Misfits and Miscreants

This is long and I hope you will take the time to read. 

The cadre of misfits and miscreants who have held power since the inception of this nation is not as large as one might expect. There have been a few over the years, those who believed they were more than their office, the bully, the pulpit pounder, the liar, and the thief. There have been those who have not met the expectations of the trust placed in them. Then there are those men and women of their times who we no longer hold in high regard, given the lens of history.

The problem is not in those we have the luxury of history to reevaluate based on our new understanding; it is in those who remain firmly planted in our here and now. History will always be a harsh mistress of our actions or inaction. We will never escape the judgment of future historians based on a new understanding of social and cultural norms. Some things however remain common, they remain standard across the years. It is these that we rely upon to evaluate historical and current figures of importance.

When we look at the past one hundred (100) years in this nation, what do we see? Is maleficence greater today than a century ago? Is it of a different nature? What has changed? Focusing only on the federal level, what is fascinating is how the level of corruption has expanded and changed in scope and sheer numbers.

William Harding (R 1921-1923), had some fascinating misfits mostly guilty of bribery and kickbacks. His administration saw a couple of members commit suicide rather than face scandal and also saw the first cabinet member to ever be convicted and serve a prison sentence. My favorite though is Thomas L. Blanton of TX, he was censured for inserting obscene material into the congressional record via a letter that was condemned as containing, “unspeakable, vile, foul, filthy, profane, blasphemous and obscene” language. An attempt to expel him from Congress failed by 8 votes, I guess some of them had a sense of humor, here is a part of the offensive letter in question, as it appears in the Congressional Record:

“G_d D_ _n your black heart, you ought to have it torn out of you, you s_n of a b_ _ _ _H. You and the Public Printer has no sense. You s_ _k his a_s and he is a d_ _ _ _ _d fool for letting you do it.”

There really were only small things until we get to Eisenhower (R 1953-1961). What came to pass during his years in office would lay the groundwork for many of the actions and continued beliefs of today. If only we knew then what we know now, Richard Nixon was the Vice President and Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) introduced us to McCarthyism. Oddly, the rest of the administration was squeaky clean compared to these two. If you consider the havoc McCarthy would visit on all corners of the United States, including military, government, and private citizens before he was done it is amazing he and we survived. It should be noted many of the foundations for what McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover did were laid during prior administrations, but McCarthy ratcheted it up. What he did then was an early form of Cancel Culture, without the immediacy of Social Media. Also during the Eisenhower Administration the motto on US currency was changed from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust, driven by a need to distinguish the USA from the Soviet enemy and communism during the Cold War.

Surprisingly we have to skip two administrations, Kennedy and Johnson, for our next rouges gallery,  Richard Nixon (R 1969-1974), where the real fun begins. This is our first taste of the modern administration in action. There is no way to even pick a favorite from this crew, but I am going to remind you that before the good stuff started the original VP, Spiro Agnew was forced to resign for Tax Fraud related to Bribery charges in Maryland; can I just say last I checked Bribery was illegal, I wasn’t aware people were required to claim their ill gotten gains on their taxes. As to the rest, we have Watergate which resulted in Nixon’s resignation prior to impeachment, 76 indictments, and 55 convictions. I am not going to name names, they are well known. The issue is, just how hard this president tried to hold power and the one lesson we should all take away, it was members of his own party who ultimately forced his resignation.

Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter had administrations that looked more like the early 1900s, though there were a few odd miscreants that didn’t live up to what we would like to see in the leadership of our nation, they weren’t the worst of the worst.  So let’s skip to our next holy hell where did you get this stew, the administration of Ronald Reagan (R 1981-1989), 122 investigations and internal censures plus 16 convictions of Administration officials across multiple scandals. What were ya’ll thinking? Bribery, kickbacks, fraud, perjury, conspiracy to defraud the government, obstruction of justice; the list is long and sad. If there was a crime to be committed, they owned it. That was just the Administration, the Legislative Branch had its own hijinks going on ultimately being the most corrupt to date, with Abscam and the Keating Five being only one part of the whole.

Larry Flynt

The first George Bush ran a tight ship, maybe it was that he was only a one-term president but both his administration and the other branches were fairly well behaved while he was in office, despite the Iran Contra Scandal. So let’s jump down to Bill Clinton (D 1993-2001), oh you without sin cast the first stone. Everyone knows about Bill and his womanizing ways, he was impeached by the House and subsequently acquitted by the Senate for lying about consensual sex. What about the rest of his administration? There were a few bad boys, but nothing on the scale you might expect. The Legislators, they were a fun bunch all the holier than thou, yes indeed many of them got caught with their pants down around their ankles, my favorite? Bob Livingston (R-LA), while busy trying hard to impeach the President for his immoral ways  it appears he was engaged in pornography and other nasty things, Larry Flynt of Hustler fame called him out on his hypocrisy. Mr. Livingston had to admit, that he “strayed from my marriage,” and subsequently resigned.

