The story

8 Early American Political Scandals


1. The Hamilton-Reynolds Affair


The nation’s first major sex scandal began in 1791, when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton started an affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds. Unbeknownst to Hamilton, Reynolds’ husband James had full knowledge of the dalliance, and he eventually contacted the founding father and demanded more than $1,000 in hush money, which Hamilton paid. The affair continued for several more months, but in late-1792 James Reynolds finally exposed it to government investigators after being implicated in an unrelated financial scandal. He even claimed that Hamilton had been involved in illegal financial speculation.

When confronted by a group of politicians that included James Monroe, Hamilton came clean about the affair and handed over love letters from Maria Reynolds to exonerate himself of any illegal activity. The matter was kept under wraps for several years, but it resurfaced in 1797 after a muckraker journalist named James Callender got ahold of the love letters and published them in a pamphlet. Forced to choose between airing his dirty laundry or letting the charges go unanswered, Hamilton took action and published a pamphlet of his own, which admitted his “amorous connection” with Maria Reynolds while also refuting all accusations of financial impropriety. While Hamilton’s candor helped clear him of any corruption claims, reports of his infidelity would stain his reputation for the rest of his career.

2. The Blount Conspiracy

William Blount was a Continental Congressman and a signatory of the Constitution, but he also holds the dubious distinction of being the first politician to be expelled from the United States Senate. In 1796, while serving as Senator for the new state of Tennessee, Blount hatched a scheme to aid the British in seizing Spanish-held territory in what is now Louisiana and Florida. The audacious plan called for frontiersmen and Cherokee Indians to rise up against the Spanish and drive them off the Gulf Coast. The region would then become a British colony, opening it to settlers and allowing Blount—who owned huge tracts of Western land—to make a killing on his investments.

Unfortunately for Blount, his plot unraveled in 1797 after one of his conspiratorial letters found its way to President John Adams. That July, the Senate voted to expel him from its ranks, but a subsequent impeachment trial was dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction. The scandal did little to slow Blount’s political career. Despite being labeled a scoundrel in Washington, he remained popular in Tennessee and was later elected to the state legislature and appointed speaker.

3. The Burr Conspiracy

Little more than a year after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, former Vice President Aaron Burr was implicated in an outlandish scheme to seize lands in the American West. The details of the conspiracy remain mysterious to this day, but evidence suggests that Burr planned to invade Spanish territories on the frontier and establish a new western empire with himself as its leader. He may have also planned to incite a revolution to separate the western territories of the Louisiana Purchase from the United States. The plot began in earnest in 1805, when Burr traveled west and enlisted the help of U.S. General James Wilkinson, a notorious intriguer who also happened to be a Spanish spy. By the following year, he had assembled recruits and military equipment on an island in the Ohio River.

Whatever Burr’s true plans were, they never got a chance to come to fruition. In late-1806, Wilkinson lost his nerve and betrayed the conspiracy to President Thomas Jefferson. Burr was arrested and put on trial for treason a few months later, but was ultimately acquitted on the grounds that his scheming did not constitute an “overt act” of war against the United States. The fallout from the conspiracy trial left Burr’s political career in tatters. He spent several years in self-imposed exile in Europe, but eventually resettled in New York in 1812 and opened a law practice.

4. The Petticoat Affair


Though somewhat absurd by modern standards, the so-called “Petticoat Affair” cast a shadow over the first two years of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The controversy centered on Margaret Eaton, an outspoken belle who had married Jackson’s secretary of war John Eaton just a few months after her first husband committed suicide. The speedy nuptials proved shocking to 19th century sensibilities, and when combined with Margaret’s vivacious personality, they earned her a reputation as a woman of “easy virtue” among the Washington elite. Her fellow cabinet wives ostracized her from their social circles and spread gossip about her supposed lovers and past affairs. There were also whispers that Margaret’s first husband had killed himself after learning of her infidelities with John Eaton.

President Andrew Jackson sympathized with Margaret Eaton—she supposedly reminded him of his deceased wife—and it wasn’t long before he dove headlong into the controversy. He interrogated Eaton’s critics and produced character witnesses to clear her name. He even called a special cabinet meeting where he pronounced her “as chaste as a virgin.” When the Eaton rumors refused to die, Jackson became convinced that they were part of a larger plot to sow discord within his administration. In 1831, he resorted to extreme measures by firing or accepting the resignations of nearly all his cabinet members. The scandal also led to a final rupture with his vice president, John C. Calhoun, who was replaced by Martin Van Buren for Jackson’s second term.

5. The Sumner-Brooks Affair


House and senate floor debates have always been heated, but 1856 marked one of the few occasions where they resulted in bloodshed. During a discussion of the Kansas-Nebraska Act—a law that allowed the citizens of those territories to vote on whether they would allow slavery—abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner gave a fiery speech in which he branded South Carolina’s Andrew Butler a “zealot” who was enamored with the “harlot” of slavery. The words came as a grave insult to Preston Brooks, a proslavery congressman who also happened to be Butler’s nephew. Just three days later, Brooks confronted Sumner in the Senate chamber and assaulted him with a metal-topped cane, repeatedly bludgeoning him over the head until the stick splintered into pieces.

The cane attack left Sumner so badly injured that he was forced to spend over three years in recovery. Brooks, meanwhile, was fined for assault and put under congressional investigation, but a measure to expel him from the House of Representatives failed to gather the required two-thirds majority. He voluntarily resigned in July 1856, only to be reseated by his constituents a few days later. In a preview of the divisions that would lead to the Civil War, the scandal saw Brooks simultaneously denounced in the North and hailed as a hero in the South. Supporters even sent him replacement canes, including one inscribed with the words “Hit Him Again.”

6. The Sickles murder case

In early 1859, the nation was rocked by a grisly murder scandal involving New York Congressman Daniel Sickles. For months, Sickles’ wife Teresa had been carrying out an affair with his close friend Philip Barton Key II, a prominent district attorney and the son of “The Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key. The tryst was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington—Key was even known to wave a handkerchief outside his window when he wanted Teresa’s company—but Sickles remained oblivious until he received an anonymous letter that spelled out all the lurid details. The revelations sent him into a rage. A few days later, as multiple witnesses looked on, he approached Key outside the White House and shot him to death.

In the aftermath of the shooting, details about the murder and the Key affair were splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the country. The media circus only grew during Sickles’ April 1859 murder trial, when his lawyers claimed their client had been “temporary insane” during his crime. It was the first time that such a defense had been rolled out in an American court, but it proved successful: after just 70 minutes of deliberation, a sympathetic jury acquitted Sickles of all charges. He went on to serve as a Union major general during the Civil War, and later lost his right leg to a cannonball at the Battle of Gettysburg.

7. The Crédit Mobilier Scandal

On the eve of the 1872 election season, the New York Sun broke the story of an infamous boondoggle involving several business leaders, U.S. congressmen and even the vice president. The scandal took its name from Crédit Mobilier of America, a construction company contracted by the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1860s during the building of the transcontinental railroad. While it masqueraded as a legitimate business, Crédit Mobilier was actually a front company operated by a cabal of Union Pacific executives. By granting it exorbitantly lucrative contracts, the men were able to line their pockets with funds paid to Union Pacific by minor shareholders and the federal government. To keep officials from prying into the ring’s affairs, Massachusetts Congressman Oakes Ames—a chief conspirator—dished out bribes of company stock to his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

By the time a disgruntled investor finally ratted the scheme out to the media in 1872, Crédit Mobilier had made its ringleaders at least $23 million. The scandal’s exposure led to a congressional investigation, but despite evidence that the corruption extended to more than a dozen politicians including vice president Schuyler Colfax, only two representatives—Ames and James Brooks—were officially censured. Neither man was expelled from Congress, however, and no criminal charges were ever filed.

8. The Whiskey Ring

One of the most notorious scandals of the Gilded Age, the so-called “Whiskey Ring” involved a group of officials and alcohol distillers who plotted to defraud the government of its 70 cents-a-gallon tax on liquor. The scheme was as simple as it was lucrative. Through a system of bribes and blackmail, crooked federal agents and whiskey distillers would under-report whiskey sales, allowing them to skip out on tax payments and pocket the profits. The ring was first set up in 1871 by corrupt Republican Party officials in St. Louis, but it eventually extended to several other cities including Chicago, New Orleans and Milwaukee. By 1875, it was grossing as much as $1.5 million per year in illicit funds.

The Whiskey Ring might have continued unabated if not the 1874 appointment of Benjamin Bristow as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. After catching wind of the scheme, he organized a secret investigation that exposed the fraud and led to indictments against several hundred liquor sellers and government officials. The scandal even reached as far as the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, whose personal secretary Orville Babcock was caught in the dragnet. Babcock was only exonerated after Grant—who was not involved in the ring—gave a deposition swearing to his innocence.


Before Andrew Jackson was president, he married a woman named Rachel Donelson in 1791. She had previously been married and believed that she was legally divorced. However, after marrying Jackson, Rachel found out this was not the case. Her first husband charged her with adultery. Jackson would have to wait until 1794 to legally marry Rachel. Even though this happened over 30 years previously, it was used against Jackson in the election of 1828. Jackson blamed Rachel's untimely death two months before he took office on these personal attacks against him and his wife. Years later, Jackson would also be the protagonist of one of the most notorious presidential meltdowns in history.


