I knew what quid pro quo meant sometime during potty training, so I can’t understand why so many grownups today are unable to know it when they see it, hear it, and live it right around the news cycles for a week or so.

If someone wants me to do something, I am offered either a treat or a threat. Maybe the one-letter difference is confusing some people, particularly those whose choices in the most recent presidential election is something of an embarrassment.

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But that one letter defines the entire philosophical approach to one who reached the highest political office in the United States: Life is about deals, and deals involve negotiations, and negotiations involve give and take.

Wheeler-dealers who wear the good suits and have boats, planes and golf estates have mastered the art of taking more than they give. It becomes the only virtue; no other moral or ethical considerations are valid. You win or you lose, and that’s all that matters. Collateral damage is whatever happens when you spill soup on your tie and that’s the extent of it.

If you’re a really cagey deals person, you don’t even worry about losing, because you don’t risk anything. You play with OPM — Other People’s Money — and other people go to jail or face the lawsuits if the deal goes south. You take the credit when you get more than you give and blame others when you fail.

Check that: You never fail. You can’t fail, because that’s bad for the image. You change the plan, switch to another channel, deflect, and lie. Can’t fail.

Anybody can play this game. The trick is surviving the early days. Thugs who get their money selling drugs, rolling pedestrians in alleys or burgling suburban homes go to jail. Those who get their start-up cash from Daddy can get a head start and at least look good if they have to go to court. The idea is to have enough Other People’s Money and the social connections to be able to afford lawyers to keep you from going to court.

Counterpunch counter-sue. Appeal. Pay off the judges. You need a lot of OPM to be able to buy judges, but if you’re artful, you can do it in socially acceptable ways, like donating to the right charities, election campaigns, and with endorsements and appointments that are fortuitous when the time comes to remember favors.

As in, “I need you to do me a favor, though.”

Quid pro quo is implied with everything from a job offer to a contract signature to a simple introduction to the right people in the right setting, or small talk at the charity ball to raise money for good things.

There are many ways to ask for it, or offer it. From the street corner hustler to the television evangelist exhorting the audience for offerings it comes down to some version of What’s in It for Me.

That’s the treat side of things. The other side is darker — the offer you can’t refuse.

If you’re a comedian who gets elected to the top job in a country at war with Russia, and you get an offer you can’t refuse from a notoriously ruthless and unreliable reality show star who got the job in America, you’re looking at a quid pro quo that will send you to the dictionary to look up the word “conundrum.”

Meanwhile, back here in West Cornpone, the faithful are assailed and assaulted with the news and asking, “What?”

Dean Minnich is a retired newsman who writes from Westminster. He served as county commissioner for two terms. His email address for comments is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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