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I WITNESS: When in doubt, blame your wife

When most people violate the norms of their workplace, they are fired. When Supreme Court justices and federal legislators violate the norms of their workplace, they blame their wives and remain in place.

It has recently been revealed that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, apparently in solidarity with the January 6 insurrectionists, flew an upside-down American flag from the staff in his front yard from January 6, 2021, through January 20, 2021, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Upon the leak of this information, Alito did what all brave men do: He blamed it on his wife.

There seems to be an epidemic of wife-blaming lately. Sen. Bob Menendez (D–NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been in court blaming his wife, who is suffering from breast cancer, for amassing almost half a million dollars in gold bars, cash, and luxury goods in their home. Evidently, he didn’t notice the shoes stuffed with cash, the gold bars weighing down the suit jackets in his closet, or the new Mercedes parked in his driveway. He also didn’t notice that someone else was paying his mortgage.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t exactly blame his wife for her role as head cheerleader for Trump’s “stop the steal” machinations, but he proposed, absurdly, that he and his wife (who has consistently referred to her husband as her “best friend”) never talk to each other about their daily activities: neither his on the bench, nor hers as Betsy Ross’ worst nightmare. This absurd excuse has allowed him to not recuse himself in a number of high-profile cases. Similarly, Alito seems not to have noticed, for 18 days running, that his wife had an upside-down American flag flying in front of his house as a sign of solidarity with the January 6 insurrectionists. Since it was his wife’s fault and not his, he sees no reason to recuse himself from any case before the court having to do with the plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Perhaps they were all just too preoccupied by more weighty issues to observe that their wives had gone rogue. Menendez was undoubtedly thinking about how to steer government resources to Egypt, since, ostensibly, that is what he was paid all of that money to do. Thomas and Alito were also working overtime to rescind women’s rights and figure out how to give Donald Trump blanket immunity for his scores of alleged crimes. The fact that they have all bent legislative and judicial ethics to the breaking point in order to do so is undoubtedly also the fault of their wives. One can almost hear them saying, with regard to stepping down or stepping aside when conflicts of interest arise, “Our wives won’t let us!”

Given how little respect any of these men have demonstrated toward women in general, it seems incongruous that their wives would wield such impressive powers.

There has always been corruption in government, and it will be ever thus. Wherever the powerful congregate, there are always a few in the group whose greed and self-interest lead to criminality and subversion of justice. It cannot be helped; every generation produces its own fair share of scoundrels.

Knowing this, it seems clear that at this point in the evolution—or perhaps a better term is “devolution”—of the United States, we need stronger and more specific rules and procedures for the oversight and discipline of malign government officials. This seems long-overdue, and in our currently overheated, toxic, and completely bifurcated political climate, it appears more necessary now than ever before. The unethical and amoral are coming out of the woodwork and making a mockery of government service.

Who pays the price? We all do. When ethics are so carelessly tossed aside for the benefit of those charged with governing, the victim is democracy. All three of the men discussed here are so brazen, so unscrupulous, and so happy to receive gifts and favors from rich patrons that they barely even attempt to conceal their perfidy. We are looking at a group of men who not only have contempt for women—they have contempt for everyone.

This is why I intend to vote a straight Democratic ticket this November (which, for me, is not always the case), because I believe that in order to create real ethics reform in Washington, Democrats will need a supermajority in both houses of Congress. Only with a supermajority can they enact legislation to specifically address grift, graft, and the unacceptable behavior of some of our legislators and members of the Supreme Court. The chief justice, for instance, should be required to automatically force the recusal of any associate justice from any case in which there may be an appearance of impropriety, including receiving lavish gifts from political playmates.

When most people violate the norms of their workplace, they are fired. When Supreme Court justices and federal legislators violate the norms of their workplace, they blame their wives and remain in place. That practice simply has to end. Justices caught in the act of accepting what amounts to large bribes from wealthy donors should be immediately dismissed. Legislators inappropriately diverting taxpayer resources to foreign entities should also lose their jobs. And without question, specific legislation must be written that makes clear that no president is exempt from accountability for crimes committed both in and out of office. While we’re at it, let’s put some teeth into the prohibitions described in the Emoluments clause of the Constitution. Anyone for Supreme Court term limits? Congressional term limits? Codification of Roe? Codification of voting rights? Anti-gerrymandering legislation? Real immigration reform?

If so, a supermajority will be required.

It strikes me as pathetic that these long-overdue reforms cannot receive enough bipartisan support from our current crop of elected officials to even come up for a vote, mostly because a number of the legislative remedies that would put a stop to this nonsense would disproportionally affect the far right wing of the Republican Party, and those folks have already remade the party in their own image. No longer the proud party of Lincoln, they have morphed into the party of Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, Tommy Tuberville, and Louie Gohmert, and, of course, the party of Donald Trump. They form a frightening confederacy of grandstanding “gimmes” who long ago crossed the line from the appearance of impropriety into actual impropriety.

Perhaps their wives should tell them to knock it off.

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