When power corrupts: 16 of the biggest political scandals of the last 50 years

Before email controversies , Benghazi , and lewd photos , scandals had always been part of American political history. The political game often involves horse-trading, power plays and schmoozing. But sometimes, politicians cross the line into gray areas or illegal activities. In this 2016 election year, we look back at 16 of the biggest political scandals of the last half-century:

The scandal that all other scandals are measured against (what isn&rsquot a &ldquo-gate&rdquo these days?) first made headlines as an odd break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters and eventually brought down a president . President Richard Nixon and his administration engaged in questionable activities to ensure his re-election in 1972. When those activities came to light, mostly through the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein , the administration engaged in a cover-up at the highest level. Facing the possibility of impeachment, Nixon became the first president to resign from office in August of 1974.

The Democratic senator from Colorado &ldquowas as close to a lock for the nomination &mdash and likely the presidency &mdash as any challenger of the modern era&rdquo in the 1988 election, wrote Matt Bai, who profiled Hart&rsquos fall from grace in a recent book. But suspicions of Hart&rsquos marital infidelity and an investigation by the Miami Herald led to the media frenzy. Hart withdrew from the race. A few months later, he re-entered the campaign to &ldquolet the people decide.&rdquo But after three months, he quit again .

The Eagleton Affair

Hart was the campaign manager for eventual 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. But McGovern's status as nominee going into the party&rsquos convention was uncertain, so the campaign did not undertake an exhaustive search for a running mate. When the time came, McGovern&rsquos campaign quickly selected Sen. Thomas Eagleton to run on the ticket. However, Eagleton withdrew from the race after only 18 days when it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression and received electroshock treatments in the past. McGovern lost to Nixon in a landslide.

Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky

During his 1992 run for president, Clinton was dogged by past rumors of extramarital affairs. Those rumors hit the tabloids when Flowers, an Arkansas state employee, alleged that she and Clinton carried on a 12-year fling. Both Bill and Hillary denied the affair . But Flowers later declared under oath that the affair took place. Six years later, during a court case about another alleged Clinton affair , America learned about Monica Lewinsky and her claims of a sexual encounter with the president . At first, President Clinton denied the affair, but later admitted to the country that he had &ldquoa relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.&rdquo Questions over whether the president perjured himself led to his impeachment trial in the Senate, the first in over 130 years. The Senate voted to acquit President Clinton , ending one of the most tumultuous episodes in the nation&rsquos history. In the 2016 race for president, Donald Trump said the Lewinsky episode is &ldquofair game&rdquo against Hillary Clinton.

Iran-Contra Affair

The quest to free American hostages in Lebanon ensnared the Reagan White House in a scandal that nearly ended the president&rsquos second term. The U.S. enlisted the help of Iran by selling them arms it then used the money from those sales to support the Nicaraguan Contras, a rebel group attempting to overthrow the communist Sandinista government in that country. Those transactions violated both American policy (don&rsquot negotiate with hostage-takers, don&rsquot pay ransoms) and law &ndash Congress passed legislation barring U.S. aid to the Contras. An investigation by the attorney general led to the removal of the National Security Council&rsquos John Poindexter and Oliver North and intense congressional hearings. While President Reagan&rsquos role in the scandal was unclear, he told the nation in a televised address from the Oval Office that the buck &ldquostops with me. I am the one who is ultimately accountable to the American people.&rdquo

Jack Abramoff

Gifts for favors &ndash that&rsquos the easiest way to describe the scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was known as the &ldquoMan Who Bought Washington.&rdquo His massive web of political corruption involved his clients, millions of dollars, free meals, tickets, trips to famous golf courses and members of Congress. Digging by the Washington Post eventually led to an inquiry by the Justice Department. Abramoff and others, including the then-chair of the powerful House Administration Committee, went to prison. After Abramoff left prison, he wrote a book about the scandal.

One of the lawmakers caught in the Abramoff web was former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Indictments over alleged money laundering, combined with his ties to the Abramoff scandal, led DeLay to leave Congress in 2005. Grand juries alleged that a PAC set up by DeLay skirted Texas campaign finance laws in an effort to elect state legislators who would vote for redistricting legislation supported by DeLay. A jury convicted the Republican from Texas in 2010 for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A Texas appeals court eventually threw out DeLay&rsquos conviction.

The "Keating Five"

The Senate investigated five U.S. senators in the late 1980s and early 1990s for improperly interfering in the investigation of a savings and loan company. The five senators, of whom John McCain is the only one still serving, asked a federal agency not to pursue charges against Lincoln Savings and Loan Association for engaging heavily in risky investments. Charles Keating, who owned the company, was a contributor to each of the senators&rsquo campaigns. Lincoln later collapsed and required a taxpayer bailout of over $3 billion. While all five senators denied any misconduct, they faced a two-year investigation. Only one senator received a formal reprimand from the Senate. John McCain faced attacks about the scandal during his 2008 run for president.

Jim Traficant

The colorful congressman from Ohio had served 17 years before he was thrown out of office by the House of Representatives in July of 2002. A few months earlier, he had been convicted of bribery, racketeering and corruption. &ldquoIt was only the second time since the Civil War and fifth time in its 213-year history that the House chose to impose the ultimate penalty for unethical conduct and strip a member of office,&rdquo the New York Times reported. Traficant was famous for using &ldquoStar Trek&rdquo references during his floor speeches, such as, &ldquoBeam me up!&rdquo He served seven years in prison and died in 2014.

Spiro Agnew

Richard Nixon&rsquos first vice president became the second in American history to resign after accusations of tax evasion and bribery. Despite declaring in September 1973 that he &ldquowill not resign if indicted,&rdquo Agnew resigned in October in exchange for a plea bargain that kept him out of jail. Nixon appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford as Agnew&rsquos replacement, and the rest is history .

Fanne Foxe and Wilbur Mills

Mix &ldquoa striptease dancer&rdquo and a powerful member of Congress and you get the makings of a juicy political sex scandal. Rep. Wilbur Mills, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was found drunk in a car at the Tidal Basin in October of 1974. Also in the car: Annabell Battistella, a stripper who went by the stage name Fanne Foxe. After visiting Foxe during one of her performances later that year , members of Congress pressured Mills to leave his post as Ways and Means chairman. He left Congress in 1976.

John Edwards

The charismatic senator from North Carolina was a rising star in Democratic Party after running on John Kerry&rsquos presidential ticket in 2004. During his presidential run four years later, Edwards faced tabloid allegations of an extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker hired to work on his campaign. He later admitted that the allegations were true and that he fathered a child with Hunter . Three years later, Edwards faced a federal grand jury on charges of using campaign money to hide his affair. He was acquitted on one count and received a mistrial on the others.

Scooter Libby and Valerie Plame Wilson

After former Ambassador Joe Wilson published a 2003 op-ed questioning the Bush administration&rsquos decision to go to war in Iraq, his wife and her role as an undercover CIA spy were exposed in a newspaper column . Did the Bush White House out her in retaliation for her husband&rsquos views? That was the question in the federal investigation that followed. I. Lewis &ldquoScooter&rdquo Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney&rsquos former chief of staff, was convicted of lying to the FBI, perjury and obstructing the investigation into the leak. President George W. Bush later commuted Libby&rsquos prison sentence to 30 months.


7 Earl Butz And His Dirty Jokes


Perhaps the most well-known Secretary of Agriculture in American history, Earl Butz (pictured lower right) was seen as both a savior of agricultural business and a demon for small farms. One of his most visible faults was his penchant for racist jokes and risqué behavior. (He used to keep a wooden carving of two elephants having sex in his Washington office.) His first public criticism came after he mocked Pope Paul VI for his stance on birth control: In an exaggerated Italian accent, Butz quipped &ldquohe no playa the game, he no maka the rules.&rdquo He only apologized after being rebuked by President Gerald Ford.

The joke that finally pushed public opinion over the edge was one he told on a flight during the 1976 presidential election. The singer Pat Boone was on the flight with him, along with Sonny Bono and John Dean, a key participant in the Watergate scandal. Boone asked Butz why he thought the Republicans had such a hard time attracting black people to their party. Butz replied with this: &ldquoThe only things the coloreds are looking for in life are tight p***y, loose shoes, and a warm place to sh*t.&rdquo Only a few days after news of the joke spread, Butz resigned from office.


#7 Edwin W. Edwards

Scandal: Racketeering and Extortion (1991-1997)

Money: $3 million / worth $4.6 million today

The four-time governor of Louisiana once famously boasted thatthe only way he could lose an upcoming election was "if I'm caught in bed witheither a dead girl or a live boy." He seemed equally invincible in the courts,beating 24 different corruption cases against him since the early days of hiscareer in the 1970s. But on the 25 th case, his luck ran out. In 1998, afederal grand jury indicted him for a scheme to extort millions of dollars inpayments for casino licenses in the state. Edwards was convicted on 17 countsand spent more than 8 years in prison. But he wasn't done with public life justyet. In 2014, at age 87, he tried to stage one more political comeback. Withhis 35-year-old wife Trina and their one-year-old son by his side, Edwardsannounced he was running for Congress. It wasn't meant to be however, and withhis loss, the most colorful career in Louisiana politics came to an end. Or didit?


Contents

The origins of the Yazoo land scandal lay in the desire of the U.S. state of Georgia to firm up its territorial claims after the American Revolutionary War, and to satisfy a great demand for land to develop. The territory claimed by Georgia ran as far west as the Mississippi River, and included most of the present states of Alabama and Mississippi (from 31° N to 35° N, excepting only the coastal areas of those states). Some of this territory was claimed and occupied by Native Americans, and southern portions of the territory were also claimed by Spain as part of Spanish Florida. Lands along the Mississippi River near present-day Natchez, Mississippi had been settled during the British administration of West Florida, and had a strong Loyalist presence. Some Georgia authorities and speculators thought these developed lands could be seized.

