DANIEL VAUGHAN: Many Americans find the Biden allegations credible. Why shouldn’t they?

October 4, 2019

I was reading through some polling around the topic of impeachment, which is all the rage these days, and came across some reporters who were bewildered that a substantial chunk of Americans find the Biden corruption allegations credible. According to Monmouth, 43% of Americans agree with President Donald Trump’s assertion that then-Vice President Joe Biden “probably” put pressure on Ukraine so they wouldn’t investigate his son, Hunter Biden. 37% of respondents thought the opposite, while 20% were unsure.

That wasn’t the interesting part to me — no, it was national journalists’ reactions to those numbers. Mark Murray, senior political editor for NBC News, tweeted, “This result from Monmouth poll should scare the pants off the Biden campaign — or *whomever* becomes the Dem nominee. Despite all of the fact-checks, the no evidence of wrongdoing, the fact that Ukraine prosecutor’s investigation was already dormant … If Trump/GOP can turn the removal of an allegedly corrupt prosecutor — a removal supported by every western country at the time — into a plurality believing Joe Biden was trying to help his son, what else can they do?”

Murray is making the claim that it’s Trump’s lies that have convinced Americans to believe that Joe Biden may have corruptly used his position to benefit his own family.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Americans aren’t blindly following Trump or anyone else. They’re just assuming the very worst of the political elite — and who can blame them for that?

Public trust in politicians and institutions — except the military — are at all-time lows. Gallup’s measure of confidence in institutions shows Congress at 11%, newspapers at 23%, television news at 18%, and internet news at 16%. Americans do not have confidence in any of their elites — they assume the very worst because these groups keep serving up the very worst.

And claiming that Biden is innocent of any wrongdoing undercuts the reality of the situation. The Atlantic headlined a story on Hunter Biden like this: “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption.” As the author, Sarah Chayes, points out, Hunter Biden got himself a cushy job working with Ukrainian energy businesses trading on his father’s name and using all his connections to hook himself up with a luxurious lifestyle for which he had no real merit.

It’s polite corruption, peddled by the well-connected elite who see nothing wrong with what they’re doing. And Hunter Biden wasn’t the only one. Chayes continues:

And Hunter Biden was hardly the only prominent American who did well for himself during Ukraine’s transition. Another Burisma director was Cofer Black, George W. Bush’s CIA counterterrorism chief. The Republican operative and future Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort worked for Yanukovych. So did Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig. The millions he was grossing were paid by an oligarch allied with Yanukovich and routed to Craig’s firm, Skadden Arps, through a confusing series of offshore accounts. At the time, Craig was a director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Do most Americans know this when they’re answering poll questions? Probably not. But are they surprised to find this level of corrupt behavior in Washington? Not really. And that is what gives credibility to the claim that Biden’s hands are dirty.

Americans don’t trust Trump either — but based on polling, they agree with his assessment that Washington D.C. is a swamp. Just this week, Republican Rep. Chris Collins pleaded guilty to two charges of violating insider trading laws. What’s surprising about that isn’t the insider trading, but that he got caught at all.

Political scientists and ethics watchdogs have known for decades that congressional members’ stock portfolios routinely outperform the average market expectation — like clockwork! None of that is explicitly against the law, per se — again, it falls under that perfectly legal, socially acceptable brand of corruption.

Let’s not forget that the Clinton Foundation ran for years like a global slush fund for anything Bill and Hillary Clinton wanted. And the left has made Hillary Clinton’s decision to run an illegal homebrew server to skirt transparency and records laws into a meme, crying out, “But her emails!” It’s just another way they downplay socially acceptable corruption.

Americans don’t trust the government or the establishment media to tell the truth — and that distrust was there long before Donald Trump came along and called Washington “the swamp” and attacked the media as “enemies of the people.” And so, when the rich and powerful are accused of doing something wrong, the natural inclination is to believe the very worst. And so far, few have given Americans much reason to abandon that assumption.

The elites in charge have too often used their power to enrich or empower themselves above everyone else. But they’ve done so in perfectly legal, socially acceptable corrupt ways. These are, after all, the same institutions that covered for people like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer for decades. They turned a blind eye to wealthy, powerful Jeffrey Epstein for decades — except for the Miami Herald, which is doing Pulitzer level work to tear his criminal empire apart.

But don’t worry, the elites who have engaged in all this perfectly legal, acceptable corruption have cleared themselves of all wrongdoing.

I think the American public has these people pegged correctly.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.