Jeffrey Epstein and the Corruption Rotting America

Is it any wonder our country is vulnerable to fascism?

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Editor’s note

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Many thanks. —JS


His name may not mean anything to you—I surely hope it does not—but I think the name “Jeffrey Epstein” should be a byword for everything wrong with America. 

The multi-millionaire represents a class (and a generation) of citizens that no longer thinks of itself as rooted in this country. It recognizes the privileges of belonging to our political community but not the obligations that come with membership. Like their fortunes, they are free to move globally between the letter and spirit of the law. Over half a century, they have exploited the blessings of liberal democracy—free speech, free markets, free institutions, and the social contract—to hoard power and wealth for themselves, leaving less for the rest. Importantly, they liberated themselves not only from moral and civil responsibility but from legal accountability. These elites are virtually above the law. Is it any wonder our country is vulnerable to fascism?

As Steven Brill wrote in Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall--and Those Fighting to Reverse It: “the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great … to chase the American Dream. And they won it—for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.” Put another way, “Jeffrey Epstein” means the revolt of boomer elites and the betrayal of democracy.


Jeffrey Epstein’s name is a byword for the revolt of boomer elites and betrayal of democracy.


Who is Jeffrey Epstein? From this morning’s edition of USA Today, he is a “billionaire financier, philanthropist and registered sex offender [who was] was charged with sex-trafficking and related offenses in a federal indictment unsealed Monday. 

“He was scheduled to make his first court appearance later Monday after his arrest over the weekend. The charges stem from accusations that date to the early 2000s. He is accused of paying dozens of minors for massages and molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York.”

Epstein traveled is social circles that included Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain and Leslie Wexner, a business mogul who owns Victoria’s Secret and other retail brands, per the Times. Moreover:

Mr. Clinton flew on Mr. Epstein’s private plane dozens of times, according to flight records, and Prince Andrew has attended parties with Mr. Epstein. 

Mr. Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that Mr. Epstein was a “terrific guy” whom he had known for 15 years. 

“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” the president said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Epstein’s case in being handled by the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. It is not being handled by its human trafficking unit. Bloomberg Opinion’s top editor Tim O’Brien thinks that’s “because of a controversial and lenient plea deal struck between Epstein and federal law enforcement officials in Florida back in 2008. The financier was being investigated at the time for having sex with underage girls—many of them orphans or runaways—at his Palm Beach mansion.” That deal, by the way, was kept secret from Epstein’s victims. That deal was arranged by Alexander Acosta when he was a US attorney in Florida. He’s now the US Secretary of Labor.

But corruption is the heart of this. It is the water some elites drink and swim in and, unlike prosperity, corruption is what trickles down to the rest of us, and it poisons everything. No one was held accountable for the crime against humanity that was the American invasion of Iraq. No one was held accountable for the crime that was the housing and banking panic of 2007-2008. No one was held accountable for the Republican Party’s complicity in the Kremlin’s attack on our sovereignty. And no one might have been held accountable for a child sex trafficking ring around which Epstein was the center if not for victims (pictured) who are demanding justice.

It would be a mistake to think of Epstein as one bad apple. His alleged crimes are of apiece with decades of public corruption that’s corroding and enfeebling our country. A fish rots from the head down. The elites are the head. The rest of us are the fish.

America is rotting.

—John Stoehr