Previous development attempts Edit

The first attempt of Georgia to organize settlement in this area was a 1784 proposal to establish Houstoun County in the Muscle Shoals area. This attempt never got off the ground because its major proponents became involved instead in an effort to establish the State of Franklin in present-day eastern Tennessee.

In 1785 Governor George Mathews signed the Bourbon County Act, which organized Bourbon County, Georgia in the area east of the Mississippi and south of the Yazoo River. This area included the Natchez area and was in the area also claimed by Spain. The state appointed civil and judicial officers for the new county, but under pressure from the federal government, Georgia dissolved Bourbon County in 1788. The federal government opposed Bourbon County because of the unresolved Spanish claim, and because claims to the area by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Native American tribes had not been extinguished.

In about 1789, a secret society called the Combined Society was formed the members' sole purpose was to make money by land speculation. This group secured influence in the Georgia legislature to further its aims. In 1789 three companies, The South Carolina Yazoo Company, The Virginia Yazoo Company (which was headed by Patrick Henry), and the Tennessee Company were formed by Combined Society interests to buy land from the Georgia legislature. Governor Edward Telfair signed a deal to sell 20,000,000 acres (81,000 km 2 ) of land to the Yazoo companies for $207,000, or about 1 cent per acre. [3] These lands were located north of the mouth of the Yazoo River and extended eastward from the Mississippi. The deal fell through in 1792 when the companies sought to pay with depreciated old currency, which the state refused to accept. The existence of the Combined Society was also exposed in 1792 some of its principals continued to be active in attempts to develop Georgia lands.

In 1794, four new companies were formed: the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the new Tennessee Company. Their principals included individuals active in the 1789 purchases, as well as leading Georgia politicians such as James Gunn [4] and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice James Wilson. These companies persuaded the Georgia state assembly to sell more than 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km 2 ) of land for $500,000. Many Georgia officials and legislators were offered shares in these companies or bribes to secure their agreement to the sale. On January 7, 1795, Governor Mathews signed into law a bill authorizing the sale of the 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km 2 ), known as the Yazoo Act.

The territory that was the subject of these purchases included most of the land that had been the subject of the 1789 purchase attempt, and a significant portion of it was resold to buyers in other parts of the country who were not aware of the shaky nature of the transactions.

When the details of the sale were revealed, public outrage was widespread, and people protested to federal officials and Congressmen. [5] Jared Irwin and U.S. Senator James Jackson led the reform efforts: Irwin was elected Governor of Georgia and, less than two months after taking office, signed a bill on February 13, 1796 nullifying the Yazoo Act. The state burned all copies of the bill except for one that had been sent to President George Washington. Jackson resigned as Senator to run for office as next Governor of Georgia. He was elected and took office two years later.

But the matter was not over. The state refunded money to people who had purchased land, but some refused the money, preferring to keep the land. The state did not recognize their claims, and the matter was to wind through courts for the next decade. In 1802 the state ceded to the federal government all claim to lands west of its present border (which were organized into the Mississippi Territory), along with the ongoing legal disputes. Claims by third-party owners who had innocently purchased land from the original companies were not fully resolved until 1816. Spanish claims to the Georgia territory were resolved with the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo Native American claims to the area were extinguished by a series of treaties ending in the 1820s.

Legal challenges to Georgia's attempt to repeal the sale reached the Supreme Court in 1810. The landmark Fletcher v. Peck decision marked one of the first times the Court overturned a state law, deciding that the land sales were binding contracts and could not be retroactively invalidated by the passage of superseding legislation.

During the same period, in what was called the Pine Barrens speculation, the governors and legislature of Georgia made overlapping land grants in the eastern part of the state, effectively granting three times more land than existed in the state. Although land grants were supposed to be limited to 1,000 acres (4 km 2 ) per individual, the state awarded multiple grants of 1,000 acres (4 km 2 ) to certain people.


A history of corruption in the United States

A s a young industrial power, the United States suffered from levels of political corruption commonly associated today with impoverished nations in the developing world. This is among the findings of a new working paper co-written by Harvard Law School Professor Matthew Stephenson &rsquo03 and California State Supreme Court Justice and Stanford Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar tentatively titled &ldquoTaming Systemic Corruption: The American Experience and its Implications for Contemporary Debates,&rdquo which chronicles the history of corruption in the United States between 1865 and 1941.

Stephenson has explored corruption in other countries for many years. Six years ago, he launched &ldquoThe Global Anticorruption Blog,&rdquo which is devoted to promoting analysis and discussion of the problem of corruption around the world. In 2017, he organized a conference at HLS on populist plutocrats to stimulate more systematic and rigorous research on this political phenomenon.

In an interview with Harvard Law Today, Stephenson explained why corruption flourished in the U.S. for so long, how it was largely vanquished by reformers, and why we should be worried about its return.

Credit: Martha Stewart Matthew C. Stephenson &rsquo03, the Eli Goldston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

Harvard Law Today: You recently published a new working paper on anticorruption reform in U.S. history. What kinds of corruption was the United States facing during the late 19th and early 20th century, and how systemic was it?

Matthew Stephenson: Corruption was a serious problem in the United States in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Indeed, one of the things that was so striking to me, as a non-historian who focuses mainly on corruption in the modern developing world, was how much the corruption problem in the U.S. a century and a half ago resembles the systemic corruption we see in modern developing countries. I don&rsquot want to overstate the point. There are also a lot of important differences. But in the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, we find a number of forms of corruption that will be quite familiar to students of contemporary corruption.

First, there&rsquos a lot of corruption associated with political machines, particularly though not exclusively in urban areas. The political machines provide jobs for supporters, who use their positions to generate illicit income for themselves and the party bosses, and mobilize voters to support the candidates backed by the machine. The machines also provide tangible benefits to voters to ensure their support.

Second, while the political machines tended to dominate local governments, the practice of buying and selling public offices, or using government appointments to purchase political support, was widespread at the national level as well. Third, wealthy business interests corrupted politicians to receive favorable treatment by the government, for example by offering legislators bribes, sometimes in the form of company shares or special privileges, to provide special benefits to companies, or to look the other way when private interests were siphoning off taxpayer funds. These sorts of corruption often involved government-supported infrastructure projects, especially railroads, and natural resource extraction.

HLT: In what ways were those challenges similar to or different from challenges facing modern day reformers?

Stephenson: Let me start with the differences, because I want to be sure not to overstate the parallels. First, although the United States in the nineteenth century was in many ways a developing country, it was still a quite wealthy country by the standards of the time. Many modern developing countries that are dealing with systemic corruption are also dealing with extreme poverty.

Second, in addition to its relative affluence, the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had a couple of other things going for it. For one thing, despite the fact that corruption was pervasive, the United States was never a kleptocracy&mdashwe don&rsquot see presidents during this period pillaging the national treasury or personally taking bribes. Plenty of presidents looked the other way, or tolerated and to some degree protected a corrupt system, but we don&rsquot see the kind of kleptocratic leadership that some modern developing countries are struggling to dislodge. For another thing, at least at the federal level, the institutions of justice&mdashcourts and prosecutors&mdashseemed relatively clean and basically functional. I don&rsquot want to overstate that there were certainly problems. But many modern developing countries are trying to get endemic corruption under control in systems where the institutions of justice are themselves pervasively corrupted. That problem was not as severe in the U.S. Corruption of the justice system did sometimes occur at the state and local level, but the federal government was able to step in when that occurred, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Having highlighted those important differences, let me now emphasize some of the similarities with respect to the challenges. First, as I noted above, the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century confronted the challenge of rooting out systemic corruption, where such corruption was not only widespread, but deeply enmeshed with the operation of the political system. Corruption wasn&rsquot just a form of aberrational behavior it was how business got done.

Second, in contrast to many of the other wealthy Western countries that have done a decent job getting corruption under control, the U.S. was a political democracy&mdasha raucous and vibrant one&mdashbefore the country embarked on significant good government reforms. So, it&rsquos not like a single leader or a small ruling elite could push through a set of governance reforms, along the lines of what happened in Sweden or Denmark when those countries were both monarchies, or what Lee Kwan Yew&rsquos government did in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. In that sense, the challenges facing anticorruption reformers in large modern democracies like India and Brazil and Nigeria may bear a closer resemblance to the United States 150 years go than to the situation facing some of the popular examples of modern anticorruption &ldquosuccess stories&rdquo like Singapore and Hong Kong.

HLT: What turned the tide? How did the process of anticorruption reform unfold over time in the U.S.? How did the U.S. become less corrupt?

Stephenson: Perhaps the biggest lesson that my coauthor and I drew from our examination of U.S. history is that there wasn&rsquot a single turning point. The fight against corruption in the U.S. was a long slow slog, one that unfolded over generations&mdashand of course it still isn&rsquot over. That in itself is an important observation, because sometimes people can become cynical or fatalistic about the corruption problem, and think that there&rsquos nothing that can be done, and can conclude too quickly that this or that reform has been ineffective. At the same time, some leading scholars have suggested that when corruption is deeply entrenched in a society, the only way to effect meaningful change is through a &ldquobig bang&rdquo approach&mdasha massive, transformative set of reforms, generally driven by a visionary leader. But the U.S. doesn&rsquot fit that model.

