When Depravity Wins

It is a fact of political life that in the United States, what Michelle Goldberg in a recent New York Times article referred to as the “bottomless depravity” of Donald Trump, can also  be applied to at least  three members of Congress who emerged triumphant from the recent election.  One of them, to his credit, was not an indicted criminal.

The re-elected, but unindicted congressman, was Steve King of Iowa.  He was re-elected for the 9th time on November 6, 2018. Mr. King almost certainly takes great pride in the fact that he has not been charged with any criminal activity-only racism and fascism.  He is credited over the years with countless racist rants.  In one of his many tweets he said: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Commenting on the activities of illegal immigrants, he said that for every illegal immigrant who becomes a valedictorian of his or her class, there are 100s of others who “weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

In a recent back and forth with a supporter in an Iowa restaurant, he repeatedly referred to people he needed to hire as farm workers as:  “dirt from Mexico” and, referring to the caravan that has bedeviled Trump, Mr. King said:  “It’s the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”  In other events he has compared immigrants to dogs, endorsed a white nationalist mayoral candidate who questioned whether immigration is causing “white genocide,” and attacked the National Republican Congressional Committee for backing a gay candidate. Voters in Iowa were not deterred. He has been reelected.  And, as observed above, he has not been indicted for any criminal activity. The same cannot be said for his New York and California reelected colleagues.

August 2018 had proved to be a bad month for each of those men. Although Chris Collins was re-elected to represent New York’s 27th Congressional District, the path to his actively seeking to retain his seat was tortured. In early August 2018, after he had announced his intention to run for re-election, a strange thing happened.  He was charged with insider trading. Following the indictment, he announced that he was suspending his campaign, saying: “After extensive discussions with my family. . . over the last few days, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican party, and President Trump’s agenda, for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress.”  That all happened because he apparently had pangs of conscience and concluded that it was unseemly for someone under criminal indictment to seek to be elected to Congress.  He went on to say that he would, however, serve the remainder of his term.

Suspending his candidacy showed he had a sense of decency. It had a short shelf life.  Only a few days more than a month after announcing that he would not seek reelection, he announced that he had had a change of heart and would indeed seek re-election, his earlier statement to the contrary notwithstanding. True to his word,  he ran, and as a result, won.

Mr. Collins was not the only criminally indicted congressman who was a victor in that election.  California’s Duncan Hunter of the 50th Congressional District in California, was another.  Mr. Hunter did not permit something as trivial as a criminal indictment to adversely affect his reelection campaign.

Mr. Hunter made Mr. Collins look like a wimp.  Whereas Mr. Collins was indicted for securities fraud, his offense was the relatively unimaginative one of insider trading.  Mr. Hunter was far more creative.  His criminal activities made him eligible for a 48-page indictment.  The indictment suggested that Mr. Hunter and his wife had not realized that money that had been raised for his campaigns was intended to be used in connection with his effort to be reelected, and was not a piggy bank that could be used for whimsical purchases.

According to Adam Braverman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, the indictment alleges “that Congressman Hunter and his wife repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts.”  They “falsified F.E.C. campaign finance reports to cover their tracks.”  The indictment recited that they used campaign funds for dental bills, private family trips to Hawaii and Italy, and their children’s private school tuitions.  Probably most egregious, and yet, displaying a soft side of the Congressman and his wife, $600 of the campaign funds were spent on an airplane ticket for the family’s pet rabbit so that it could accompany the family on one of their trips, and would not be left alone in the house while the family was gone.

Mr. King was re-elected with 50.4 % of the vote. Mr. Collins was re-elected with 49.5% of the vote. Mr. Hunter was reelected with 63.5% of the vote. Getting reelected was not the greatest of their respective achievements.  Becoming prime examples of the sorts of swamp-like creatures who occupy the Trump created swamp filled that role.

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