The Top Nine Developments that Defined the Struggle Between Plutocracy and Democracy in 2015

Those who have successfully tracked the telltale footprints of causality back from 1) the United States’ growing economic disparity, along with 2) its systemically dysfunctional domestic and foreign policies, through 3) the decline of democracy from 4) the rise of systemically corrupt politics, to 5) the root problem of legalization of special interest money in politics will be aware of an approaching date worth noting. This month is the fortieth anniversary of Buckley v Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision which legalized corruption with its novel “money is speech” formula.

January 1976 is to plutocracy in the United States what July 1776 was to democracy. As a charter for corrupt tyranny, Buckley is no occasion for public celebration. That it has reached middle age and never felt stronger, however, should not go unremarked.

This article notes the occasion by taking score of the most important events over the past year that expand or limit the damage traceable to Buckley. Some of the developments are positive, some negative; some are obvious or well-known, some are barely heard of. Each makes the list because of its strategic importance. The list provides a snapshot of how the country is dealing (or not) with the continuation of Buckley’s bizarre experiment in legalizing political corruption after two generations.

Those subjected the longest to Buckley corruption are in about the same situation as those who at the end of the 1950’s had lived under “red scare” anti-communism ideology for two generations, just before a new generation revived democracy by rejecting that purported cure as far more dangerous than the disease.

The “money is speech” formula imposed by illegitimate judicial supremacy for the purpose of overthrowing democracy is just another such empty ideology designed by elites from a distorted self-serving understanding of “freedom.” This ideology will be overturned by a new generation that rejects both the ideology and the authority of its authors to impose the treason against the Constitution upon an unwilling public that the systemic corruption of special interest money in politics was mandated by the founders.

Polls consistently show that overwhelming majorities understand that “money has too much influence” in politics. What is clearly not yet widely understood is an effective strategy for getting money out of politics. See ## 6-8. Therefore the criteria for making this summary of the year’s developments is the significance of each item for such strategy.

This list attributes no value to the manipulation of emotional support by vivid repetitive recitation of the appalling magnitude of the nation’s general welfare that is being sold out by the Buckley plutocracy. It is sufficient for strategic purposes to know that Buckley‘s legalization of political corruption under its “money is speech” formula has caused the United States to become systemically corrupt. Systemic corruption is entirely different in kind from even widespread individual acts of corruption, such as those seen during “the depth of … criminality and abuse of power” of Nixon’s presidency. Prior to 1976 political corruption, even by the highest officials, could be punished when detected. The consequence of legalizing political corruption can be generally measured by the country’s extreme and growing economic inequality since 1976, which marked the highpoint of equality since at least the first Gilded Age (Table 4).

The rackets that produce economic disparities are now limited only by the imagination of those holding the strings. There is no shortage of information about the corrupt influence of money in politics, nor are there significant gaps in the general public understanding of that information, as demonstrated by the mentioned polls. If fresh evidence of the magnitude of corruption is sought, the reader is invited to consult, for example, the author’s recent article, “Rackets Science” about Obama’s 2014 and 2015 Omnibus appropriations acts.

Not so widely discussed, but critically essential for achieving reform, is the strategic information presented in the following list of last year’s most significant gains and losses in the struggle between democracy and plutocracy.

#1. Campaign: The Most Corrupt of the Century.   The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon (2014) decision multiplied the amount of money that plutocrats can cumulatively invest directly in politicians and parties by almost 3000%, to around $3.6 million per election cycle. In the year-end “CRomnibus” Act of 2014, corrupt and hypocritical Congressional Democrats, led by President Obama, increased the amount that plutocrats can give to parties by about 1000%, for a total potential rake by politicians of about $5.1 million per plutocrat.

In 2015, this outrageous new “limit” permitted fewer plutocrats to attempt to buy more policy by controlling presidential nominations than was legal for the previous four elections of this century, and probably since “Dollar” Mark Hanna bought two elections for President William McKinley at the height of the Gilded Age. Unlike most of the unlimited “independent” corporate expenditures made indirectly under Citizens United (2010), these direct political investments by individuals are reportable. Citizens United money can be and is kept secret by funneling it through “dark money” channels.