Take civil service reform, which was one of the most significant measures adopted during this period. A federal civil service reform bill was introduced shortly after the Civil War, and it went nowhere. It took close to two decades of lobbying before Congress finally passed the first significant civil service reform measure, the Pendleton Act, in 1883. The Pendleton Act created what we call the &ldquomerit system,&rdquo as opposed to the &ldquospoils system,&rdquo for appointing and promoting civil servants. But the Pendleton Act covered only a fairly small percentage of the federal civil service, and didn&rsquot cover the states at all. But the so-called merit system continued to expand, in fits and starts, over the next several decades, until by the start of World War II roughly 90% of federal civilian employees had civil service protections, and the states had adopted their own similar laws. We see the same sort of long, drawn out pattern when it comes to enacting and enforcing criminal laws against bribery and embezzlement. It&rsquos not like there&rsquos one massive crackdown or campaign that you can point to and say, &ldquoAha, that was the turning point.&rdquo The laws get strengthened over time, prosecutors start bringing cases, and gradually the de facto impunity of senior officials starts to erode.

So, what explains the change? What political and social factors were at work? Anything I say on this is necessarily speculative, but our survey of the history suggests a few factors. First, the press played a significant role, especially the so-called muckrakers. And there&rsquos some research suggesting that technological changes in the media industry&mdashthings like the declining price of newsprint&mdashaltered the economics of the media industry, leading to more competition for readers and more coverage of corruption scandals. Second, citizen activists&mdashwhat we would today call &ldquocivil society&rdquo&mdashplayed an important role.

Third, there appears to be an intriguing relationship between the move for cleaner government and a general growth in the size and power of the government, especially the federal government, during this period. Lots of people believe that larger governments tend to be more corrupt, and indeed in the early nineteenth century, it does seem that the expansion of the government&rsquos role in the economy, through things like issuing corporate charters and supporting infrastructure improvements, fueled a surge in public corruption. But the period from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century was a period of a substantial expansion of federal government size and power, and this was also the period when we see the most progress in reducing corruption. Now, if you look at modern cross-country comparisons, this is perhaps not that surprising. It turns out that larger governments&mdashwhere government size is typically measured as government spending or revenue as a percentage of GDP&mdashtend to be perceived as significantly less corrupt, all else equal.

The reasons aren&rsquot totally clear, but we have some educated guesses. First, citizens tend to be more aggressive about monitoring the government when it&rsquos bigger and more active, and when citizens are both taxed more heavily and rely more on government for various services. Second, the growth of government was due in significant part to the expansion of the public safety net, which may have undermined the functions of the traditional political machines. Larger governments may also be more bureaucratized and professionalized. Again, this is all speculation, but it does seem that the story of the U.S. government over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is a government becoming both larger and cleaner, more or less in tandem.

HLT: How corrupt is the U.S. today, and how does it compare with other nations and societies?

Stephenson: It&rsquos hard to say, both because we lack objective measures and because of longstanding debates about the meaning of &ldquocorruption.&rdquo After all, certain practices related to lobbying and campaign finance that other countries would consider corrupt are, in the U.S., not only permitted but constitutionally protected. But let me try to answer your question on the assumption that we&rsquore talking about what we might call &ldquotraditional&rdquo or &ldquoblack&rdquo corruption: bribery, embezzlement, and the like. This sort of corruption still exists in the United States. The Department of Justice has an entire division focused on so-called public integrity offenses. But on the whole, if we&rsquore focusing on those forms of corruption, the U.S. is much less corrupt than it used to be, and on the whole less corrupt than many other countries. I&rsquove never had a police officer ask me for a bribe, nor have I heard of this happening to anyone I know in the U.S. I was able to get my telephone service hooked up without having to pay a bribe . In many parts of the world, that sort of corruption is commonplace. And notwithstanding serious concerns about the Trump administration and its flagrant disregard for ethical norms, the U.S. hasn&rsquot faced the sort of blatant kleptocracy found in places like Equatorial Guinea. Don&rsquot get me wrong: The U.S. still has a corruption problem, and it&rsquos one that we need to take seriously. We&rsquore by no means the world leader in clean government. But the situation is not nearly as bad as it used to be, and not nearly as bad as it is elsewhere in the world.

HLT: What might modern-day reformers take away from the rise, fall, and rise again of corruption in the U.S.? Are there effective strategies for creating structural reform or countering systemic corruption? What doesn&rsquot work?

Stephenson: It&rsquos always hazardous to draw facile &ldquolessons&rdquo from historical examples, given all the differences in context. The most important lessons I&rsquod emphasize for modern reformers from the U.S. experience are some of the broader themes I mentioned above: Reform takes time, it&rsquos a long process, and we shouldn&rsquot assume that countries beset with systemic corruption can never escape, or that corruption is somehow an immutable part of the national culture or psyche. If I were to try to get a bit more specific, I&rsquod maybe highlight a few elements of the U.S. struggle against corruption in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that appear to have been important civil service reform and other anti-patronage measures, coupled with a more general professionalization of government a strong and independent press independent and effective institutions of justice, including courts and prosecutors transparency, especially with respect to things like public budgets a strong social safety net and other measures to displace the social functions that corrupt organizations often perform.

HLT: Since May 2017, the Global Anticorruption Blog has been tracking and cataloguing what it describes as credible allegations that the current administration and close associates have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves. What do you think the tracking has revealed? What patterns have you seen? What are some key takeaways?

Global Anticorruption Blog: Tracking Corruption and Conflicts in the Trump Administration

Since May 2017, the Global Anticorruption Blog, created by Harvard Law School Professor Matthew Stephenson, has been tracking and cataloguing what it describes as credible allegations that President Trump and his associates have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves.

Stephenson: Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is just how flagrantly the Trump administration, and President Trump and his family in particular, disregard traditional norms regarding the separation of public and private functions. Again, most of my scholarly work on corruption has focused on other countries, mainly developing or transition countries, and it&rsquos really striking and troubling how much the Trump family, and Trump administration, resembles these corrupt leaders we&rsquove seen in places like Thailand and the Philippines and South Africa. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me&mdashand this is hardly an original insight&mdashis the extent to which the U.S. system has traditionally relied on informal norms, rather than formal laws and regulations, to curb this kind of conduct. There has been, traditionally, a sense that certain things &ldquojust aren&rsquot done,&rdquo but Trump does them. And even where there are laws designed to address some of these forms of corruption or conflict of interest, those laws have not proven terribly effective. Activists sued President Trump for his violations of the Constitution&rsquos Emoluments Clause within a few weeks after Trump took office. Those cases are still wending their way through the courts. It&rsquos not clear who will prevail on the merits, but the larger point is that it&rsquos been nearly four years without a resolution, so it&rsquos almost beside the point. I&rsquom not sure what can be done about this there are certainly drawbacks to imposing a lot of strict regulations on the President. But I certainly think that one of the troubling things we&rsquove learned from this administration is that we in the United States are not as immune to these sorts of corruption as we had perhaps thought. Yes, things are better than they were 150 years ago in most respects. But I&rsquom not sure we&rsquove ever had a President who was as cavalier in his disregard of ethical boundaries, and as personally greedy and venal, as the current president. It&rsquos not clear that our legal or political system is able to handle that sort of leader, and that worries me.


10 Cringeworthy Mistakes of American Presidents

One wrong step and you&rsquore on a slippery slope everyone knows how it feels to make a mistake, but for US Presidents, instead of a few people staring at you, the whole world is looking on.

Here are the top ten mistakes that US presidents have committed, together with the fallout of these mistakes:

Charming and suave, Clinton met his Waterloo thanks to alleged sexual shenanigans with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The scandal that followed allegations of sexual misconduct drew major reactions from the world over. His repeated denials of any misconduct only added to the outrage. It resulted in a vote to impeach him by the House of Representatives in 1998. The Senate did not vote to oust him from office but this incident left an indelible mark on his presidency.

He broke international agreements and helped fund a revolution. He supplied weapons to Iran, breaking an arms embargo. Then he used the gains to fund a revolutionary group called Contras in Nicaragua on the sly, which was in violation of Borland Agreement. The uproar that followed this incident ended in major Congressional hearings. Reagan is a beloved former President but many still point to these events as a marker of a man willing to break the rules when it suited him.

The Watergate scandal is one of the all-time biggest involving a serving US President. Watergate &lsquobroke&rsquo when five men were caught while breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters located at the Watergate business complex, in 1972. An investigation into this break in &ndash and the one at Daniel Ellsberg&rsquos psychiatrist&rsquos office (Ellsberg had published the secret Pentagon Papers) &ndash revealed the cover up that Richard Nixon and his advisors had attempted. Nixon resigned on 9th August 1974, before he could be impeached.

LBJ&rsquos mistake lay in underestimating the Vietcong&rsquos tenacity and endurance, and also the lack of a firm, clear and suitable Vietnam War strategy. While US forces used more traditional tactics and were often ill-equipped for the terrain, the Viet Cong wreaked havoc by refusing to hold permanent positions hiding, attacking then vanishing once again. Using this rather daring but effective tactic, a Third World nation was able to gain a substantial advantage over a leading military superpower.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a futile exercise by United States-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the government of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. After the increased conflict between U.S. government and Castro&rsquos leftist regime led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961, the invasion plan was approved by Eisenhower&rsquos successor, John F. Kennedy. The US-backed forces suffered a decisive and clear defeat, causing strong embarrassment for the Kennedy Administration.

Rather than having to do directly with the President, this scandal merely occurred during his reign. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall abused his power to give drilling rights for the Teapot Dome Reserve to the Mammoth Oil Company in return for bribes. When the scandal came to light in 1924, he had collected over $100,000 in kickbacks from the Mammoth Oil Company, among others. Although Harding had passed away in office before the scandal came to life, it became a topic of much discussion for years after his death and continues to haunt his now infamous legacy.