Come now all you bad boys, to the Presidency of the second George Bush (R 2001-2009). His administration and the legislative branch that operated during his two terms were tarred with so many scandals it is hard to know where to look first. Shocking there were only 16 indictments and 16 convictions considering what these scoundrels got up to. Karl Rove of course is one of my favorites, he had his fingers in every cesspool, being investigated for ‘improper influence over government decision-making’ by the Office of Special Counsel, this was the least of it. My personal favorite though, is Randall L. Tobias, a strong and outspoken proponent of abstinence, he was found to be a regular client of the DC Madam, he was forced to resign his position as US Director of Foreign Assistance in 2007.

Scott DesJarlais

The Administration of Barrack Obama (D 2009-2016), despite tales to the contrary, wasn’t filled with scallywags and ne’er do wells. In truth, most of the fun was down in the legislative branch during his eight years in office with a pretty even split between the D’s and the R’s on who could outdo themselves in bad acts and corruption. When they weren’t flagrantly breaking the law, they were trying hard to be despicable slugs. My two favorites have to be these guys though. First, Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was convicted of 23 counts including fraud, money laundering, and racketeering; what a seat in Congress wasn’t enough you had to get a second job? Then there is, Dr. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), who ran on a Pro-Life platform until it was discovered he forced his wife to have two abortions, then his lover came forward with her own story of him trying to force her to abort her pregnancy. Did I mention she was also his patient? After that, the floodgates opened and he admitted under oath to other affairs. There were certainly more, but these two stood out for me mostly because they flew under the radar.

Finally, we arrive at the most recent Administration, that of Donald J. Trump (R 2017-2021), he led us down the path, didn’t he? The only American President to be twice impeached in the House, twice acquitted by a Senate with a majority of his own party.  The sheer scope of the corruption and scandals of the administration defies imagination. From abuse of power, money laundering, nepotism, spousal abuse, witness tampering, and tax evasion the list is long and littered with bodies. In the meantime, the Legislative branch had its own problems though not rising to the shenanigans of the Administration, they were certainly busy. While neither party was innocent, I hate to point fingers but the R’s had a leg up during the Trump years and except where there was no way out and the FBI stepped in with real criminal charges, it seems Congress does not police itself to the degree we might like. Certainly, the truth is, there is no true Ethics or Integrity in the Peoples House.

At the end of the Trump years, we were met with the first President in our history who refused to gracefully concede loss and turn over the reins of power. As a nation, we are still suffering the outcome of the divisions sown during the 2020 campaign and extending even to today. When we look at Administrations historically it is possible to not see how rot has grown over the years within the government. It is time for real changes, time to look hard at the privileges and ‘rights’ our legislators have claimed for themselves without our agreement. It is time for simple changes that will significantly change the balance of power now and in the future. It is frankly time for all of us to stand up and say enough with our voices, our money, and our votes.

Simple changes we could enact at both a state and federal level that would change the balance of power and begin to root out the corruption:

  1. Term Limits at all levels of government including SCOTUS.
  2. Ranked voting.
  3. Real Ethics and Standards at every level of Government with external review boards of comprised Citizens.
  4. Real legislative changes to Voting Rights including reinstatement of Section 5 pre-clearance.
  5. Legislative limits to campaign spending and rollback of Citizen United.

That is my top five. What are yours?

Comments

  1. FYI, the 29th U.S. President was Warren G. Harding. If you’ve ever read up on the Teapot Dome scandal, you’ll realize it was a true example of how big oil had already started to influence American politics. Like GW Bush, Harding was a puppet of corporate oligarchs. The Gerald Ford interlude was a curious point in our national history – it was the first time the American people found themselves with both a president and vice-president they didn’t elect.

    The blatant corruption of both the GW Bush and Trump administrations, along with the immaturity of Republicans during Obama’s two terms, it feels like the last two decades have been a total waste of time and energy.

    • Alejandro, if you noticed I stayed away from all those things that seem to be the focus of most people when they write about past administrations or those things that either side focuses on as proof of corruption. What I did was present a timeline of human foibles, only to show how things have or maybe have not changed. Where administrations were not particularly interesting, or where they were not overwhelmingly bad actors, I simply skipped them. Did every single administration have its issues? Certainly, they did but if I went through all of them, I would have written a tome, not a longish blog.

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