash in on their “public service” through speaking engagements. Former President George W. Bush makes tens of millions of dollars to deliver mundane remarks to unenthusiastic audiences. The Obamas have inked publicity deals for hundreds of millions of dollars. (Of course, there is one recent president who hasn’t seen his brand profit since he decided to pursue a career in public service.)
The list goes on — and there certainly appears to be a lot more going on that doesn’t reach the public eye.
“History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes” is a glib way of saying a more serious point: the underlying motivations of human nature do not change, even though the particular forms they take might.
There was an age when the fabulous wealth which follows around our ruling class would have been hidden, at the very least, because it would have been regarded unfavorably by the public. Is it conceivable that any leading members of our political class today would be working to their deathbed to provide for their family as was Ulysses S. Grant, the man who played perhaps the second most prominent role in keeping the Union together after Abraham Lincoln?
Perhaps it’s a symptom of a society in decline that old vices like public corruption have taken on new, more flamboyant forms. It’s more out in the open today, and the political class seems to think nobody really cares. The coming years will tell us whether they are right in that calculation—or gravely mistaken.
Garrison Grisedale is a Policy Analyst at the American Cornerstone Institute.