From China to Russia, the Middle East to Latin America, civil unrest and dissatisfaction with unresponsive governments threaten to shatter nations and destabilize regions. A major factor is the apparent immunity power elites use to shirk the consequences of their wrongs and overindulge the inherent privileges of their positions at the expense of the many.
Traditional governments existed, because they had the might and legitimacy of legacies to rule over their territories. Within their territories, people were permitted to live so long as it served the interests of the powerful. When the United States was founded, it changed the role of government. Unfortunately, this does not mean those who find themselves in positions of privilege and leadership reject traditional views on power that benefit them.
Instead of might and tradition determining who was belonged to the governing class, the Founding Fathers of the United States recognized governments exist, because the People tolerate their existence. In turn, nations thrive when the People support their governments and leaders. No longer was a country just a piece of property owned by the rich and powerful; it was a nation and commonwealth in which all citizens shared an interest.
In essence, America’s Founding Fathers determined any government that fails to garner the consent and support of its People has no legitimate right to rule over a People. By building a government where the People hold the legal right to choose their leadership, criticize the actions of their leaders, and play a role in how their society is governed, they felt they had the best chance of creating a proper government, which would be representative of the People’s interests, exist for the People, and supported by the People.
With that in mind, positions of authority often come with privilege, yet the privilege of power always demands greater personal responsibility. In places like Brazil, Honduras, and Guatemala, the privileges of power are all too evident while the consequences for abusing power are unseen. Hypocrisy may be the privilege of the powerful, but a failure to respect the legal and ethical boundaries of one’s position undermines the legitimacy of that power in the eyes of those who support that power and tolerate the use of that power.
Furthermore, the United States and Europe also suffer from an apparent elitist entitlement to immunity. As demonstrated by the expanding gap between the wealthy and growing number of impoverished, the rich and powerful appear to believe they are entitled to preferential treatment when it comes to trade, tax, and regulatory policies as well as when it comes to the investigation and enforcement of laws. Certainly, America’s wealthy and political elites are subject to arrest and persecution, but the scales of justice seem to favor them.
Much of the Great Recession, for example, resulted from the decisions of Wall Street executives, yet no one was actually punished for their wrongs, because America’s legal system does not recognize their wrongs as illegal. It is, however, important to recognize something that is illegal is not necessarily wrong and something that is legal is not necessarily right. A legal system cannot treat all wrongs as illegal, because doing so empowers political leaders to pursue their personal beliefs and vendettas, which undermines the rights of others; however, the apparent writing of laws to favor the powerful does so as well.
In China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela, what much of the world considers to be democratic rights are deemed “illegal.” That said, what ultimately matters is whether the People tolerate the policies and actions of their power elites. Once the People can no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of the unresponsive, self-serving nature of their wealthy and political elites, government losses support. Over time, this leads to ever intensifying civil unrest as well as the breakdown of the system that protects the wealth, power, and privilege of the elites.
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