Global anti-corruption uprising and changing middle-class concerns

Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport. (Photo: Reuters)

During rush week, aspiring frat boys endure all manner of indignities.

They all want to join the exclusive club, and they’re willing to pay the steep initiation fee of risk and embarrassment. One day, they too will be­ seniors who can haze the newbies all they like. Such are the perks of following orders, rising through the ranks, and waiting one’s turn in the hierarchy of power.

In autocracies, aspiring functionaries endure all manner of indignities. They must pay deference to the country’s leader. They must mouth all sorts of propagandistic nonsense. But they know that they, too, will eventually benefit from the system. The riches that the autocrat is extracting from the country will some day flow to these underlings as well, as a reward for their loyalty.

In democracies, corruption works in a similar way.

The opposition slams the ruling party for all the ways it uses the levers of government power to benefit its clientele. But then the opposition takes over and all that past criticism disappears. Suddenly, the former opposition discovers the perks of power. It has its own clientele to satisfy. These rules apply to both the illegal (outright bribery) and the legal (the revolving door of the “swamp”). And so the cycle continues.

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