This was a juicy scandal that hit Grover Cleveland when he was running for the presidency in 1884. A woman named Maria C. Halpin, a widow with whom he had had a relationship, named him as the father to her son. On receiving the claim, he agreed to support the child and even agreed to place him in an orphanage when she was no longer in a position to raise him. He was open and honest about the entire episode, which surprisingly helped him in his election. The revelation of the issue gave birth to the chant &ldquoMa, Ma, where&rsquos my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!,&rdquo

Andrew Jackson served his term under plenty of scrutiny after it turned out his wife was still married. He had married her under the assumption that she was divorced. Another oft-forgotten episode is the scandal that occurred during his term as president. It began with the marriage of Jackson&rsquos secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, to recently widowed Margaret Timberlake, whose husband had committed suicide. The marriage had been the topic of much debate as it was rumored that Eaton&rsquos affair with Margaret had resulted in her husband&rsquos death. Though most of Jackson&rsquos cabinet turned against Eaton, Jackson supported him, and this issue led to such strife with almost the entire cabinet resigning.

While it didn&rsquot implicate the president himself, James Garfield had to deal with the Star Route Scandal in 1881 during his six months as president before being assassinated. This scandal dealt with corruption in the postal service. Private organizations at the time were handling postal routes in the West of the US they would give postal officials a low bid but when the officials would present these bids to Congress, the companies would ask for higher payments. Obviously, they were profiting from this state of affairs. Garfield dealt with this head on &ndash despite many members of his own party benefiting from the corruption.

In 1802, Jefferson was accused of having an intimate relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. To top it off, he was also rumored to have had a child with her. He vehemently denied the allegations, and remained president for the next 7 years. In the later years, DNA evidence pointed to the likelihood of Jefferson having fathered Hemings&rsquo children.


EPA Corruption and Scandal

The EPA and Ms. Lisa Jackson, its chief, have committed extensive violations of law that should receive in-depth scrutiny from Congress, law enforcement and the American people. Yes the Obama administration has yet another serious scandal on their hands. The scandal features a fantasy administrator, 'Richard Windsor', and 'his' email account . The account was established and used by Ms. Jackson to camouflage controversial EPA processes, discussions, decisions and accountability. To date the known evidence suggests violations of the Freedom of Information Act ( FOIA ), mail and wire fraud laws. Additionally it surfaces another example of the Obama administration's epidemic chicanery with the law, Congress and the Constitution and another failure to keep faith with the American people.

Upon closer inspection the EPA like the GSA and other Obama administration agencies, demonstrates a lack of managerial/administrative control. It also exhibited a culture of obfuscation, malfeasance and corruption that did not blossom overnight. And like other Obama scandals, the mainstream media has again decided to cover it with their much practiced three monkey act.

For perspective a little recent history is in order. Lisa Jackson, who is departing the EPA, stated in November of 2011 that,

". What EPA's role is to do is to level the playing field so that pollution costs are not exported to the population but rather companies have to look at pollution potential of any fuel or any process or any plant or utility when their making investment decisions."

Simply translated Ms. Jackson makes clear that her job and the EPA's are to hurt companies/industries that produce energy counter to the wishes of the Obama administration (and the left's agenda). Ms. Jackson also demonstrates a very low economic IQ, since higher costs incurred by energy companies will be passed to end users/consumers.

Coupling her statement with President Obama's pronouncement of a year ago, i.e. "Where Congress is not willing to act, we're going to go ahead and do it ourselves". exposes his strategy to "legislate" by regulation and executive order (with Jackson and the heads of other agencies helping). Although Obama indicated it would be "nice" to work with Congress, his intentions are to evade the two centuries-old legislative process of the Constitution and impose his will on all Americans. The EPA under Jackson has become a key bludgeon in this political and ideological power grab and has used illegal methods in the effort.

President Obama's inaugural speech noted the environment may receive emphasis during his second term. Obama opined that Americans have an obligation to posterity to "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations". Obama immediately followed with a pitch for sustainable energy, e.g. wind, solar and bio (and more crony capitalism?). Remember this is the man that promoted cap and trade legislation early in his initial term when the economy was " nearing a depression . "

An administration's ability to regulate in the extreme and by executive action has evolved slowly over the past 70 years, gaining momentum after the Reagan years. The Congress and our courts have ceded appreciable power to the Executive branch and government agencies by enacting laws with little oversight and that rely heavily on internal agency inspectors such as the EPA's Inspector General. Further the courts have exhibited discomfort in reining in other government branches unless egregious actions are uncovered. The Supreme Court's twisted logic/argument to find ObamaCare constitutional demonstrates the discomfort.

Now due to a whistleblower and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Christopher Horner's investigative work a federal court (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit) has ruled that the EPA must turn over 12,000 "Richard Windsor" emails in four 3,000 email batches. The first group of emails released totaled a mere 2,100 and not one was from " Richard Windsor ." In a cover letter Ms. Jackson insisted that she only used one government account for EPA business even though this directly contradicted her earlier admission that she used "Richard Windsor" for internal EPA discussions. The release makes clear that the EPA and Jackson have taken to the foxholes and a full denial/stonewalling mode is now in effect. Thus the Competitive Enterprise Institute has brought another action against the EPA in the Appeals Court to force immediate release.

Remember, the EPA has an impact on every American with a tsunami of regulation that is both costly and arguably infringing on our constitutional rights. Moreover the agency has presided over an attempt to bankrupt the coal industry, close coal burning plants, and drive up to cost of motor fuels -- negatively impacting job creation, the economic recovery and America's energy security. The estimated costs of EPA regulations range from $353 billion (Competitive Enterprise Institute) to $460 billion (The American Action Forum) and are growing like a malignant cancer. These costs represent from 20% to 26% of the total cost of US regulations, estimated at $1.75 trillion, and are cited in a World Economic Forum report as a key reason for a sluggish recovery and daunting unemployment. For comparison, these costs are appreciably higher than Health and Human Services regulatory costs estimated at $184.8 billion (the 2nd highest).

The EPA under Jackson's ideological direction has taken a leadership position in exploding these costs. EPA costs have essentially four components direct, myriad enforcement costs, permit action reviews and other non-rule making costs. Yet the EPA in its cost-benefit analyses insists that the benefits of its action s are at worst three dollars in benefits to one in costs. President Obama has stated on the stump that some regulations show returns of benefits to costs at a ratio of 25 to 1. The EPA's analyses essentially only deal with direct costs not the others noted. Moreover many of the assumptions used in the analyses are ludicrous and defy common sense ( see ). Credible sources outside of government emphatically disagree and posit that the EPA almost always under estimates costs and dramatically over estimates benefits. with the true net seldom being a positive.

Recently the EPA has ruled -- without that power being granted by Congress -- that automobile maker fleet mileage standards must rise to 54 miles per gallon (adding costs per vehicle of $2,100 to $3,000). that run-off rain water is a pollutant (vacated by the D.C. Federal Appeals Court). that lands could not be sold if certain wastes were present theoretically to prevent 0.59 cancer cases per year (about 3 cases every 5 years)costing $194 to $219 million annually.

Further "sue and settle", a scam, has become a common tool of the EPA's to impose oppressive mandates on targeted businesses with incalculable costs. To implement the scam, the EPA has an environmental or advocacy group file a suit claiming the federal government has failed to satisfy some EPA regulatory requirement. The EPA can choose to defend itself or settle the suit. The "solution" is to put in place a "court ordered regulation" requested by the advocacy group. neat, relatively fast and illegal.

But more shockingly the EPA doles out hundreds of millions of dollars every year to certain organizations. The funds are awarded with no notice, accountability or competition according to the Government Accountability Office. The monies almost always go to favored entities that in some instances have used the funds for non-environmental purposes.

In sum the EPA, in particular, has severely reduced our nation's competitiveness as measured by the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom . The index places the U.S. behind nations like Chile and Denmark and in tenth place worldwide.

The EPA's record of sleaziness, its disregard for transparency, its lack of basic integrity, its fraudulent estimation of costs/benefits and now its attempt to defy and evade a Federal Court order (and by extension FOIA, mail and wire fraud laws) combines both inbred corruption and serious scandal. Together these faults suggest that it may be time to dismantle the agency.

Other federal agencies, not just the EPA, have exhibited this general penchant for ignoring Congress, the courts, the law and the American people. This systemic and widespread disregard suggests the approval of a higher governmental authority. the office of the President.

The EPA and Ms. Lisa Jackson, its chief, have committed extensive violations of law that should receive in-depth scrutiny from Congress, law enforcement and the American people. Yes the Obama administration has yet another serious scandal on their hands. The scandal features a fantasy administrator, 'Richard Windsor', and 'his' email account . The account was established and used by Ms. Jackson to camouflage controversial EPA processes, discussions, decisions and accountability. To date the known evidence suggests violations of the Freedom of Information Act ( FOIA ), mail and wire fraud laws. Additionally it surfaces another example of the Obama administration's epidemic chicanery with the law, Congress and the Constitution and another failure to keep faith with the American people.

Upon closer inspection the EPA like the GSA and other Obama administration agencies, demonstrates a lack of managerial/administrative control. It also exhibited a culture of obfuscation, malfeasance and corruption that did not blossom overnight. And like other Obama scandals, the mainstream media has again decided to cover it with their much practiced three monkey act.

For perspective a little recent history is in order. Lisa Jackson, who is departing the EPA, stated in November of 2011 that,

". What EPA's role is to do is to level the playing field so that pollution costs are not exported to the population but rather companies have to look at pollution potential of any fuel or any process or any plant or utility when their making investment decisions."

