In Gettysburg on Saturday, Donald Trump revealed his “Contract with the America Voter,” a plan vowing to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, D.C. A review of the bold proposal by People’s Pundit Daily concludes, if Mr. Trump is elected and enacts the following provisions, it would greatly reduce corruption and special interest influence.
While most Americans understand and agree Washington D.C. is a cesspool, most in truth don’t know how it got so out of control. So, before we get into a few targeted details of the actual plan, we have to recognize certain structural changes to the U.S. Constitution, particularly those made in the 20th Century, which have enabled the concentration of power in (literally) and around (literally and figuratively) the federal government.
We’ll review the proposals and why they would be effective and necessary, providing historical context.
TERM LIMITS AND CONGRESSIONAL TENURE
“I will propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress,” Mr. Trump promised in his speech. Term limits have long-been a rallying cry of proponents of anti-corruption, but it wasn’t always the case we even needed them.
The U.S. Constitution originally empowered state legislatures to elect U.S. senators, and state legislators were elected and beholden only to the voters whom they lived with and among. It’s a lot easier to screw over or cheat someone you never see than it is to screw over or cheat your neighbors and community, or at least, that was the idea.
State legislators more frequently replaced career politicians than voters do now at the ballot box. It’s rather inconvenient if you are a special interest group spending oodles of money lobbying on behalf of your bill if a subsequent Congress could easily undo all your efforts. The best way for the powerful and influential to ensure the durability of favored special interest legislation is to ensure that the coalition of politicians who support the legislation retain their tenure.
If special interest groups could just elect the senators themselves–say, via disinformation and misinformation contests aided by a corrupt press–then they would not have to continue to spend so much money buying newly elected politicians.
Enter the 17th Amendment, which established direct senatorial elections, bypassed state legislatures and dramatically increased the average amount of time senators have spent and continue to spend in Washington.
We now call those contests political campaigns and, as evident by the extraordinarily high reelection rates for incumbents, it is clear they got their way.
In 2013, I released by book Our Virtuous Republic: The Forgotten Clause in the American Social Contract, which among other things, explains how we got to this point. But as demonstrated by the chart above, the average senate tenure exploded after the passage (1913) and ratification (1914) of the 17th Amendment (3rd vertical line). A comparable upward trend in tenure within the U.S. House of Representatives, adjusting for electoral swings, does not display similar steep increases at specific periods of time.
The value of holding a legislative position, especially in the Senate, increased as the authority of the government increased over the economy. The ability to regulate, or interfere, with the market economy allows the government to transfer wealth to special interest.
REGULATORY POWER AND RIGGING THE SYSTEM
“I will propose a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated,” Mr. Trump said, adding “a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.”
The 1877 Supreme Court decision in Munn vs. Illinois U.S. 113 (1st vertical line) vastly expanded the regulating authority of Congress, making continued tenure in the U.S. Senate more attractive. In order to enforce their new authority, Congress established the Interstate Commerce Commission, which became the template for future regulatory agencies. Through regulation, special interest could now purchase a competitive advantage by supporting a legislative candidate.
However, the snag was in the lack of durability for purchased legislation, as state legislators successfully restrained political careerism. Regulation, alone, does not provide interest groups with a lump-sum return. The law’s durability dictates the value of regulatory legislation. Absent seniority and incumbency, special interest cannot insulate favored laws from reconsideration in a subsequent Congress.
“If the effectiveness of a legislative act can be guaranteed only until the next electoral session, the value of legislation to interest groups will decline,” Todd Zywicki, a historian from George Mason University explains. “As a result, these groups will be unwilling to make substantial investments in purchasing legislation that may be obsolete within a few months or years, or which may require investment of further resources at a later date.”
The passage of the 17th Amendment was part of a logrolling deal with the 16th Amendment, which we’ll unravel more shortly. But it affirmed the constitutionality of unapportioned progressive federal income tax, or the ability of the federal government to directly tax individuals and businesses without using the state as an intermediary, which the Supreme Court correctly ruled to be unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. in 1895 (2nd vertical line).
That’s right, before the Progressive Era, the federal government pretty much had no taxing authority over you or your company as an American citizen.
Although the two were sold as anti-corruption and anti-special interest, the entire narrative surrounding these amendments was a sham. Because of the seniority system within our Congress, the 17th Amendment made it cheaper and easier for special interest groups (factions) to return D.C.-corrupted/allied senators who would protect the legislation, and the result was an explosion in average Senate tenure.
While most Republican candidates focus on what the economic impact of government regulations can be on small businesses, rarely have they spoken about how they are used by special interest to gain an unfair advantage, or to rig the system over those who cannot afford high-paid lobbyists.
“On November 8th, Americans will be voting on this 100 day plan to restore security and honesty to government,” Mr. Trump said in his address at The Eisenhower Complex. “This is my pledge to you and if we follow these steps, we will once more have a government of, by, and for the people.”
The reasons for corruption are both cultural and structural, but as it relates to his latest proposed public policy, the New York businessman was addressing the structural barriers that protect corruption and enrich those who profit from it. He actually does address the cultural with other proposals, but we can leave that to a sooner-rather-than-later date.
Regardless, as demonstrated by the above review, Mr. Trump’s plan to “drain the swamp” does indeed tear down the structural barriers politicians have erected to preserve the corrupt status quo.
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