A Republic – 10.0 The Power Problem
“Those who have power will use it to keep it” E. A. Spencer jr.
The USA is based on one main concept. The concept is that centralized power is bad. It’s not the power mind you. That just gets things done. It is the people with power that are the problem. The USA is designed to solve this ancient problem.
Throughout the Constitution, there is that one central theme. Try and control human nature. Limit power wherever you find it so people can’t use it without limit. Share it. Separate it. Limit how long people can have it. Anything but allow anyone to get a firm grip on it without anyone else there to check on them. The Founders were determined to solve this power problem any way they could. It is the basic problem of government. How do you get people to lead others and not get the “big head”? How do you get them to use the power given to them for the good of the whole without getting caught up in it personally? How do you keep them from using your money for themselves that they said they were going to spend for something good for everyone? How do you keep them from using the power you gave them to use for the common good to keep it for themselves? How do you keep them from using the money you gave them to con you into leaving them in power?
Power it seems does funny things to people. John Adams thought it caused a mental condition in people. He may be right in many cases.
The bottom line is that you must look for it in your representatives. Not just the ones you are electing but the ones you already elected. That is a big part of your job. If it is true that people in power become the victim of a mental condition in many cases, you must make sure it doesn’t happen to your representative.
Here’s what to look for. Here is how the problem develops.
Fear and Insecurity – When a person first gets power they feel uncomfortable and even fearful. Nothing in their life has made them ready for this. In most cases there is no book to tell them what to do. They are in strange waters.
Defensiveness – People can’t stand to feel uncomfortable or fearful for any length of time. So their mind makes up reasons why this power thing is OK. Like, “well I must be meant to do this”, or “well I must really be better than other people”.
Self Importance – This leads to feelings of self-importance. “Wow I am a big person. I am better than I thought. Everyone tells me so.” “GOD must have ordained me to do this. It is my destiny.” This type of thinking develops naturally in many people. It allows the person to forget the fear even more. The head starts to swell.
Self-entitlement – Here they start to forget that all are created equal. Their superiority complex starts to become a habit. Certainly they start to forget that all are equal citizens. Here the big head is most recognizable. They start to believe that they deserve things. It starts out in real world situations where they say something like, “I travel so much I need to go first class to be at the top of my game when I get where I am going.” That then leads to taking other “perks” – which are happily handed out by people who want the representatives favor later on. Pretty soon human nature takes over and they think they are entitled to all these “bennies” that the normal person doesn’t have.
Disconnectedness – They start to get lost in their own little world they and their …. kissers and rich and powerful interests create for them. They forget what other average people are going through. They forget that being a public servant is supposed to be exactly that. It should be a worthy sacrifice to be an elected representative. The real world eventually completely leaves their minds except as something they have to fake talking about at election time. Here they start to get beyond the big head. They become almost completely self-centered.
Power Thirstiness – At this point power becomes the thing. They are convinced now in their mind they are worthy of it. They are convinced they are better than others. So they should have the power to rule, right? – only makes sense. Remember those who have power will use it to keep it. Eventually you will see signs of this – IF YOU LOOK FOR IT. They will be actively working to consolidate and keep their power you have given them – but for its own sake.
Arrogance – This leads to haughtiness and arrogance. You should all be able to recognize these. Even if they are able to hide it most of the time, they start using the power you gave them for themselves. Look for signs of selfish gain in their actions.
Cruelty – It can lead even to cruelty if left unchecked. They start to try to destroy their opponents rather than just beat them.
Degradation – They start to be less than human. They are openly big headed. They show disrespect for ordinary people.
Destruction – Then they end up being destroyed by their own actions and the reactions they bring out in others. Your goal is to make sure it doesn’t get this far. Because if it does many innocents will have been hurt before they go. Not the least of which is you.
