Americans love a scandal. They claim otherwise, of course, and whenever a new one arises there is the predictable televised backlash with the American people expressing outrage and disgust over the newest drama unfolding on Capitol Hill. But people can’t help themselves from tuning in to their TV. It’s like watching a train wreck: you can’t turn away.
In the past, a single scandal was usually enough to ruin a politician. New York Representative Anthony Weiner famously resigned in 2011 after he accidentally tweeted sexually explicit photos of himself publicly. In the aftermath of a scandal, politicians would be expected to resign in disgrace, and spend the rest of their lives quietly writing their memoirs.
But no longer. In the past few months, we have seen an emergence of scandals like never before, and none of the participants seem overly eager to resign their position.
Consider Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who is currently being investigated for potentially having paid a 17-year old girl with which he was having a sexual relationship to travel with him across state lines. He’s also been accused of showing nude photos of women he had slept with to other lawmakers and having drug-fueled parties after campaign events. Ten years ago, any one of those scandals would have been enough to make a politician resign, utterly humiliated… but not Matt Gaetz. He’s insisted he’s done nothing wrong, and so far, there’s been no consequences for his actions— the House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy has said he sees no reason to remove Gaetz from his committees.
Consider freshman Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has peddled conspiracies that include Hillary Clinton being the leader of a pedophile cult, to saying the Parkland shooting was fake, to blaming Jewish people for the California wildfires. While Greene was widely censured for her remarks, and removed from committees in the House, that was not enough to dissuade political donors, as Greene raised 3.2 million dollars in her first three months in office.
Consider New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, some of who say he made inappropriate remarks and groped them. Furthermore, he is under investigation for potentially misleading the federal government about the deaths of thousands of people in nursing homes from COVID-19. Nonetheless, Cuomo has refused to resign, and 75% of New York Democrats still approve of the governor.
In the aftermath of the Trump era, where scandals became so commonplace as to almost be mundane, the word “disgrace” has lost all meaning. No longer does a scandal mean the end of a political career. Instead, you can merely attempt to claim the people involved are lying (like Governor Cuomo is doing), that all of this is just an attempt by the media to frame you (like Gaetz is doing), or embrace the controversy and make it your brand (like Greene is doing). The era where politicians would resign, ashamed of their actions, is over. Instead, they hang on until the next election, confident that, at the end of the day, voters will vindicate them.
We must not allow these things to become mundane, no matter how frequent they become. We, as Americans, should demand better service from our leaders: at the very least, that they behave in a matter that isn’t morally reprehensible.