The Hypocrisy of Power

Walter Rhein

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“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — Abraham Lincoln

It is soul wrenching to revisit the events that transpired in Minneapolis after the tragic death of George Floyd. When an innocent citizen dies at the hands of the police, it undermines public faith in our whole political system. Second Amendment advocates often point to the genius of our Founding Fathers who included language that essentially gives permission to the governed to rise up when political systems become tyrannical. Our Founding Fathers understood that such tyranny was an inevitable consequence of power. What could be a more obvious symbol of tyranny than an agent of the government brutally murdering an innocent citizen?

That being said, I don’t believe the events of Minneapolis warrant a complete dismantling of our entire government. Yet, these are critical times, and in moments like these it is incumbent on our institutions of power to take action, self-evaluate, and deescalate the situation.

The problem is that institutions of power perceive any concession of wrongdoing as an erosion of their own ability to perform their basic function. They are therefore loathe to embark on the behaviors which would quell public concern and reestablish a relationship of civility.

The death of an innocent citizen demonstrates that the balance of power has shifted too far in the direction of the authority establishment. This creates a vacuum of irritation where the public exerts force on the establishment. If the establishment relents and gives up power, the pressure is released and the critical moment passes. However, if the establishment digs in and pushes back, the result is the kind of civil unrest that we’re currently witnessing.

The public is disgusted with watching transgressions like these occur again and again with no consequence. Politicians tell people to calm down and insist that there will be an investigation, but we all know they’re just waiting for the public outrage to blow over. When the news cycle has moved on to something else, all the individuals in power that were involved in this tragic death will be free again to behave exactly as before. More tragedies will ensue, and the public knows it.

Make no mistake, power is at fault here. The Founding Fathers knew that we the people have an inherent sense of right and wrong. This is the whole basis of a democratic system. We trust in the vote of the public because we know our citizens have the best understanding of what is necessary for governance.

In extreme times, power must recognize the voice of the people and defer its authority. When the people say, “Step down.” The right and appropriate response from power is to say, “At your command.”

In theory, in a perfect system, that would be the case. However, what happens in reality is when the people say “Step down.” Power replies, “You have to calm down first.”

“I’ll calm down when you get your hands off me.”

“No, you’ll calm down now.”

The hypocrisy is that power tends to deflect responsibility onto the victim. Power is creating the conflict, and power justifies its inhumane behavior by insisting the other party is at fault. This represents the basic cowardice of power, that above all things it is unwilling to relinquish its position of authority under any circumstances, even when such an action is right and necessary. The governed naturally and perpetually bristle at this exploitable aspect of power. The genius of the American political system is that we have checks and balances. The idea is that every branch of government has another branch to answer to. It’s like a giant, government version of scissors, paper, rock. In theory, another branch of power should be able to step in and provide a course correction when it oversteps the self-evident boundaries of civilized authority.

When a private citizen is killed by an agent of government, there must be an appropriate response at the highest levels immediately. It strains the social contract that is necessary for a civilized society to insist the public must wait for an investigation that might drag on for months or years. In moments like these, the generic “slap on the wrist” appearance of a response will not quell the rising social concern. Authority figures at the top must recognize systemic corruption and remove themselves from the equation.

But they won’t.

Because the inherent hypocrisy of power means it is incapable of supervising itself.

We the people are the last of the checks and balances, and our power is inherent rather than granted. We are like a sleeping giant, silent until roused, but once roused, the people’s power is absolute. The hypocrisy of power denies this. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of power, at the sake of its own self-preservation, to recognize this basic truth.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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