When President Joe Biden released an anti-corruption national security memo on Thursday, at least one thing was made abundantly clear: Biden is the polar opposite of former President Donald Trump.
This could be the worst version of a blue-ribbon commission; i.e., a place where good ideas go to die.
Biden has correctly situated corruption as a national security concern. Biden directed federal agencies and departments to report back to him about the best ways to fight global corruption within 200 days. His Thursday memo outlines the very real and specific problems with corruption: an erosion of public trust, an opportunity for authoritarian leaders to flourish and subvert democracy, an increase in national security concerns and economic harms, among others.
Trump didn’t drain the swamp; he poisoned it, and then flooded it. He used his position of public trust to benefit himself — the typical definition of public corruption. Trump used the presidency to enhance his brand and his bank account. He persistently promoted and visited his properties on the public dime, more than 500 times during his term in office. He appeared to sell access, often at these private properties, in exchange for patronage. Reports indicate that he raked in $8.1 million from taxpayers and donors during visits to Trump-owned properties. By one account he engaged in more than 3,500 conflicts of interest. As president, the man was a walking conflict of interest.
And then there was the time that Trump appeared to dangle the promise of official acts in exchange for a personal favor. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the first impeachment, back in a time before Trump claimed, contrary to all available evidence, that the 2020 election was stolen and before the “big lie” became part of our common vernacular.
Despite Trump's empty rhetoric regarding the draining of the swamp, his term in office turned out to be a breeding ground for swamp-like creatures.
Trump’s first impeachment was about the 2020 election, at least indirectly. Trump allegedly asked the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation against Biden, his political rival at the time, in exchange for military aid and/or a White House meeting. The House impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate failed to convict.
And so, despite Trump's empty rhetoric regarding the draining of the swamp, his term in office turned out to be a breeding ground for swamp-like creatures.
Given the sheer number of departments and agencies covered by Biden’s anti-corruption memo, and the layers of bureaucracy involved in each department or agency, this review is likely to be, for lack of a better term, bulky. This could be the worst version of a blue-ribbon commission; i.e., a place where good ideas go to die. But there is something to be said for putting foreign and domestic actors on notice that the current president recognizes the problems inherent in corruption and is asking for solutions.
Will Biden ultimately be successful? We don’t know, and it largely depends on our definition of success. But he is trying, and if his decades of experience in elected office are any indication, he is unlikely to become another grifter-in-chief. Because America’s been there, done that.