“Corruption is almost always a byproduct of power, and absolute power corrupts completely. It’s rare to find a good man among the great ones.” (The Earl of Acton)
Every one of us likes to entertain the notion that we are good-natured, trustworthy, and kind people. In our hearts, we are certain that if we are ever in a position where we have personal power, whether it be through the establishment of our own company, advancement to a corporate executive office, the acquisition of an extraordinary amount of influence in our field of expertise, or the election to public office, we will never compromise our integrity and will remain honest and ethical to the very end.
The person who is doing the power-wielding and the amount of power that they have gathered both have a significant impact on the manner in which power is used. We are all acquainted with the workplace dictator who governs a little company empire with greed and self-indulgence, abusing subordinates without any sense of justice or compassion. This person is known as a petty tyrant. We have seen research scientists who had built a name over the course of their careers fall into disgrace as a consequence of manipulating findings in order to promote their hypotheses and the sponsors of their study.
As the scope of power expands, we see the unfolding of tableaux similar to those that occurred at Enron and Lincoln Savings. Not only does the same selfishness and self-indulgence retain sway, but there is also an emergence of the idea of being above the law, and responsibility and trust are thrown out of the boardroom. When a lifestyle grows more esoteric, there is a bigger gap between the powerful and the rest of the world. Those who are not powerful are to be deceived, misled, and robbed of their assets; this is clearly only just retribution for those individuals’ inability to ascend to positions of authority.
In a world where hereditary monarchies have become obsolete, the most absolute power can be found in the realm of politics. This power can be wielded by a military-backed dictator or by those who have been elected to office so many times that they no longer see themselves as public representatives but rather as entitled oligarchs of a system that they control.
The overbearing ambition of one man, Julius Caesar, was responsible for the fall of a republic that had carried Rome to the pinnacle of civilization. The empire that he established contained the germs of its own demise, as it descended into the unfettered autocracies of a succession of less-than-illustrious kings who used their total authority according to whim and caprice. This set the stage for the empire’s ultimate demise.
The people who wrote the Constitution had a vision of a government in which there would be no such thing as unrestrained power because of the checks and balances that were built into the structure that they designed. Because the rule of law was prioritized, there was no way for anybody to be above the law. Each of the three parts of the government was expected to provide their advice and sign off on each significant decision, which guaranteed that a wide variety of people and perspectives were taken into consideration.
Nevertheless, the people who were instrumental in the formation of our constitutional legislation were titans in their own right. Washington’s decision not to take the title of king, which was supported by a number of his followers, was seen as a rejection of having too much power concentrated in the hands of one person. His contemporaries, including Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Madison, as well as many others, took the same approach, which was to distribute power in order to guarantee that the requirements of the many may be satisfied via the participation of a wide variety of representative voices.
Over the course of many centuries, the system of checks and balances that they established has enabled the ship of state to remain afloat. In spite of the fact that it sometimes lists to port or starboard, the sheer number of people who are involved in the political process has consistently been able to write it so that it is centered in the middle of the water. There have, without a doubt, been a lot of gloomy eras characterized by corruption and ineptitude. Too many officials have forgotten that they are public servants, developing a mindset of entitlement and the conviction that they know, better than anyone else, what is good for the public who, after all, elected them. We face such darkness now: individuals who have been in office for too long, with too much power within their grasping fingers. We have too many officials who have forgotten that they are public servants.
The only thing that can hold them in check is the rule of law, which was painstakingly created more than 200 years ago. In a world rife with corruption, greed, and overweening pride, the lawful prosecution of a congressman who accepted millions of dollars in bribes, of a congressional leader who used election money as he saw fit rather than as the law required, and of administration officials who destroyed a woman’s career and put the lives of covert operatives all over the world in danger restores balance.
The ongoing investigations into the honesty of our leaders in evoking the need for military intervention, as well as the rising voice of dissent against financial favors for the wealthy and powerful at the cost of cutting services to the powerless poor, offer a glimmer of hope that the corruption will be curbed, and that the hubris of our leaders will be punctured and exposed.
The defendants who are now under fire raise a hue and cry, asserting that the sole violation is the political aspirations of their detractors. They have progressed so far beyond the level of the average person that they see their own acts of corruption and wrongdoing to be completely normal and in the realm of the expected.
We are fortunate in that, unlike the powerless Roman senators who merely served as rubber stamps, we are able to face our would-be Caesars without the risk of being physically harmed, and we are able to drive them out of their cozy nest using the most powerful weapon that has ever been devised: the ballot box.