Of course this wouldn’t happen to YOUR representative – or would it? When was the last time you took a close look? Remember the character and capability you looked for in the representative when you elected them the first time? It may change. Many people fall victim to this problem. In fact almost all people fall victim to this condition. It is a rare person that can resist the temptations that power brings. All humans are weak. Everybody has this condition. It is the human condition. That is probably why we don’t call it a mental condition officially – because we all have it. All of humanity is a little bit nuts and wants power to keep themselves safe since they are all fearful. So no one likes to admit it or talk about it. Washington and Adams and Franklin and Jefferson all admitted it. That is probably why they were able to control it in themselves. Control is the word here. No one can beat it. No one is immune to it. A few are able to control it. Most are not. So YOUR favorite representative probably cannot.
Because of this you need to look at your representative regularly. Remember the McDonalds example? Remember the sports team example? You need to check on your manager, your coach regularly. Don’t wait until they lose the championship game, or have an 0-10 season, or skip town to change them. Watch them on a regular basis.
As a personal example, a problem I have had is with the WW II generation. Like the founding generation, these people were much more immune to this power problem. It seems that severe hardship like depression and combat are both good for the character and build capability so the nation has had it pretty good these last 50 or 60 years. Not that there weren’t bad representatives, but there were fewer of them. These WWII generation representatives that served for so long were so good and policed their bad people so well that some of us, including me, got kind of fat, dumb, and happy about my votes. Maybe you did too. Now though, these new reps have been brought up in the good times. On close inspection, as a group they seem much weaker and less capable. While there are some wonderful individuals serving now, most of them simply have not gone through the fire. Plus the single interest and selfishly motivated lobbying groups have multiplied and improved so the representative’s job now is much harder than that of their older counterparts. Thus it is even more difficult for them to do their job right without getting the big head or sliding into the “system” and doing what they are told by the machine. Their PR people cover it up better too. That means that you and I have to watch them even more closely to ensure this experiment succeeds. I plead guilty to not doing enough of that. Maybe you have too? Remember what you are looking for – the erosion of character and putting people in an office that is beyond their capabilities.
That leads to one more thing that you have to look for. You have to look at yourself. You are part of this problem most likely.
People, for some reason tend to value people in power just because they are in power. They tend to kowtow to these people for no good reason. Watch a rock concert or a sports event if you don’t believe me and listen to the conversations around you. Everyone either is putting these players on a pedestal or wanting to kill them, both without reason. Do you do this? I bet you do. I do too. Why? I don’t know but it seems to be a common human trait. John Adams said it has something to do with noticeability. Why that should be no one seems to know. Why celebrity is something that is valued way beyond what is reasonable is something to be studied, but clearly he is on to something here. Look at our reaction to a TV newsperson when they come to speak in our town, or a sports figure. I remember when I was speaking in schools. I was an authentic history teacher doing a fun show that would help kids grades. I was lucky to get $500 a performance, which took two or three days to produce and perform. I found out that some of these sports figures got 4 to 5 times that to talk about drugs or their experiences on the football field and they only worked for a couple of hours. These are fine things for kids to hear, don’t get me wrong. Plus these are wonderful people individually and trying to do their civic duty in most cases. But the school paid 4 to 5 times more for this person to come just because they were famous and they got hugely more if you figure it per hour. Plus they were being paid millions by their team and really didn’t need the money. Why do you & I do that? Why should beauty, birth, riches, or other charisma sway us more than wisdom and virtue? Answer, it shouldn’t. You must not let the fact that your representative appears as a celebrity and is on TV and sends you mail all the time (that you pay for by the way) affect how you think about them. If you ignore wisdom and virtue in your evaluation of these people you will soon have a community and nation without wisdom and virtue. Think about this when you vote.
Do not value birth, wealth, talent, and/or celebrity over virtue, capability, and wisdom. Would you rather have a boss who is good and talented and treats his/her help right or one who just won a popularity contest? Think of your school student council election. How many times did the popular senior get picked? Did they do a good job? You probably didn’t check, but they probably didn’t. This is one of the few countries in the world where you get to pick your boss. You had better pick wisely or the privilege will go away.
Just in case all else fails, here is a little tip that is easy to remember:
WHEN IN DOUBT, VOTE THEM OUT.
Don’t believe that they are the only people that can do the job. History shows time and again that is not true.