Donald Trump has a knack for telling bombastic stories, with a sensational flair that borders on the absurd, and frequently on the irrelevant.
Thus, his story about Hillary Clinton attending his wedding because “she had no choice” seemed to be yet another example of these recurring Trumpisms.
But, as Andrew Prokop observes in a piece for Vox, the story provided a key insight into how political relationships are formed and maintained.
Trump, on the stage of the first GOP presidential debate, claimed that Hillary Clinton attended his wedding because he had donated to her campaign in the past.
Here’s Trump expanding on this point, in a statement for Politico:
As a contributor, I demanded that [the Clintons] be [at my wedding] — they had no choice and that’s what’s wrong with our country. Our country is run by and for donors, special interests and lobbyists, and that is not a good formula for our country’s success.
Now, whether there is a direct connection between Clinton’s attendance of Trump’s wedding and Trump’s past donations to her campaigns and foundation is not clear.
However, it does underline an important point within today’s peculiar form of “democracy”: Namely, that wealthy businessmen/women and corporate representatives provide donations and assistance to politicians who are seeking a position of power, and, if they achieve this position, they expect their past “givings” to be returned through various “favors.”
For Trump, it was Hillary’s “no choice” appearance at his wedding (and it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t politically relevant favors involved, as well). For others, it may be a small provision in a bill providing a legal loophole through which more profits can emerge.
In short, wealthy corporate executives are not donating to political campaigns because of their strong moral convictions, or out of the kindness of their hearts. They want something in return, and they often get it.
I can’t help but admit that Trump may prove to be useful in many ways, one of the most important being: He, through actually being honest and shameless in boasting about how he has participated directly in this rampant corruption, might bring about some change in the conversation on the Republican side. We just can’t let him get into office.
It’s a fine line to walk.
Although I think the recent attempts to compare Trump to Bernie Sanders have been quite tenuous, to say the least, — here’s Sanders responding to such comparisons — they are both spreading a broadly similar message on campaign finance.
Politicians are bought like useful tools by the billionaire class and massive corporations, tools which they use to meet their needs wherever they see fit. Trump actually does the buying, while Sanders, on principle, attacks such corruption from the outside.
And, of course, their positions on this issue are far from unfounded.
In their influential study, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton University observe the effects that public opinion, elite opinion, and “interest groups” have on policy decisions.
What they conclude from their findings is something that many Americans have intuited for years, even decades.
In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
Obviously Trump has not presented anything relating to specific policies that would put a halt to the legalized bribery taking place in our political system, nor has he even concretely suggested that he would work hard to put a stop to it, as Bernie Sanders has.
But his message, along with that of Sanders, is striking a cord among the public, encapsulating both sides of the political spectrum.
Perhaps Trump can, to reiterate, bring this debate about campaign finance into the Republican party, in which a historically unique sum of Super PAC money is being spread.
Maybe he can force the Bushes, the Cruzes, and the Walkers to explain why they — and the political system at large — are so dependent upon wealthy backers, and what they plan to do for these backers if they reach office. As for Trump, himself: he doesn’t need donations, because he’s, as you know by now, really rich.
One thing, I think, is quite certain: if any of the above win the nomination in the end (Sanders excluded), we can expect that they will do far more for corporate executives than merely attending their weddings.