Taibbi then proceeds to describe in excruciating and sickening detail a multitude of instances where the SEC and DOJ ignored whistleblowers and either blew off or slow-walked cases of blatant corporate wrongdoing. To this date, Bernie Madoff is still the only recent Wall Street criminal who has actually been imprisoned, and his role in the financial meltdown was minor at best.
But it’s not just Wall Street that acts with impunity. How much time did Scooter Libby or Karl Rove serve for outing a covert CIA operative? How much time did anyone in the Bush administration serve for turning the DOJ into an extension of the RNC? How many corrupt congressmembers got put away after Jack Abramoff started to sing like a canary? How many BP or Massey executives have faced prosecution for criminal, fatal negligence? Where did confessed Medicare scammer Rick Scott end up – in prison, or the Florida governor’s mansion?
Impunity isn’t just about freedom from criminal prosecution, though. Elected officials who screw over their constituents in favor of corporations or wealthy donors pay no price for their betrayal – they either get re-elected with the help of generous campaign donations and a few thousand attack ads by Chamber front groups, or they pass through the revolving door and collect a 7- or 8-figure salary from their friends in the private sector. Right-wing pundits who defend war and corporate greed make a good living and never get fired no matter how misguided, dishonest, crazy or outright disgusting they are.
On the flip side, while rich and powerful criminals are treated like fine upstanding citizens, actual fine upstanding citizens are treated like criminals. They can be wiretapped without a warrant, routinely get screwed out of their homes and their health care, and if the Republicans (and some Democrats) have their way, they’ll be screwed out of their pensions, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and their rights to bargain collectively, end a pregnancy, or serve openly in the military.
In short, we have a culture of impunity and wealth accumulation for the people at the top, and arbitrary punishment and deprivation for everyone else. That sounds a lot more like a third-world dictatorship than the great and prosperous model of democracy we’re supposed to be.