Simply translated Ms. Jackson makes clear that her job and the EPA's are to hurt companies/industries that produce energy counter to the wishes of the Obama administration (and the left's agenda). Ms. Jackson also demonstrates a very low economic IQ, since higher costs incurred by energy companies will be passed to end users/consumers.

Coupling her statement with President Obama's pronouncement of a year ago, i.e. "Where Congress is not willing to act, we're going to go ahead and do it ourselves". exposes his strategy to "legislate" by regulation and executive order (with Jackson and the heads of other agencies helping). Although Obama indicated it would be "nice" to work with Congress, his intentions are to evade the two centuries-old legislative process of the Constitution and impose his will on all Americans. The EPA under Jackson has become a key bludgeon in this political and ideological power grab and has used illegal methods in the effort.

President Obama's inaugural speech noted the environment may receive emphasis during his second term. Obama opined that Americans have an obligation to posterity to "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations". Obama immediately followed with a pitch for sustainable energy, e.g. wind, solar and bio (and more crony capitalism?). Remember this is the man that promoted cap and trade legislation early in his initial term when the economy was " nearing a depression . "

An administration's ability to regulate in the extreme and by executive action has evolved slowly over the past 70 years, gaining momentum after the Reagan years. The Congress and our courts have ceded appreciable power to the Executive branch and government agencies by enacting laws with little oversight and that rely heavily on internal agency inspectors such as the EPA's Inspector General. Further the courts have exhibited discomfort in reining in other government branches unless egregious actions are uncovered. The Supreme Court's twisted logic/argument to find ObamaCare constitutional demonstrates the discomfort.

Now due to a whistleblower and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Christopher Horner's investigative work a federal court (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit) has ruled that the EPA must turn over 12,000 "Richard Windsor" emails in four 3,000 email batches. The first group of emails released totaled a mere 2,100 and not one was from " Richard Windsor ." In a cover letter Ms. Jackson insisted that she only used one government account for EPA business even though this directly contradicted her earlier admission that she used "Richard Windsor" for internal EPA discussions. The release makes clear that the EPA and Jackson have taken to the foxholes and a full denial/stonewalling mode is now in effect. Thus the Competitive Enterprise Institute has brought another action against the EPA in the Appeals Court to force immediate release.

Remember, the EPA has an impact on every American with a tsunami of regulation that is both costly and arguably infringing on our constitutional rights. Moreover the agency has presided over an attempt to bankrupt the coal industry, close coal burning plants, and drive up to cost of motor fuels -- negatively impacting job creation, the economic recovery and America's energy security. The estimated costs of EPA regulations range from $353 billion (Competitive Enterprise Institute) to $460 billion (The American Action Forum) and are growing like a malignant cancer. These costs represent from 20% to 26% of the total cost of US regulations, estimated at $1.75 trillion, and are cited in a World Economic Forum report as a key reason for a sluggish recovery and daunting unemployment. For comparison, these costs are appreciably higher than Health and Human Services regulatory costs estimated at $184.8 billion (the 2nd highest).

The EPA under Jackson's ideological direction has taken a leadership position in exploding these costs. EPA costs have essentially four components direct, myriad enforcement costs, permit action reviews and other non-rule making costs. Yet the EPA in its cost-benefit analyses insists that the benefits of its action s are at worst three dollars in benefits to one in costs. President Obama has stated on the stump that some regulations show returns of benefits to costs at a ratio of 25 to 1. The EPA's analyses essentially only deal with direct costs not the others noted. Moreover many of the assumptions used in the analyses are ludicrous and defy common sense ( see ). Credible sources outside of government emphatically disagree and posit that the EPA almost always under estimates costs and dramatically over estimates benefits. with the true net seldom being a positive.

Recently the EPA has ruled -- without that power being granted by Congress -- that automobile maker fleet mileage standards must rise to 54 miles per gallon (adding costs per vehicle of $2,100 to $3,000). that run-off rain water is a pollutant (vacated by the D.C. Federal Appeals Court). that lands could not be sold if certain wastes were present theoretically to prevent 0.59 cancer cases per year (about 3 cases every 5 years)costing $194 to $219 million annually.

Further "sue and settle", a scam, has become a common tool of the EPA's to impose oppressive mandates on targeted businesses with incalculable costs. To implement the scam, the EPA has an environmental or advocacy group file a suit claiming the federal government has failed to satisfy some EPA regulatory requirement. The EPA can choose to defend itself or settle the suit. The "solution" is to put in place a "court ordered regulation" requested by the advocacy group. neat, relatively fast and illegal.

But more shockingly the EPA doles out hundreds of millions of dollars every year to certain organizations. The funds are awarded with no notice, accountability or competition according to the Government Accountability Office. The monies almost always go to favored entities that in some instances have used the funds for non-environmental purposes.

In sum the EPA, in particular, has severely reduced our nation's competitiveness as measured by the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom . The index places the U.S. behind nations like Chile and Denmark and in tenth place worldwide.

The EPA's record of sleaziness, its disregard for transparency, its lack of basic integrity, its fraudulent estimation of costs/benefits and now its attempt to defy and evade a Federal Court order (and by extension FOIA, mail and wire fraud laws) combines both inbred corruption and serious scandal. Together these faults suggest that it may be time to dismantle the agency.

Other federal agencies, not just the EPA, have exhibited this general penchant for ignoring Congress, the courts, the law and the American people. This systemic and widespread disregard suggests the approval of a higher governmental authority. the office of the President.


Recommended Reading

Quiz: They Said What?

The War on Bollywood

The Minister of Chaos

In March, when Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas told a Rotary Club meeting that he thought President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee deserved a Senate hearing, the Tea Party Patriots immediately responded with what has become activists’ go-to threat: “It’s this kind of outrageous behavior that leads Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund activists and supporters to think seriously about encouraging Dr. Milton Wolf”—a physician and Tea Party activist—“to run against Sen. Moran in the August GOP primary.” (Moran hastened to issue a statement saying that he would oppose Obama’s nominee regardless.) Purist issue groups often have the whip hand now, and unlike the elected bosses of yore, they are accountable only to themselves and are able merely to prevent legislative action, not to organize it.

We reformed political money. Starting in the 1970s, large-dollar donations to candidates and parties were subject to a tightening web of regulations. The idea was to reduce corruption (or its appearance) and curtail the power of special interests—certainly laudable goals. Campaign-finance rules did stop some egregious transactions, but at a cost: Instead of eliminating money from politics (which is impossible), the rules diverted much of it to private channels. Whereas the parties themselves were once largely responsible for raising and spending political money, in their place has arisen a burgeoning ecology of deep-pocketed donors, super pac s, 501(c)(4)s, and so-called 527 groups that now spend hundreds of millions of dollars each cycle. The result has been the creation of an array of private political machines across the country: for instance, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads on the right, and Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate on the left.

Private groups are much harder to regulate, less transparent, and less accountable than are the parties and candidates, who do, at the end of the day, have to face the voters. Because they thrive on purism, protest, and parochialism, the outside groups are driving politics toward polarization, extremism, and short-term gain. “You may win or lose, but at least you have been intellectually consistent—your principles haven’t been defeated,” an official with Americans for Prosperity told The Economist in October 2014. The parties, despite being called to judgment by voters for their performance, face all kinds of constraints and regulations that the private groups don’t, tilting the playing field against them. “The internal conversation we’ve been having is ‘How do we keep state parties alive?’ ” the director of a mountain-state Democratic Party organization told me and Raymond J. La Raja recently for a Brookings Institution report. Republicans told us the same story. “We believe we are fighting for our lives in the current legal and judicial framework, and the super pac s and (c)(4)s really present a direct threat to the state parties’ existence,” a southern state’s Republican Party director said.

The state parties also told us they can’t begin to match the advertising money flowing from outside groups and candidates. Weakened by regulations and resource constraints, they have been reduced to spectators, while candidates and groups form circular firing squads and alienate voters. At the national level, the situation is even more chaotic—and ripe for exploitation by a savvy demagogue who can make himself heard above the din, as Donald Trump has so shrewdly proved.

We reformed Congress. For a long time, seniority ruled on Capitol Hill. To exercise power, you had to wait for years, and chairs ran their committees like fiefs. It was an arrangement that hardly seemed either meritocratic or democratic. Starting with a rebellion by the liberal post-Watergate class in the ’70s, and then accelerating with the rise of Newt Gingrich and his conservative revolutionaries in the ’90s, the seniority and committee systems came under attack and withered. Power on the Hill has flowed both up to a few top leaders and down to individual members. Unfortunately, the reformers overlooked something important: Seniority and committee spots rewarded teamwork and loyalty, they ensured that people at the top were experienced, and they harnessed hundreds of middle-ranking members of Congress to the tasks of legislating. Compounding the problem, Gingrich’s Republican revolutionaries, eager to prove their anti-Washington bona fides, cut committee staffs by a third, further diminishing Congress’s institutional horsepower.

Congress’s attempts to replace hierarchies and middlemen with top-down diktat and ad hoc working groups have mostly failed. More than perhaps ever before, Congress today is a collection of individual entrepreneurs and pressure groups. In the House, disintermediation has shifted the balance of power toward a small but cohesive minority of conservative Freedom Caucus members who think nothing of wielding their power against their own leaders. Last year, as House Republicans struggled to agree on a new speaker, the conservatives did not blush at demanding “the right to oppose their leaders and vote down legislation without repercussions,” as Time magazine reported. In the Senate, Ted Cruz made himself a leading presidential contender by engaging in debt-limit brinkmanship and deriding the party’s leadership, going so far as to call Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor. “The rhetoric—and confrontational stance—are classic Cruz,” wrote Burgess Everett in Politico last October: “Stake out a position to the right of where his leaders will end up, criticize them for ignoring him and conservative grass-roots voters, then use the ensuing internecine fight to stoke his presidential bid.” No wonder his colleagues detest him. But Cruz was doing what makes sense in an age of maximal political individualism, and we can safely bet that his success will inspire imitation.

