Institutions are as Good as the People Running Them

Most of us most of the time envision public institutions as fixed objects, occupied by people who manage and perform their functions for the benefit of the people. When those who the people have entrusted with the authority to lead institutions to achieve their mission, believe in the institutions they oversee, such assumptions pretty much hold true.

However, most institutions function effectively mostly because of the commitment of their directors to honestly implement their mandated operations.

Authoritarian Demagoguery and Corruption of the “Rule of Law”

The so-called “rule of law” exists only to the extent that people believe in the value of institutions operating as prescribed in law. Legislation specifies the mandate and basic operational principles by which an institution is supposed to conduct its business. The institution promulgates rules and regulations as the operational means of carrying out the mandate.

In “normal times,” all this works out, at least in terms of maintaining the legitimacy of the institutions and its actions, more or less effectively, whether we happen to like a particular policy or not.

However, the actions of authoritarians demonstrate the fragile nature of democratic institutions. If the chief executive, i.e., POTUS in the case of the U.S.A., has no commitment to democratic values or the rule of law and happens to be a narcissistic sociopath then the “rule of law” tends to break down.

When the highest executive authority in the land routinely lies and violates the law and ethics, and roles back institutional regulations to further his power-seeking agenda above all else, then all sorts of things we have taken for granted tend to crumble before our eyes. That is what corruption looks like.

The authoritarian demagogue speaks with a forked tongue; his speech has little to do with his actions, intentionally fomenting as much ambiguity as possible. The goal of wannabe dictators is to upset normal expectations, leaving others unable to operate in normal ways. The “new normal” is the abnormality of a personality disorder.

Chaos, Democracy, and Enforcement of Law

When the culture suffers from a weakening of democratic values and deep-seated resentment of the failure of the government to represent the interests of the people, authoritarians can take illegitimate control by manipulating public opinion. They repeat big lies claiming all manner of accomplishments that do not exist. The tyrant defines a free press as “the enemy of the people.” Under such circumstances, corruption has a free reign.

A wealth of self-indulgence clutters the culture, amplified by social media. Core values are clouded in a haze of greed and fear turned skillfully into hatred, distracting people from the corruption of high office. Democratic values take a back seat and, as in our case, the mass (corporate) media promote implications that the “authority” of the would-be autocrat in the highest office, is absolute and exempt from legal or moral constraint. Mandated to execute the laws of the land, he is somehow “above the law” and shielded from prosecution for violating the law. Too many believe he is excused from scrutiny by the one body – Congress – authorized by the Constitution to execute “oversight” over the executive.

Who enforces the law when the highest authority appoints an attorney general to protect his personal power, not the rule of law, thereby avoiding any kind of accountability for violating the law? The danger to the survival of democratic institutions is very real and growing daily.

Republicans Love Hate Trump

Do you remember the 2016 Republican presidential primaries? Expressions of disgust and derision for upstart outsider Trump among the party establishment and clamoring candidates were widespread. My, how times have changed. Initial faux principled “anything but Trump” stances dissembled into fake adulation and obsequious pandering by congressional Republicans to an increasingly erratic fake president.

Henchman after henchman fell to indictments by the special prosecutor. Convictions and cooperation agreements correlated with outside evidence of Trump agents’ multiple contacts and financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, and intelligence agents, and international money-laundering banks (especially Deutsche Bank). U.S. intelligence agencies had warned of Russian attempts to penetrate U.S. election databases; Russian bots and trolls deployed to Facebook and Twitter. Putin’s evil is so much more sophisticated than Trump’s narcissistic bravado that it became a national embarrassment.

Republican politicians refused to allow evidence or testimony to enter intelligence or judiciary hearings. They just repeated the “no Russian collusion” mantra, even as grand juries handed down indictments of Russian agents and their American contacts associated with Trump. ‘Pay politically to play financially’ reigned supreme as rewards for cooperating with corruption piled up and those facing reelection avoided political punishment by the nastiest elements of the Trumpist white nationalist base.

Personal Reasons for Public Irrationality

mitch-mcconnellWell, of course, there are reasons why these politicians put away any principles or preferences they previously proclaimed, including basic Republican values and policy principles, such as fiscal responsibility. Just look at the rewards and punishments involved. Huge tax windfalls for wealthy senators, representatives, and their corporate sponsors rewarded submission to the petulant whims of the sociopathic narcissist. Trump’s tax bill gave away hundreds of billions to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Mitch McConnell’s pockets got their share.

The threat of being “primaried” by aggressive PAC-funded attacks by the Trumpist base in upcoming campaigns certainly got the attention of Republican senators and representatives up for reelection in 2020. They might have considered a principled stand against executive usurpation of the constitutional authority of Congress over government spending, but not under that kind of threat. Many found the false assertion of a “national emergency” as cover for commandeering funds designated for military projects both repugnant and blatantly unconstitutional. Yet, they buried their principles to secure their personal political position.

A few voted in support of the bill to overturn the proclaimed “national emergency,” mostly out of fear that the precedent could result in a future Democratic president pulling the same stunt to achieve some progressive purpose, such as funding the hated Green New Deal. That is not the art of the deal; it is extortion. It is not that such tactics are rare in Washington politics. Nor is it simply a matter of traditional “gridlock” in the national legislature.

Pathology of Policy

When a narcissistic sociopath “makes policy,” you can be sure that the origin and intent have to do with self-aggrandizement, not the public interest. I have not fact-checked the story that Trump’s obsession with “the wall” began when campaign aides suggested it as a way to make him remember to mention the “threat” of immigration. But it fits the profile. The meme took off and he happily continues to exploit it.

Generating fear of the other is a classic tactic of would-be dictators and tyrants. So is endless repetition of the “big lie.” The flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border has steadily decreased for a long time. Most drug smuggling occurs at the biggest ports of entry. Would-be terrorists from the Middle East have boarded airliners in Europe or elsewhere with false documents, headed for major American cities.

So, what’s with the wall? Its basic function is to generate fear and hatred to distract from the damage done to the nation by kleptocratic corruption at the very top – a classic tactic of tyrants.