2018-04-11 / Editorial


Michael N. Searles

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902) is credited with the axiom: All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We now have a front row seat on how unbridled power looks. Actions that we thought characteristic of Third World dictatorships are now being exhibited in our country. As Americans, we have a very high opinion of ourselves and a lower opinion of others. The excesses and extreme behavior of leaders who capriciously spend their countries’ treasure are characterized as backward, unprincipled and ignorant. While this kind of behavior might be accepted in South America, Africa or Asia, it is not accepted in the United States of America. We, as the world’s leading democracy, do not allow public officials to blatantly fill themselves at the public trough. While others built mammoth monuments, opulent mansions and palaces, flew only on private jets, had a fleet of expensive cars, and adorn their houses with bathrooms of gold, we condemned those leaders and nations for practicing or allowing that type of behavior.

We can no longer make these claims. We are watching in real time as officials take every opportunity to enrich and pleasure themselves at public expense. If it were reported that Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, doubled and tripled the salaries of aides from his home community; wanted his vehicle installed with sirens and lights to avoid traffic in the capital city; had a 24-hour Protective Service Detail of up to 30 persons; always flew first class, in a military transport or on private planes; spent lavishly on trips abroad; gave sweetheart contracts to businesses that provided him with various benefits; lived practically free at a lavish residence; wanted a bulletproof vehicle; continuously swept his office for electronic bugs and installed a $43,000 sound proof phone booth in his government office; and traveled to Morocco to encourage its leaders to import liquefied natural gas from a business cohort, we might say, “Well, he’s a dictator, what do you expect?” The problem is that the list of abuses and excesses is not the product of the President of Sudan but an American public official. These outrageous actions were proposed, initiated or done by EPA head, Scott Pruitt. When challenged, he responds without remorse and reassigns those in the Agency who see his actions as improper and unethical. As of this writing, President Trump still expresses confidence in Mr. Pruitt and his way of running the office. Scott Pruitt’s actions reflect the abuses that occur in other government agencies and in the White House itself. One difference in many other parts of the world is the absence of a free press. When newspaper journalists in Sudan speak out, they are subject to arrest and detainment for revealing “inappropriate” truths. Some journalists have faced years in detention for “undermining state security” and “breaking the media law.” Fortunately, the American press report abuses of power even as they are labeled purveyors of “Fake News.” Yet, as incident after incident is reported, Congress, America’s public watchdog, is relatively silent. The committees and departments that oversee official behavior and conduct hardly raise an eyebrow as incidents are exposed. Since the offending Cabinet officers are part of the executive branch, Congress acquiesces to the President. The President, who retains wide support from party loyalists, does not fear Congressional discontent or public anger. He is President until 2020 unless Congress decides to end his tenure. Until there is a new election or an impeachment, we will live under the same sway as dictatorial countries around the world. Now, we clearly can see how power corrupts; fortunately, we as yet do not live in a country where absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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