What Authoritarians Mean by ‘Corruption’
What if the People’s Republic of China fulfilled Donald Trump’s wish and investigated the Bidens? Chinese President Xi Jinping certainly has the machinery to do the job. Upon assuming control of the Communist Party in 2012, he built a huge apparatus to root out corruption. His regime has investigated more than 1 million officials for supposedly abusing public power, with several sentenced to death. The Chinese state holds those accused of malfeasance in such low regard that it will detain them incommunicado for as long as six months. Or, to put it slightly differently, Trump would like his political opponent’s probity judged by a justice system that has stuffed 1 million Uighurs into concentration camps.
When Trump talks about the Bidens, he says that he wants to address a pressing problem. On Friday he tweeted, “I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION.” His war on corruption has involved outsourcing the investigation of supposed wrongdoing to other nations. More specifically, Trump has tried to enlist the help of governments with a distinguished history of framing their political foes. He’s turning to a state-of-the-art tactic of contemporary illiberalism, which uses corruption as an Orwellian pretext for consolidating illegitimate power. Charging opponents with corruption is, after all, an excellent means of discrediting them or perhaps even shunting them away in prison.