In many big cities, corruption seems to be just the name of the game. Greased palms, kickbacks, nepotism, cronyism, bribes the whole kit and kaboodle is just everyday life.
People in those cities accept that it's who you know and who you bribe that matters, not right or wrong. And besides, the system works, so what does it really matter anyway?
It's rather sad really, that anyone would or should see things that way, particularly when it seems this sort of corruption is making it's way to the national level.
See, public servants are exactly that — servants of the public who pay their salaries. We expect that the guy who bags groceries at the local supermarket will get exactly the same consideration as the guy who owns the local supermarket when he goes down to city hall or the county courthouse. It's not relevant who you know or how much money you have.
This is the essence of America and the rule of law — everyone is equal before the law. Remember that statue of Lady Justice? The one former Attorney General John Ashcroft had draped with a cloth because it had one bare breast? That statue has its eyes covered and is called "blind justice." In America we are not supposed to care about the color of your skin or the money in your pocket — just the law.
The problem is that the sort of corruption we seen in cities like Chicago, or Detroit, or New Orleans — for that matter in states like Illinois (Rob Blagojevich anyone?) or Louisiana is that it undermines that rule of law.
Look, that bureaucracies run on favors is a given — and not really a problem so long as it doesn't get out of hand — and those favors don't involve breaking the law. Come to that most lines of work run on favors to some degree. This is reality.
And again, so long as it doesn't get out of hand it's not really an issue.
However, when citizens know they can bribe a health or building inspector to ignore violations, or pay off a cop to ignore their drug deals, or a city official to pass regulations favorable to them — then it's a problem. Then we begin to undermine the very fabric of our society — or any society.
You see a society, whether it's a collection of mud huts or a continent-spanning nation like the U.S., is held together by simple trust. When that is gone, when people can't trust their officials, they begin to distrust each other. Once you reach the point of no one trusting anyone else, well then, things start to unravel fast. We're not there yet. However, as a nation we're getting there. People have very little trust in their elected officials on either side of the aisle. Conservatives retain more trust in the actual office holders, but little in the institutions of government (which goes along with conservative philosophy in general, we tend to trust individuals, not bureaucracies, it is possible for a man to have honor, it is not possible for a government to do so.) Liberals tend to retain trust in the institutions, but not so much the individuals.
What is key is that we must put honest, honorable people in office. If we don't do that, there's little point in continuing this experiment called "America."
All IMHO, of course.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.