The symbol of this new concentration of plutocratic power in 2015, based on reportable data, is that 158 families “each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30 … while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election — the vast majority of it supporting Republicans.” Where a bought majority of politicians rule, it only takes “over half the money” from fewer than 400 families to buy control of U.S. elections and policy, both state and federal.

This concentration of political power newly demonstrated in 2015 is far greater than that of the English aristocrats that the founders revolted against in 1776, and is probably greater than anything seen in the United States since then.

#2. Campaign: The Bern Factor.   An Independent who is in every respect as different from Democratic Party leadership as Vermont is from Chicago, has run an effective campaign against the Party that Barack Obama will leave even more corrupt than he found it. Polls show Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in the race. If he can draw Independent voters into the Democratic primary process he will win the nomination and go on to beat any Republican.

Sanders’ victory is strategically essential. A systemically corrupt government can only be reformed from the top down. Every year it is postponed, the task becomes more difficult. Sanders has pledged to appoint justices who will not overturn anti-corruption laws on specious grounds, which is how systemic corruption got started with Buckley v Valeo (1976). Unlike Obama, President Sanders would appoint an attorney general to aggressively enforce anti-corruption laws. Moreover, the power of the presidency is far greater than Obama pretends it to be, in his assiduous defense of the corrupt status quo. President Sanders could force Congress to take action against the corruption of money in politics, if he retains public support into the 2018 midterms. See #8.

For every previous crisis in U.S. democracy caused by a U.S. Supreme Court majority of judicial supremacists acting on behalf of racist oligarchs or greedy plutocrats, it was a president, whether Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt or F.D. Roosevelt who warned against and stood up to the Court in defense of democracy. Bernie Sanders’ election to the presidency is the essential first step for the United States to begin recovering its democracy from the current grip of plutocrats who are financing the most corrupt campaign, perhaps, in world history in order to beat him.

#3. Campaign: The Others.   An indication of the influence of Bernie Sanders’ campaign against the political corruption in which both parties are otherwise deeply mired is that Hillary Clinton, the icon of corrupt Democrats, has in response developed detailed anti-corruption proposals as a pillar of her own campaign.   Even if her proposed reforms are carefully crafted to be so piecemeal in nature that they could easily make the corruption worse rather than better, it is as unusual for a plutocrat to debate plutocracy as it is for a fish to debate water. See #4.

Even more interesting in reflecting the public mood about plutocracy is the Republican side, where polls consistently show that the plutocratic congressional leadership’s unrelenting promotion of even more money in politics contradicts the views of a majority of their own constituents. This has produced the remarkable congruence between Donald Trump’s private interest in free promotion of his brand name in service of his “business model … in which he makes money by harnessing his celebrity brand” and Republican voters who believe that in Trump they are getting a plutocrat who both thinks like them (one of Trump’s arts of the deal) and is too fat a cat himself to fit into the pocket of other plutocrats.

No one can promote the Trump brand better than Trump. The more Trump’s unscripted remarks designed for advertising his brand also prove to his followers that he is not a vacuous creature of paid political consultants, the stronger both their public support and his private brand become. This sweet spot of tactics and interests for the leader also explains the souring of the Bush family (it’s nothing personal Jeb) whose three generations of service to the plutocracy has finally been sussed out by the social-conservative base.

The issue of plutocracy has thus intruded into the top of both parties’ ballots. This has unsettled the plutocracy’s expectations for the first time since Buckley replanted its noxious seeds.   The last democratically elected president, “Jimmy Who?” Carter was able to come from nowhere to win by a 2-1 margin over the runner-up in the gate-keeping Iowa caucuses just 11 days before the Supreme Court issued the Buckley decision on January 30, 1976. Before his presidency was inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol the next year, democracy had already left the building in retreat from the new systemic corruption. Now Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal puzzles about the “total weirdness of the 2016 campaign” where the establishment candidates of both parties are disliked by the voters.

