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US politics

Fear and loathing in American politics

Menendez with his wife (and co-defendant) Nadine. Ting Shen/Bloomberg/Getty

If you want a fun read, says David Graham in The Atlantic, look at the indictment papers against Senator Bob Menendez. The Democrat from New Jersey, who denies the charges, stands accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to assist the Egyptian government. In a search of his house, FBI agents found cash-stuffed envelopes and more than $100,000 worth of gold bars. They unearthed texts from his wife complaining that another co-defendant hadn’t paid the bribes he’d promised. And they allege that the 69-year-old “agreed to derail a prosecution in exchange for a Mercedes C-300 convertible”.

The fact that Menendez is still in office at all demonstrates what is wrong with American politics. Back in 2015, he was indicted on another “sweeping bribery scheme”, but got off after a separate ruling raised the bar for political corruption cases. The Democrats were under pressure to expel him from the Senate then, not least because his ethical lapses undercut their claim that Donald Trump was unfit for office. But they refused, as Menendez probably would have been replaced by a Republican. It’s a classic case of “negative partisanship”, where people are “more motivated by fear and loathing of the other party than affection or affinity for their own”. The same is happening in the presidential election: each party looks set to nominate a candidate not for their “talents or character”, but because they’re best positioned to beat the other guy. But as the Menendez case shows, there might be “worse things than losing an election”.