(*Edited excerpts from David Lightman at www.mcclatchydc.com)
Supporters of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz all share the same grievance. In 2016 America, the deepest divide is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s not even between conservatives and liberals. It’s between "us" and "them" — The People versus The Establishment.
What is the establishment? It includes members of Congress (both Democrats and Republicans), political donors, Wall Street bankers and the mainstream media. Of 78 members of Congress who left office after the 2010 elections, 4 out of 5 found work with lobbying firms, government jobs or political action committees.
Americans are split on whether Trump is part of "The Establishment" — but 7 out of 10 think Hillary Clinton is. Eleven years ago Trump got married for the third time in an over-the-top Palm Beach wedding in an "Who’s Who" event of elites, which also included Bill and Hillary Clinton.
One of Bill Clinton’s former White House spokesmen hosts an influential network Sunday talk show. NBC hired Chelsea Clinton as a “special correspondent,” paying her a reported $600,000 annually, far above the typical pay for a reporter with no journalistic experience.
The ties are intricate and deep. Five Treasury secretaries in the past three presidential administrations have either headed big Wall Street firms, or became top executives after leaving their jobs. Every member of the U.S. Supreme Court has at least one Ivy League degree. Every president elected since 1988 is an Ivy Leaguer. So are Clinton and Trump.
Corporate and other special interests retained 11,465 registered lobbyists last year, spending $3.2 billion — roughly the same amount the United States pledged to poor countries to cope with global warming. To voters, the big money is emblematic of an impenetrable system they have no chance of influencing, let alone understanding.
That’s why many cheer when Bernie Sanders complains that no one was punished harshly for the financial meltdowns of 2008. His lament touches directly what distresses people about the New York-to-Washington axis. People lost their jobs and homes in that recession. The nation teetered on the brink of an historic financial meltdown. Banks and institutional investors had let the mortgage market run amok.
Sanders was livid, saying the latest $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs “should make it clear to everyone that the business model on Wall Street is a fraud,” a product of the financial world’s revolving door to Washington. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was paid $675,000 for three Goldman Sachs speeches she made behind closed doors in the years after she left her job as Secretary of State in 2013. She demanded that her transcripts be kept, and so far refuses to release them publicly.
Much of the "influence industry’s" goal is to get a slice of the $4 trillion federal budget. In recent years, the budget has become ever more a prize for the establishment insiders, removed even from most members of Congress. The last four annual budget plans have been negotiated by a handful of leaders, including former House Speaker John Boehner, then presented to the rank-and-file as a done deal.
It’s all part of a shadowy system that seems open and approachable only to the well-entrenched and well-heeled. Once elected to the Congress, members basically have lifetime employment, regardless of elections. And the key reason for the insider edge? Money.
Whoever wins the White House will find the same corrupt "establishment" chiseled deep into the Washington fabric as firmly as the monuments that dot its landscape. Two-thirds of the Senate doesn’t face re-election this year. History says at least 85 percent, and probably many more, in the House of Representatives will return.
So no matter who is elected to be the next president, no lobbyist will suddenly close their practice. This isn’t about one person. This is about the whole, big picture.
[* Meaning, the entire corruption of America's government in Washington D.C. >>> And every year you can see them all gathered together at the White House Correspondence Dinner — or at other elaborate and glamorous gala affairs — making jokes, all while Rome burns. No President can fix Washington corruption; but it can't hurt to at least elect ONE honest politician: Bernie Sanders.]