We reformed closed-door negotiations. As recently as the early 1970s, congressional committees could easily retreat behind closed doors and members could vote on many bills anonymously, with only the final tallies reported. Federal advisory committees, too, could meet off the record. Understandably, in the wake of Watergate, those practices came to be viewed as suspect. Today, federal law, congressional rules, and public expectations have placed almost all formal deliberations and many informal ones in full public view. One result is greater transparency, which is good. But another result is that finding space for delicate negotiations and candid deliberations can be difficult. Smoke-filled rooms, whatever their disadvantages, were good for brokering complex compromises in which nothing was settled until everything was settled once gone, they turned out to be difficult to replace. In public, interest groups and grandstanding politicians can tear apart a compromise before it is halfway settled.

Despite promising to televise negotiations over health-care reform, President Obama went behind closed doors with interest groups to put the package together no sane person would have negotiated in full public view. In 2013, Congress succeeded in approving a modest bipartisan budget deal in large measure because the House and Senate Budget Committee chairs were empowered to “figure it out themselves, very, very privately,” as one Democratic aide told Jill Lawrence for a 2015 Brookings report. TV cameras, recorded votes, and public markups do increase transparency, but they come at the cost of complicating candid conversations. “The idea that Washington would work better if there were TV cameras monitoring every conversation gets it exactly wrong,” the Democratic former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle wrote in 2014, in his foreword to the book City of Rivals. “The lack of opportunities for honest dialogue and creative give-and-take lies at the root of today’s dysfunction.”

We reformed pork. For most of American history, a principal goal of any member of Congress was to bring home bacon for his district. Pork-barrel spending never really cost very much, and it helped glue Congress together by giving members a kind of currency to trade: You support my pork, and I’ll support yours. Also, because pork was dispensed by powerful appropriations committees with input from senior congressional leaders, it provided a handy way for the leadership to buy votes and reward loyalists. Starting in the ’70s, however, and then snowballing in the ’90s, the regular appropriations process broke down, a casualty of reforms that weakened appropriators’ power, of “sunshine laws” that reduced their autonomy, and of polarization that complicated negotiations. Conservatives and liberals alike attacked pork-barreling as corrupt, culminating in early 2011, when a strange-bedfellows coalition of Tea Partiers and progressives banned earmarking, the practice of dropping goodies into bills as a way to attract votes—including, ironically, votes for politically painful spending reductions.

Congress has not passed all its annual appropriations bills in 20 years, and more than $300 billion a year in federal spending goes out the door without proper authorization. Routine business such as passing a farm bill or a surface-transportation bill now takes years instead of weeks or months to complete. Today two-thirds of federal-program spending (excluding interest on the national debt) runs on formula-driven autopilot. This automatic spending by so-called entitlement programs eludes the discipline of being regularly voted on, dwarfs old-fashioned pork in magnitude, and is so hard to restrain that it’s often called the “third rail” of politics. The political cost has also been high: Congressional leaders lost one of their last remaining tools to induce followership and team play. “Trying to be a leader where you have no sticks and very few carrots is dang near impossible,” the Republican former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told CNN in 2013, shortly after renegade Republicans pointlessly shut down the government. “Members don’t get anything from you and leaders don’t give anything. They don’t feel like you can reward them or punish them.”

Donald Trump had no political debts or party loyalty. And he had no compunctions—which made him the perfect vector for anti-establishment sentiment. (John Bazemore / AP)

Like campaign contributions and smoke-filled rooms, pork is a tool of democratic governance, not a violation of it. It can be used for corrupt purposes but also, very often, for vital ones. As the political scientist Diana Evans wrote in a 2004 book, Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress, “The irony is this: pork barreling, despite its much maligned status, gets things done.” In 1964, to cite one famous example, Lyndon Johnson could not have passed his landmark civil-rights bill without support from House Republican leader Charles Halleck of Indiana, who named his price: a nasa research grant for his district, which LBJ was glad to provide. Just last year, Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked how his committee managed to pass bipartisan authorization bills year after year, even as the rest of Congress ground to a legislative standstill. In part, McCain explained, it was because “there’s a lot in there for members of the committees.”

Party-dominated nominating processes, soft money, congressional seniority, closed-door negotiations, pork-barrel spending—put each practice under a microscope in isolation, and it seems an unsavory way of doing political business. But sweep them all away, and one finds that business is not getting done at all. The political reforms of the past 40 or so years have pushed toward disintermediation—by favoring amateurs and outsiders over professionals and insiders by privileging populism and self-expression over mediation and mutual restraint by stripping middlemen of tools they need to organize the political system. All of the reforms promote an individualistic, atomized model of politics in which there are candidates and there are voters, but there is nothing in between. Other, larger trends, to be sure, have also contributed to political disorganization, but the war on middlemen has amplified and accelerated them.

Pathogens

Donald Trump and other viruses

By the beginning of this decade, the political system’s organic defenses against outsiders and insurgents were visibly crumbling. All that was needed was for the right virus to come along and exploit the opening. As it happened, two came along.

In 2009, on the heels of President Obama’s election and the economic-bailout packages, angry fiscal conservatives launched the Tea Party insurgency and watched, somewhat to their own astonishment, as it swept the country. Tea Partiers shared some of the policy predilections of loyal Republican partisans, but their mind-set was angrily anti-establishment. In a 2013 Pew Research poll, more than 70 percent of them disapproved of Republican leaders in Congress. In a 2010 Pew poll, they had rejected compromise by similar margins. They thought nothing of mounting primary challenges against Republican incumbents, and they made a special point of targeting Republicans who compromised with Democrats or even with Republican leaders. In Congress, the Republican House leadership soon found itself facing a GOP caucus whose members were too worried about “getting primaried” to vote for the compromises necessary to govern—or even to keep the government open. Threats from the Tea Party and other purist factions often outweigh any blandishments or protection that leaders can offer.

So far the Democrats have been mostly spared the anti-compromise insurrection, but their defenses are not much stronger. Molly Ball recently reported for The Atlantic’s Web site on the Working Families Party, whose purpose is “to make Democratic politicians more accountable to their liberal base through the asymmetric warfare party primaries enable, much as the conservative movement has done to Republicans.” Because African Americans and union members still mostly behave like party loyalists, and because the Democratic base does not want to see President Obama fail, the Tea Party trick hasn’t yet worked on the left. But the Democrats are vulnerable structurally, and the anti-compromise virus is out there.

A second virus was initially identified in 2002, by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln political scientists John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, in their book Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work. It’s a shocking book, one whose implications other scholars were understandably reluctant to engage with. The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, however, makes confronting its thesis unavoidable.

Using polls and focus groups, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse found that between 25 and 40 percent of Americans (depending on how one measures) have a severely distorted view of how government and politics are supposed to work. I think of these people as “politiphobes,” because they see the contentious give-and-take of politics as unnecessary and distasteful. Specifically, they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested, or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding. Not surprisingly, politiphobes think the obvious, commonsense solutions are the sorts of solutions that they themselves prefer. But the more important point is that they do not acknowledge that meaningful policy disagreement even exists. From that premise, they conclude that all the arguing and partisanship and horse-trading that go on in American politics are entirely unnecessary. Politicians could easily solve all our problems if they would only set aside their craven personal agendas.

If politicians won’t do the job, then who will? Politiphobes, according to Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, believe policy should be made not by messy political conflict and negotiations but by ensid s: empathetic, non-self-interested decision makers. These are leaders who will step forward, cast aside cowardly politicians and venal special interests, and implement long-overdue solutions. ensid s can be politicians, technocrats, or autocrats—whatever works. Whether the process is democratic is not particularly important.

Chances are that politiphobes have been out there since long before Hibbing and Theiss-Morse identified them in 2002. Unlike the Tea Party or the Working Families Party, they aren’t particularly ideological: They have popped up left, right, and center. Ross Perot’s independent presidential candidacies of 1992 and 1996 appealed to the idea that any sensible businessman could knock heads together and fix Washington. In 2008, Barack Obama pandered to a center-left version of the same fantasy, promising to magically transcend partisan politics and implement the best solutions from both parties.

No previous outbreak, however, compares with the latest one, which draws unprecedented virulence from two developments. One is a steep rise in antipolitical sentiment, especially on the right. According to polling by Pew, from 2007 to early 2016 the percentage of Americans saying they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who had been an elected official in Washington for many years than for an outsider candidate more than doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent. Republican opinion has shifted more sharply still: The percentage of Republicans preferring “new ideas and a different approach” over “experience and a proven record” almost doubled in just the six months from March to September of 2015.

The other development, of course, was Donald Trump, the perfect vector to concentrate politiphobic sentiment, intensify it, and inject it into presidential politics. He had too much money and free media to be spent out of the race. He had no political record to defend. He had no political debts or party loyalty. He had no compunctions. There was nothing to restrain him from sounding every note of the politiphobic fantasy with perfect pitch.

Democrats have not been immune, either. Like Trump, Bernie Sanders appealed to the antipolitical idea that the mere act of voting for him would prompt a “revolution” that would somehow clear up such knotty problems as health-care coverage, financial reform, and money in politics. Like Trump, he was a self-sufficient outsider without customary political debts or party loyalty. Like Trump, he neither acknowledged nor cared—because his supporters neither acknowledged nor cared—that his plans for governing were delusional.