#4 Obama. The “hope” salesman was not required to make the kind of concrete proposals that Clinton put in front of the public in 2015 in order to appear legitimate. The experience with Obama prompted many to get it in writing this time.

Obama got away with vague claims to be “tired of business as usual in Washington,” and seeming sincere in pledging to “fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.” But in his actions on the subject of money in politics Obama has consistently either defended the corrupt status quo or made it much worse.

In 2015 Obama hung tough for plutocracy by resisting mounting pressure from professional activists that he issue administrative regulations mandating the disclosure of independent “dark money” corporate contributions. Especially those made by government contractors are responsible for a large share of government corruption. As one report charged, Obama had resisted for the previous five years exercising his legal authority to make this promised reform. In 2015 he ran out of excuses for failing to keep his campaign promise, after the prestigious DC Circuit unanimously upheld in Wagner (2015) the underlying law prohibiting all election expenditures by government contractors, a law which Obama has failed to enforce in violation of his constitutional duties. See (Ch. 2)

Obama’s opposition to reform of money in politics was demonstrated again in his CRomnibus II Act, where in apparent response to Wagner he obtained a law (for which he thanked Paul Ryan) which abrogated the president’s existing powers to force disclosure of political investments by government contractors, other corporations and the non-profits used for channeling dark money. Now Prsident Sanders cannot fulfill his campaign promise to end dark money expenditures without first getting the permission of the beneficiaries in Congress.

Obama’s hopeless performance in 2015 proved again that his scheduled exit can only help the recovery of democracy. Corruption at the top prevents effective systemic reform. There has been none under Obama. The question is who will replace him.

#5  Supreme Court. The news from the Supreme Court in 2015 was that it paused its annual pillage of anti-corruption laws in order to engage in some PR symbolism and tactical alliances. In Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (2015)(5-4), Chief Justice John Roberts, but only Roberts, abandoned his eponymous gang of five marauders to join two unlikely allies in placing window dressing on the plutocracy jurisprudence that the Roberts Court has been developing mostly under his name for a decade.

By joining what would normally have been four dissenters from just one more predictably outrageous pro-corruption decision by the Roberts 5, Roberts got to write a majority decision notionally restricting campaign contributions, while confining the ruling to its narrowest possible reach. Roberts held that judges seeking handouts “cannot say, ‘Please give me money.’ They can, however, direct their campaign committees to do so,” and then after receiving the money also say “thanks” to the contributor. This is the kind of formal distinction without any practical difference which Roberts’ likes to use to serve his PR needs.

Veteran Court-watcher Lyle Deniston called Roberts’ decision “a quite modest retreat from the Supreme Court’s full support for the free and massive flow of money into American politics.” A commenter in the Atlantic more finely estimated the degree of that modesty by observing that Roberts’ “opinion upheld a very narrow reform measure, but at the same time made further reforms marginally harder to enact.”

Justice Ginsburg dissented from The Florida Bar for some of the same strong general principles on which she had dissented from Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002). White was the first case to decide that elected judges should be auctioned just as politicians are, under the same “money is speech” rules for legalized bribery.

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent from White, arguing that judges serve a governmental role entirely different from politicians and so should not be selling their decisions, attracted four votes in 2002. The worst news from the Supreme Court in The Florida Bar was not the narrow basis for Roberts’ opinion which serves to confirm White. It was that he recruited the two Obama appointees, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, to his position. Obama’s appointees deserted Justice Ginsburg’s highly cogent restatement of her dissent in White in favor of joining Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation of White’s prohibition of any practically effective restraints on corruptive judicial fundraising.

This development should be troubling for those relying on the strategy of new appointments to the Court by establishment Democrats like Obama or Clinton to some day solve the problem of money in politics. Seven judges now believe that even the elected judiciary should be subject to the full-bore corruption mandated by the Supreme Court for politicians. This suggests that a shift in balance by a new judicial appointment or two will be insufficient to restore democracy. The president who raised the most money of any president in history has already done too much damage to the Court, as he has to the law, to expect the Court’s “money is speech” jurisprudence to be so easily changed.

