Corruption is one of the few unforgivable social sins in the eyes of public opinion. This, despite the fact that few of these same social moralists would ever be willing to call their own daily, small-scale, ethical compromises a corruption of some greater principles. Conveniently forgetting that corruptions are essentially little else but a macro-view of micro-compromises.
A UK judge has concluded that Vladimir Putin is most likely implicated in the 2006 fatal poisoning of former KGB officer, and outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Alexander Litvinenko. This is not news to anyone who’s been following the fate of Putin’s critics. The man has undoubtedly orchestrated the death of many individuals who pose him even the slightest bit of political danger, and will undoubtedly continue to do so, primarily because there are no consequences to his crimes. Political leaders in his own country will not depose him, and heads of state in other countries will do little more than gently scold him for his excesses, while continue to engage him as a legitimate, respectable political figure in the world scene.
So, what now? Put simply, nothing. Putin could not care less what one judge, or even a hundred judges, in the United Kingdom say. And western leaders are more concerned about keeping the variables in the global political scene as predictable as possible than risk removing even a single demagogue, as long as they have a manageable working relationship with him.
The fact remains that Vladimir Putin, sitting President of the Russian Federation, is a murderer. An authoritarian thug, with a cold disregard for rule of international law regarding even the most basic of human rights. And the individuals we look to, which we have sanctioned to hold positions as our representatives to enforce the international laws we abide by, will not move a muscle to bring an obvious criminal to face the justice he deserves. Because it would not be a politically “savvy” move. Because it would introduce undue strain and unknown variables into the global scene. Because it would create a power vacuum in a fragile state. (My, my…how impolite of all these pesky activists to bother human rights groups and organizations about taking action against individuals violating human rights, I mean, it’s not like it’s their job or anything, right? No, no, no. Human rights organizations, international courts and law, all those exist to preserve the balance of power, not safeguard against its abuses.)
This story brings me to a some things that have been on my mind for some time. Such as: Is there any reason for the United Nations to exist? What about Interpol? What about International Court Tribunals? Believe me, I am not being facetious when I ask these questions. Is there any justifiable reason for these entities to exist when their focus is myopic to the point of being astigmatic? What good is a human rights organizational willing to sellout, and outright subjugate the very notion of the principles of human rights and justice it was established to protect? If these are just buildings in which thugs and murderers–and their accommodators–verbally masturbate about their self-importance to mask their powerless irrelevance in the face of opposing any actual threats to world peace and human rights, can we then drop the facade already, and call a useless spade a spade?
It doesn’t matter where you stand on the right-center-left spectrum of American politics, the fact is that, if you’re running for political office and you want to stand any chance of winning, you will laud and promote your candidacy as being aligned with the spirit of the people. What exactly is this spirit, and who specifically constitutes being a member of such a vague and loaded category like “the people”? None of that matters, because the phrase is meant to be a blank sheet, onto which voters can project whatever specific attributes they favor, left over from the sociopolitical legacy of the populist struggle of the 19th & 20th Centuries.
Populism is a broad term within political philosophy, but its basic ideological tenet is one of supporting the interests of the common worker and general public (frequently stylized simply as “the people” in popular speech), against the domination of the affluent elites of society. In the United States, the populist movement began in the late 19th Century as a mostly rural (farmers, laborers, and small-businessmen) backlash against the growing monopolization of their resources into the control of a group of industrialists and venture capitalists. Because the latter group had most (if not all) of the political and financial backing from the government, populism (even after its namesake’s fall as a major political player in the early 20th Century) became associated in the public mind with the common good of the lowly citizenry; essentially presented under the image of giving a voice to the hitherto politically voiceless.
As I already mentioned, nowadays the appeal to populist rhetoric transcends political affiliation. Barack Obama can fail to call for the legal investigation of the individuals and enterprises (indeed, openly refuse any suggestion of it) who contributed to the high risk gambling of public and private funds that helped bring about the financial crisis of 2008 (the economic effect of which we are still feeling on a global level), and he will still promote his policies as prime examples of serving “the people” above the interests of the upper classes (well, I don’t know about you, but when I commit marketing fraud and declare bankruptcy, I don’t see the judicial system putting up its hands and saying, “Meh, shit happens, let’s just move forward. Oh, by the way, here’s your old job back, too”). During the 2012 election, Mitt Romney could openly say that his vision for America’s economic system is one in which the richest will be directly favored above the rest (while also privately implying that nearly half the country is made up of social parasites), and he still continued to claim how the goal of his policies is structured to actually work for the common good of “the people” (because somehow making sure that your boss is financial secure, will–without any legal imperative pressuring him to do so–guarantee that he’ll be generous enough to graciously trickle a descent sum of that money down your way, instead of the more likely scenario of him hording it away in his own private funds). And both sides will get away with this vacuous rhetoric among their voting base, partly because most people are convinced that this is as good as it can get, and partly because they figure that (at the very least) their candidate is still making reference to them–which has got to count for something, right?
The reason people think it counts for something is the notion that somehow, by virtue of some noble force or another, the party, the candidate, the ideology that seems to most support the spirit of the people, is the less corruptible faction in the game. It rests on the unspoken premise that “the people” are this incorruptible fortress that stands above the decadency of the power-hungry rulers, and therein lies the central flaw of populist rhetoric. “The People” who make up the Democratic Party are corrupt enough to ignore the ethical trespass of their candidates, for the sake of promoting the handful of pet-issues they care about. “The People” who make up the Republican Party are corrupt enough to ignore the ethical trespasses of their candidates, for the sake of promoting the handful of pet-issues they care about. “The People” who make up the ranks of all political, social, ideological movements are corrupt enough to ignore the various faults in their reasoning for the sake of the greater good or the lesser evil they are convinced will benefit society more. In other words: I am corrupt enough to care more about my petty, pedantic disagreements with political thought, than to truly consider the possibility that a great deal of people could potentially benefit from my support of one political model over another.
This idea of the immaculate virtue of “the people” is a myth. It was a myth when it was being promoted by my Southern farmer’s great-great-grandparents on behalf of the populist cause, and it’s a myth in its current incarnation as a bipartisan talking point during every election cycle. After all, all corrupt individuals, in all identifiable fields of work and thought, are still people, and I’d wager that none of them consider their misdeeds as acts of corruption, as much as circumstantial/vocational necessities. And everyone is liable to be led astray into morally questionable deeds, if s/he can convince her/himself of the virtue of the “bigger picture” involved. You and I, no matter how humble and modest of a life we lead, are no exception.