Trump, Sanders, and Ted Cruz have in common that they are political sociopaths—meaning not that they are crazy, but that they don’t care what other politicians think about their behavior and they don’t need to care. That three of the four final presidential contenders in 2016 were political sociopaths is a sign of how far chaos syndrome has gone. The old, mediated system selected such people out. The new, disintermediated system seems to be selecting them in.

Symptoms

The disorder that exacerbates all other disorders

There is nothing new about political insurgencies in the United States—nor anything inherently wrong with them. Just the opposite, in fact: Insurgencies have brought fresh ideas and renewed participation to the political system since at least the time of Andrew Jackson.

There is also nothing new about insiders losing control of the presidential nominating process. In 1964 and 1972, to the dismay of party regulars, nominations went to unelectable candidates—Barry Goldwater for the Republicans in 1964 and George McGovern for the Democrats in 1972—who thrilled the parties’ activist bases and went on to predictably epic defeats. So it’s tempting to say, “Democracy is messy. Insurgents have fair gripes. Incumbents should be challenged. Who are you, Mr. Establishment, to say the system is broken merely because you don’t like the people it is pushing forward?”

The problem is not, however, that disruptions happen. The problem is that chaos syndrome wreaks havoc on the system’s ability to absorb and channel disruptions. Trying to quash political disruptions would probably only create more of them. The trick is to be able to govern through them.

Leave aside the fact that Goldwater and McGovern, although ideologues, were estimable figures within their parties. (McGovern actually co-chaired a Democratic Party commission that rewrote the nominating rules after 1968, opening the way for his own campaign.) Neither of them, either as senator or candidate, wanted to or did disrupt the ordinary workings of government.

Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and the author of City of Rivals, likes to point out that within three weeks of Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives, the president was signing new laws again. “While they were impeaching him they were negotiating, they were talking, they were having committee hearings,” Grumet said in a recent speech. “And so we have to ask ourselves, what is it that not long ago allowed our government to metabolize the aggression that is inherent in any pluralistic society and still get things done?”

I have been covering Washington since the early 1980s, and I’ve seen a lot of gridlock. Sometimes I’ve been grateful for gridlock, which is an appropriate outcome when there is no working majority for a particular policy. For me, however, 2011 brought a wake-up call. The system was failing even when there was a working majority. That year, President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner, in intense personal negotiations, tried to clinch a budget agreement that touched both parties’ sacred cows, curtailing growth in the major entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security by hundreds of billions of dollars and increasing revenues by $800 billion or more over 10 years, as well as reducing defense and nondefense discretionary spending by more than $1 trillion. Though it was less grand than previous budgetary “grand bargains,” the package represented the kind of bipartisan accommodation that constitutes the federal government’s best and perhaps only path to long-term fiscal stability.

Former House Speaker John Boehner explained to Jay Leno before he resigned: “You learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.” (Steve Helber / AP)

People still debate why the package fell apart, and there is blame enough to go around. My own reading at the time, however, concurred with Matt Bai’s postmortem in The New York Times: Democratic leaders could have found the rank-and-file support they needed to pass the bargain, but Boehner could not get the deal past conservatives in his own caucus. “What’s undeniable, despite all the furious efforts to peddle a different story,” Bai wrote, “is that Obama managed to persuade his closest allies to sign off on what he wanted them to do, and Boehner didn’t, or couldn’t.” We’ll never know, but I believe that the kind of budget compromise Boehner and Obama tried to shake hands on, had it reached a vote, would have passed with solid majorities in both chambers and been signed into law. The problem was not polarization it was disorganization. A latent majority could not muster and assert itself.

As soon became apparent, Boehner’s 2011 debacle was not a glitch but part of an emerging pattern. Two years later, the House’s conservative faction shut down the government with the connivance of Ted Cruz, the very last thing most Republicans wanted to happen. When Boehner was asked by Jay Leno why he had permitted what the speaker himself called a “very predictable disaster,” he replied, rather poignantly: “When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. You learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.”

Boehner was right. Washington doesn’t have a crisis of leadership it has a crisis of followership. One can argue about particulars, and Congress does better on some occasions than on others. Overall, though, minority factions and veto groups are becoming ever more dominant on Capitol Hill as leaders watch their organizational capacity dribble away. Helpless to do much more than beg for support, and hostage to his own party’s far right, an exhausted Boehner finally gave up and quit last year. Almost immediately, his heir apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, was shot to pieces too. No wonder Paul Ryan, in his first act as speaker, remonstrated with his own colleagues against chaos.

Nevertheless, by spring the new speaker was bogged down. “Almost six months into the job, Ryan and his top lieutenants face questions about whether the Wisconsin Republican’s tenure atop the House is any more effective than his predecessor,” Politico’s Web site reported in April. The House Republican Conference, an unnamed Republican told Politico, is “unwhippable and unleadable. Ryan is as talented as you can be: There’s nobody better. But even he can’t do anything. Who could?”

Of course, Congress’s incompetence makes the electorate even more disgusted, which leads to even greater political volatility. In a Republican presidential debate in March, Ohio Governor John Kasich described the cycle this way: The people, he said, “want change, and they keep putting outsiders in to bring about the change. Then the change doesn’t come … because we’re putting people in that don’t understand compromise.” Disruption in politics and dysfunction in government reinforce each other. Chaos becomes the new normal.

Being a disorder of the immune system, chaos syndrome magnifies other problems, turning political head colds into pneumonia. Take polarization. Over the past few decades, the public has become sharply divided across partisan and ideological lines. Chaos syndrome compounds the problem, because even when Republicans and Democrats do find something to work together on, the threat of an extremist primary challenge funded by a flood of outside money makes them think twice—or not at all. Opportunities to make bipartisan legislative advances slip away.

Or take the new technologies that are revolutionizing the media. Today, a figure like Trump can reach millions through Twitter without needing to pass network‑TV gatekeepers or spend a dime. A figure like Sanders can use the Internet to reach millions of donors without recourse to traditional fund-raising sources. Outside groups, friendly and unfriendly alike, can drown out political candidates in their own races. (As a frustrated Cruz told a supporter about outside groups ostensibly backing his presidential campaign, “I’m left to just hope that what they say bears some resemblance to what I actually believe.”) Disruptive media technologies are nothing new in American politics they have arisen periodically since the early 19th century, as the historian Jill Lepore noted in a February article in The New Yorker. What is new is the system’s difficulty in coping with them. Disintermediating technologies bring fresh voices into the fray, but they also bring atomization and cacophony. To organize coherent plays amid swarms of attack ads, middlemen need to be able to coordinate the fund-raising and messaging of candidates and parties and activists—which is what they are increasingly hard-pressed to do.

Assembling power to govern a sprawling, diverse, and increasingly divided democracy is inevitably hard. Chaos syndrome makes it all the harder. For Democrats, the disorder is merely chronic for the Republican Party, it is acute. Finding no precedent for what he called Trump’s hijacking of an entire political party, Jon Meacham went so far as to tell Joe Scarborough in The Washington Post that George W. Bush might prove to be the last Republican president.

Nearly everyone panned party regulars for not stopping Trump much earlier, but no one explained just how the party regulars were supposed to have done that. Stopping an insurgency requires organizing a coalition against it, but an incapacity to organize is the whole problem. The reality is that the levers and buttons parties and political professionals might once have pulled and pushed had long since been disconnected.

Prognosis and Treatment

Chaos syndrome as a psychiatric disorder

I don’t have a quick solution to the current mess, but I do think it would be easy, in principle, to start moving in a better direction. Although returning parties and middlemen to anything like their 19th-century glory is not conceivable—or, in today’s America, even desirable—strengthening parties and middlemen is very doable. Restrictions inhibiting the parties from coordinating with their own candidates serve to encourage political wildcatting, so repeal them. Limits on donations to the parties drive money to unaccountable outsiders, so lift them. Restoring the earmarks that help grease legislative success requires nothing more than a change in congressional rules. And there are all kinds of ways the parties could move insiders back to the center of the nomination process. If they wanted to, they could require would-be candidates to get petition signatures from elected officials and county party chairs, or they could send unbound delegates to their conventions (as several state parties are doing this year), or they could enhance the role of middlemen in a host of other ways.

Building party machines and political networks is what career politicians naturally do, if they’re allowed to do it. So let them. I’m not talking about rigging the system to exclude challengers or prevent insurgencies. I’m talking about de-rigging the system to reduce its pervasive bias against middlemen. Then they can do their job, thereby making the world safe for challengers and insurgencies.

Unfortunately, although the mechanics of de-rigging are fairly straightforward, the politics of it are hard. The public is wedded to an anti-establishment narrative. The political-reform community is invested in direct participation, transparency, fund-raising limits on parties, and other elements of the anti-intermediation worldview. The establishment, to the extent that there still is such a thing, is demoralized and shattered, barely able to muster an argument for its own existence.

But there are optimistic signs, too. Liberals in the campaign-finance-reform community are showing new interest in strengthening the parties. Academics and commentators are getting a good look at politics without effective organizers and cohesive organizations, and they are terrified. On Capitol Hill, conservatives and liberals alike are on board with restoring regular order in Congress. In Washington, insiders have had some success at reorganizing and pushing back. No Senate Republican was defeated by a primary challenger in 2014, in part because then–Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a machine politician par excellence, created a network of business allies to counterpunch against the Tea Party.

The biggest obstacle, I think, is the general public’s reflexive, unreasoning hostility to politicians and the process of politics. Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry. Because that problem is mental, not mechanical, it really is hard to remedy.