This recruitment of Obama’s judges to the Roberts’ dark side helps explain why, on this mostly symbolic decision having no real impact one way or the other on the ongoing corruption of state judiciaries, Roberts made his rare shift of sides to the minority Democrat faction. The shift may have been to strategically capture these two votes, in addition to the Roberts 5, for approving judicial corruption in principle even if his new allies took offense at the unseemly symbolism of direct personal solicitation by judges in The Florida Bar.

As some small consolation, unexpected schadenfreude can be derived as the three dissenters, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy, for the first time – instead of simply manufacturing new constitutional law on demand – wander in different directions seeking to rebuild arguments on the foundations of the “money is speech” proposition in Buckley, which foundations are non-existent because Buckley uses only shell-game logic.

The ongoing corruption of the judiciary, only reinforced by the The Florida Bar, tolls the bell on the rule of law, without which democracy cannot survive.

6 Professional Activists: The Amendment Diversion. With credit to political scientist Courtney Jung, Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy (2015), who claims the “breast is best” movement was driven by profiteering and shoddy research, her catchy neologism for perverse activism is borrowed here to encompass a broader, not dissimilar, phenomenon. “Lactivists” provides a single descriptive word for professional activists who purvey marketable soundbites lacking foundation in credible strategy, or even the basic knowledge required to formulate one.

Such “lactivists,” or perhaps “lacktivists” for this broader application, and their “soundbitten” slogans about the problem of money in politics have played a key role in diverting strategy up blind alleys. For five years they have advocated futile constitutional amendments to “overturn Citizens United” or to “abolish corporate personhood,” and/or — pending such an unlikely amendment — promoted ineffectively piecemeal strategies to pursue in the meantime. See #7.

Contrary to the steady flow of soundbites from the lacktivists, an amendment is neither necessary nor sufficient to solve the problem of money in politics. But it is, of course, the most difficult, and therefore highly unlikely, of all possible means to attempt to achieve any policy change.

The leading recent one-volume historical treatment of political responses to the problem of judicial supremacy (the ideology at the root of the modern problem of systemic corruption) is Stephen M. Engel, American Politicians Confront the Court: Opposition Politics and Changing Responses to Judicial Power (2011). Engel describes how advocacy of constitutional amendment is commonly used to avoid achieving reform while hypocritically pretending otherwise for the usual political gain derived from working both sides of the street. Engel notes that “difficult-to-pass constitutional amendments … maximize position taking” with “actions [that] are primarily symbolic.” Thus “constitutional amendment” gestures of a “symbolic nature” constitute a well-frequented theater of “rhetorical politics exploited for electoral gain.” The deceived side believes the rhetoric supports dramatic change; its opposition wastes no effort on more than occasional theatrical combat, aware that the politician’s choice of the least likely means of achieving such change presents no risk while safely wasting the political capital of the believers.

Prof. Bruce Ackerman – a highly cited Yale constitutional scholar and top global thinker who is the foremost student of, and most prolific writer about, U.S. political movements and constitutional change – agrees. He concludes a study of the counterproductive experience with movements that prioritized the goal of amending the constitution with the following admonition about the lessons learned: “Every constitutional movement now understands that Article Five [constitutional amendment or convention] is a road to nowhere.”

No authentic constitutional scholar considers amending the Constitution as a realistic political goal capable of solving such a hotly contested political issue like money in politics. Eg. Harvard Prof. Larry Tribe (“dead end”); Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (“zero chance of being passed and enacted…. diverts focus and energy”); Professor Richard Hasen, a leading expert on election law (“political theater … not a serious policy proposal”). Cf. Dean of Yale Law School Robert C. Post whose book-length critique exhausts the thesaurus of euphemisms for calling the Supreme Court’s Buckley line of cases perversely incompetent, concludes: “A line of cases this misguided about matters of such fundamental importance to American politics is a frightful thing.” But he advocates no amendment as a solution.

