People corrupt power

Written by Brenda Schimke

There is a saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But Jonathan Fisk argued in his book, Echo, that is simply a lie.  

“If it were true, then God, who has all authority in heaven and earth, would become corrupted. It is not power that is evil. It is us. It is never power that corrupts a man, but a man who corrupts the power.”

Granted, Fisk was writing a book imploring Christians to remember we’re not God, and warns us to be aware how easy it is to make what we think into what God must have said.

However, his rationale between God and people could also fit our relationship between political leaders and citizens. It isn’t the power of the Office of Premier or President that is corrupted, it’s the person who holds the position who can corrupt the office.

There are examples galore today. None more than the contrast between a God-fearing man of humility, Joe Biden, as President of the United States and the twice impeached, amoral, corrupted former President who tore the fabric of American democracy to shreds.

The now defeated, reality-TV star President was just the culmination of four decades bashing the institution of government. Ironically, this trend started with the divorced movie star, Ronald Reagan, who beat a God-fearing man, Jimmy Carter with the words, “The only thing wrong with government is government itself.” 

The United States would be well-served to leave entertainers out of their politics!

Unfortunately, most free-world countries took up Reagan’s mantra to varying degrees. Forty years later this mindset of ‘governments are bad’, has left the United States, once the most respected democracy in the world, on the list of flawed democracies.

According to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) flawed democracies are nations, where elections are fair and free and basic civil liberties, are honoured but may have issues (e.g. media freedom infringement and minor suppression of political opposition and critics).

Canada is ranked sixth on the list of full democracies by the EIU.

Full democracies are nations where civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are not only respected but also reinforced by a political culture conducive to the thriving of democratic principles.

These nations have a valid system of governmental checks and balances, an independent judiciary whose decisions are enforced, governments that function adequately, and diverse and independent media,  according to the EIU.

Democracies are effective when the leader follows the law and adheres to traditions and political norms.  

Premier Kenney’s decision not to give a Throne Speech to start the Spring Legislature session sets a dangerous precedence. Rumours have it he has at least 17 pieces of legislation to push through, but without a throne speech these will all come as complete surprises to Albertans. 

With a propensity for closure motions, debate in the wee hours of the morning and marathon one-day sessions, these legislative changes will be law before Albertans even know what’s about to hit them.

Even Kenney’s decision to announce the budget and then hide away for a week is contrary to norms and can only be seen as an attempt to break the news cycle and get citizens distracted from understanding the totality of the budget.

When we begin to believe that the government is our enemy, it inevitably becomes the enemy. Insurrections are the logical outcome.

January 6, 2021, Washington, D.C. is the visceral and visual evidence of how words eventually lead to violent overthrows even in democracies.

We need look no further than the pandemic to re-commit ourselves to the critically important role governments play in a democratic society. 

The United States and Great Britain unfortunately were led by leaders who 40 years later still believe the Reagan mantra. The result, untold thousands of citizens unnecessarily died on their watch.

Fisk has a valid point. It isn’t power that corrupts a person, it is a person who corrupts the power. 

In a democracy, a leader’s character is simply more important than ideology.

The EIU is part of the Economist Group. Its annual democracy index is published in peer-review journals. The US ranks 25th and the UK ranks 16th.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.