The Republican graft machine
It takes a true moral cretin to profiteer off a pandemic
The Republican Party is gripped by an extreme right-wing ideology that is contemptuous of basic science and the norms of constitutional democratic government. Their model of politics is that Democrats should be prevented from voting as much as possible, and their theory of jurisprudence amounts to "laws passed by Democrats are unconstitutional." This is part of why times of Republican rule tend to end in disaster.
However, there is another aspect to Republican dysfunction that gets comparatively little attention: moral corrosion. A great many Republican elected officials think nothing of using their position to turn a quick profit during a crisis.
Take Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was recently caught by ProPublica selling between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks in mid-February, immediately after receiving several classified briefings about the dangers of coronavirus on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he chairs. A week before Burr co-wrote a Fox News op-ed assuring the public that "the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus," but on Feb. 27 he warned a small private club of wealthy constituents that "There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic."
This sounds like the dictionary definition of illegal insider trading. The Securities Exchange Act establishes legal penalties for "purchasing or selling a security while in possession of material, non-public information[.]" This was explicitly extended to members of Congress in the STOCK Act of 2012, and while that law was later quietly watered down in 2013, the ban on overt insider trading definitely still applies. Even Tucker Carlson said that if the allegations were true, Burr should resign and be prosecuted. (The senator has denied any wrongdoing.)
And this isn't the first time that Burr has reportedly done something like this. ProPublica also recently reported that Burr sold $47,000 in stock in a Dutch fertilizer firm just weeks before its share price collapsed, perhaps because it was undermined by changes in Trump administration trade policy. There might not be the same stone obvious insider trading, but it certainly warrants an investigation. ProPublica further found that in 2017 Burr sold a house in D.C. to a corporate lobbyist whose clients were overseen by his committee — and for tens of thousands of dollars more than its likely market value.
Neither is Burr the only culprit here. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who is married to the head of the New York Stock Exchange, also allegedly sold some $20 million in stocks after a closed coronavirus briefing. So did Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who also infamously bought defense contractor stocks in 2018 after pushing for a huge increase in the military budget — and dumped them when reporters found out.
President Trump, of course, is worst of all. He is the only president to continue to run a vast business empire while in office — and as a result, his administration is absolutely saturated with conflicts of interest, from grifting the Secret Service for golf cart rentals to a gigantic tax break for real estate developers like himself and his son-in-law Jared Kushner mysteriously making its way into the coronavirus rescue package. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has found 2,310 conflicts of interests and counting in the Trump administration.
Now, it's worth noting that Republicans are not the only ones who are less than scrupulous about civic propriety. The effort to undermine the STOCK Act was a bipartisan affair, passed in 30 seconds through half-empty chambers using unanimous consent. Both parties knew what they were doing was immoral and wanted to keep it from the public.
But these days, Democrats seldom engage in such outright graft. The husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also sold stock in January, but this was in a biotech company which was then at a low price, and has since risen in value because the surge of funding for coronavirus research. If he was trading based on a tip from his wife, he surely would have have held on to it. Typically Dems instead go through the revolving door, passing corporate-friendly laws and regulations and then (by purest happenstance, they insist) going on to collect huge sums from those same corporate interests working or consulting for them.
Both forms of graft are bad, but it's clear now that the blatant Republican form is worse. A liberal hypocrite who is betraying his or her stated principles will tend to limit the amount of graft for fear of exposure and might be pressured or shamed into changing course. Trump feels absolutely no shame about anything, and since the Republican Party and its howling propaganda apparatus support him no matter what he does, he will never stop.
Today Republican governance means the party's elected officials leveraging their power to stuff money directly into their own pockets. Republican voters are fine with that — Trump may have both his hands deep in their pockets, but at least he makes liberals' heads explode.