Yet Democrats and their lacktivist allies have, since Citizens United, promoted this “Amendment Diversion” strategy as a means to lead political energies away from serious reform proposals that would interfere with relations between Democrats and their puppetmasters. This lacktivism has arguably been the foremost obstacle to reform of political corruption because it has served to mislead and disillusion the overwhelming opposition into wasting their energies on a strategy that is defective for multiple reasons. See appendix.   Movements can only be sustained by effective strategy, and it will take a movement to recover democracy.

It was therefore of notable strategic importance that in 2015 the cartel of lacktivist organizations who fundraise on such soundbite strategies changed the non-profit agenda for this particular issue silo by abandoning amendment as their much-trumpted sole or “most promising” means for reform. They instead re-packaged it into the somewhat less-dangerous proposition that on second thought it is, now, only one among several possible piecemeal reforms.

This change in marketing strategy followed exposure of Senator Udall’s hypocrisy in leading the virtually unanimous Senate Democrats to the highly predictable abject defeat that his amendment proposal suffered along party lines in 2014. Sen. Udall and a majority of his fellow Democrats then turned around, with no apparent sense of embarrassment, to vote for significantly increasing the amount of money in politics under the CRomnibus Act of 2014. That this ten-fold increase in legalized bribery could not even have been prevented by adoption of Udall’s amendment demonstrated how useless an amendment would be. This, added to the separate issue of how impossibly difficult it would be to achieve such an amendment, caused the lacktivists to retreat. In any event, the amendment effort had gone precisely nowhere in nearly six years, with even worse prospects for the future.

Those who promoted the Amendment Diversion should be barred from advising on this issue in the future, much like neocons should have their licenses revoked from advising more warmongering in the Middle East after driving Bush-era policy into a ditch. Both have proven their strategic incompetence and inflicted enough damage on the country in the process.

But that was not to happen in 2015. The most prominent representative of the professional activist cartel, Prof Larry Lessig, for example, advertised his new 2015 set of strategies in an NYT opinion piece. He failed to confess that he had spent five years as just about the only credentialed proponent of an amendment strategy, much less that he had pursued it in a way that even he admits to be “most insane.” Lessig was the major supporter of amendment by convention, thereby helping a project which is supported primarily by ALEC and the right wing.

As recently as April 24, 2014 Lessig was found persuading the Vermont legislature to help the right wing convene a constitutional convention, falsely representing to Vermont’s legislators it would be “the most promising chance for fundamental reform of the corruption of money in politics.” But in 2015 Lessig rejected amendment in favor of an underwhelming grab bag of other conventional piecemeal reforms, to support his new idiosyncratic strategy of kind-of-running for president. Unlike what he told the Vermont legislature in 2014 about a constitutional amendment being “the most promising chance for fundamental reform” he told his NYT audience in 2015 that ”constitutional reform is fake reform. And no candidate who talks exclusively about amending the Constitution can be considered a credible reformer.” By his own admission then, Lessig was not a credible reformer for five years while he was pretending otherwise to TED talk audiences. But we are to believe that he and his cartel colleagues suddenly became credible in 2015?

# 7 Professional Activism: Piecemeal Reform. It was an indisputably good thing that the cartel, which includes a Lessig organization, finally abandoned after five years their Amendment Diversion mythology that an amendment of the Constitution is the sole or “most promising” way to restore democracy. But the cartel only shifted from the active side to the passive side of the Amendment Diversion, now promoting the idea that, absent such an amendment, reform must be limited to just those ineffectively piecemeal measures that are tolerated by the judicial supremacist majority of the Supreme Court.

This change to promoting those ineffective and even counterproductive piecemeal reforms which the Court’s supremacists allow is just as strategically clueless as the cartel’s former prioritizing of a constitutional amendment by continuing to ignore court stripping under Article III and the 11th Amendment. For example, disclosing dark money has been presented as an important reform without ever explaining that its role is limited to corrupting the procurement process, its only area of importance. The cartel promotes public financing without disclosing that the Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise Club (2011) had already carved the heart out of public funding by prohibiting matching funds. Harvard constitutional law professor Charles Fried accurately explains that case “declared unconstitutional the only way that states and the federal government might make public financing of elections at all attractive to candidates.”

