Here’s a fun fact: A New York Times investigation from September 2022 found that between 2019 and 2021, 183 members of Congress reported stock trades. Of those 183, “more than half … sat on congressional committees that potentially gave them insight into the companies whose shares they reported buying or selling.” One could make the case that the only place where insider trading is legal is Congress, where it is arguably as popular a pastime in the legislature as golf.
Everywhere we see powerful people, safely ensconced in positions from which they won’t soon be ousted, cashing in where Santos is cashing out. The erosion of campaign finance laws has blurred numerous ethical lines: Do politicians adopt positions because of lucrative relationships with donors and Super PACS or do these relationships flow from preexisting positions? It’s a gray area, but the money flows all the same. The Supreme Court has, over the last 20 or so years, done everything it can to destroy the boundaries meant to keep money out of politics and, in doing so, has basically legalized corruption. It’s hardly surprising to see its members lavished with gifts from billionaires. Somehow, Clarence Thomas essentially being awarded his own plutocratic patron isn’t deemed to be a sin on the level of those of Santos or Menendez.
Santos is at once a symptom of this larger culture and a distraction from it. His conduct is obviously appalling, but he might yet live to fight another day because he’s so integral to the GOP keeping control of the House. They need anyone they can get—even if that person is a congenital liar and criminal. But let no one say he isn’t useful: The heights of absurdity he so regularly hits provide cover for the many ways, big and small, that Congress itself is corrupted.