Soundbite-marketeer “lacktivists” remain counter-productive, uninformed and diversionary. But having retreated from their forward position of pompous advocacy of an amendment as their priority or only strategy to now backing a set of unoriginal, even less defensible, piecemeal priorities in 2015, they may have become a somewhat less dangerous diversion from strategy capable of sustaining a democracy movement.


  1. Citizen Activism. Vermont patent lawyer Jim Leas has produced as a private citizen and published online, without an accompanying “donation” button, an article proposing that his state legislature focus on regulating the demand side of money in politics. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has decimated any possibility for effective regulation of the supply side of money in state politics, at least until Congress acts to enforce the 11th amendment, regulation of the demand side of political corruption should not be totally ignored as it has been since Buckley.   To make this reform, the state legislature need only amend its existing conflict of interest recusal rule to close the tacit, and unjustified, but customary exception accorded to special interest money given to politicians under the rubric of campaign contributions and expenditures.


This kind of money is broadly seen as corrupting in the public’s “view of how government really works. They see a nexus of money and power, greased by special interest lobbyists and large campaign donations.” If the broad public can reasonably see politicians’ conflicted interest in receiving such contributions to be as corrupting as receipt of any other kind of interested personal benefit, how do legislators explain carving out an exemption for such conflicts, except as a result of their own conflicted interests concerning the matter? This reform will require a movement directed against legislatos themselves.

Legislative conflict of interest recusal rules are supported unanimously by Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence, walled off from judicial interference by general separation of powers doctrine, potentially protected from federal interference by the 11th Amendment, and apply the common sense understanding that it is more efficient to keep tabs on the conflicts of interest of each individual elected official than it is to block the money that finds its way to them. or to some use for their benefit. through the multifarious, circuitous and leaky “Hydraulics of Campaign Finance” corruption (“political money, like water, has to go somewhere”). It is easier to draft, enact and enforce an ethics recusal rule than prohibitions against the various dark money, sham issue ads, “independent” coordination of expenditures and other deliberately arcane loopholes designed for maintaining the “hydraulic” flow of special interest money to or for politicians.

It is far easier to make that flow useless by tracking it through a consolidated disclosure data base and requiring by robust enforcement the recusal of the recipient from acting on any matter to which the purchased favors pertain.

As the result of his individual lobbying efforts Jim Leas has “heard from the Speaker of the Vermont House that he is sending the link [for the article] to the chair of the [House] government operations committee.” This is not much. But Jim has not asked anyone to click a petition to build a mailing list to which he could later send fundraising pitches, nor asked for money to help him perform this public service. Nevertheless he has arguably already succeeded far beyond any of the professional activists who routinely do such things. These lacktivists have succeeded only in misleading people to simplistically ineffective and counter-productive strategies for five years, thereby frustrating the development of any effective democracy movement. Jim has pointed some state legislators to the most easily accomplished and at the same time most effective strategy for abolishing special interest money from politics.

Jim’s effort can be replicated in every state and also in Congress. His work is an example of the observation made by David Korten that “Every Great Social Movement begins with an idea carried forward through conversations that challenge and ultimately displace a prevailing cultural story” (pdf).

The prevailing story propagated by politicians and their lacktivist allies has focused away from the blatant conflicts of interests of the demand-side politicians themselves, solely onto futile piecemeal restraints on the supply side of money in politics, advocated through purely symbolic and practically useless rhetoric that an all-but-impossible constitutional amendment or ineffective piecemeal reform is the only real solution.

Jim Leas’ article changes the conversation to the demand side and advocates the easiest achievable normative reform. A strict conflict of interest recusal rule reform can leverage the power of one chamber of a bicameral legislative body to begin cleaning up the systemic corruption of all three branches of government.

#9 Thieves of State. One 2015 book makes this list because it demonstrates so well how systemic corruption affects important foreign policy and security concerns at the same time it demonstrates the depth and significance of systemic corruption of the U.S. government itself, in which Hillary Clinton was a central, even iconic, figure. An NYT reviewer said of Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2015): “This is an important book that should be required reading for officials ….” It is also important reading for citizens seeking a strategic understanding of the relationship between systemic corruption and the endless wars pursued by corrupt U.S.elites.

Among the many insights into systemic corruption in her highly readable book, Chayes makes two separately important, but related points of strategic importance that connect foreign policy failure to domestic corruption.

1) Terrorism has become a distraction, competing for budgets and policy attention with the real priority issue that causes enormously more damage to the country than terrrorism could ever cause – the systemic corruption of American politics, and its consequent takeover by plutocracy. Chayes shows that throughout history and around the globe including specifically America’s longest war in Afghanistan, systemic political corruption breeds insurgencies. (By extremely loose definition, the powerful conduct of insurgency warfare has been conflated by the anti-terrorism industrial complex with the limited tactic of “terrorism”)

Chayes explains that “[systemically] corrupt governance doesn’t just aid terrorist organizations by driving indignant citizens into their arms; it provides haven and logistical support for those very same groups, as officials avert their eyes in exchange for a bribe,” or, as in the U.S., a campaign contribution from the NRA.

“Terrorism” is both generated by and feeds off systemic corruption. Counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) thus teaches that a systemically corrupt government cannot successfully defend against an insurgency. Nevertheless the systemically corrupt U.S. government continuously wastes the country’s blood and treasure fighting wars it cannot win on behalf of corrupt foreign governments. Meanwhile it fails to take the most effective action against terrorism of fighting corruption in those governments because it ignores such realities as Chayes reports from her personal experience: “Afghan corruption was manufacturing Taliban.”

2) When offered the strategic opportunity to repurpose the American mission in Afghanistan to fight against corruption as the only means to conquer “terrorism” there, Hillary Clinton hopelessly failed to even understand the basic nature of systemic corruption and its relationship to insurgent “terrorism.” Clinton instead dealt with it as some quaint cultural artifact. Chayes writes from her first-hand experience working in the Pentagon on the issue of corruption in Aghanistan that, under Clinton, the State Department “was shirking its responsibility to develop a high level strategic approach to the most significant political and diplomatic challenge of this conflict.” Indeed Chayes shows that Clinton personally and successfully opposed effective anti-corruption work by any element of the U.S. government, getting pro-corruption policy formally adopted in its stead.

Clinton’s role in deliberately perpetuating corruption in Afghanistan should irremediably disqualify her from the U.S. presidency. Afghanistan proves she cannot provide security against terrorism. Her demonstrated lack of understanding about systemic corruption indicates that she is incapable of dealing with the United States’ priority domestic and foreign policy issue.

Since “they” do not relevantly “hate us for our values” but rather violently hate us for our corruption, and our corrupting influence on their own countries, the solution to most of the U.S.’s expensive international problems is to uncorrupt ourselves first and then use the renewed soft-power influence that transformation would provide in order to work against, rather than for, corruption abroad.

Anti-corruption must be a principle component of our domestic and foreign policy alike if we are to grasp the benefits of democracy. Clinton is incapable of undertaking this project in either sphere, and instead will waste more money and blood on yet more futile warmongering.

Chayes’ experience and insight suggests a corollary that could be added to COIN doctrine: “a systemically corrupt state cannot help another systemically corrupt state reform itself.”

Madison knew that “[i]f Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Washington and other framers who followed Kant, the Scottish Englightenment, and other proponents of democracy, as well as later practitioner/theorists such as Martin Van Buren and Charles Sumner, all viewed democracy as the natural way to peace. They understood that a true democracy will always be able to conduct peaceful relations with other democracies. In the U.S. experience, a corrupted and corrupting democracy has been the way to perpetual war. Just as democracy and peace are mutually reinforcing, perpetual war and perpetual corruption are mutually reinforcing. The concentrated power involved in conducting war corrupts; corruption undermines democracy, the surest way to peace.

Rob Hager is a public interest litigator who filed an amicus brief in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation.