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The path to perdition

Oct 08,2019
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Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the chief editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The identity of President Moon Jae-in is being destroyed. As he tries to defend controversial Justice Minister Cho Kuk, he has lost the liberal’s values of fairness and justice. The justification for ousting Park Geun-hye is also slipping away.

The family of Cho, a self-claimed socialist, has enjoyed special benefits that cannot be explained as pure luck. The destination of amoral familism, intended to maximize the materialistic interests of a clan within a short period of time, leads to the destruction of a community. But the president still insists on backing Cho, who has become a symbol of special treatment and lack of fairness. Moon said that only Cho can reform the prosecution. Suspected fraud to get Cho’s daughter into top universities is being investigated, but Moon wants to change the education system. Is this what Moon means by fairness and justice?

“No privileged caste shall be recognized or ever established in any form,” reads Article 11 of our Constitution. The Cho family violated this clause and enjoyed special privileges. Public sentiment is about to explode, but the president appointed Cho as minister of justice, who overseas the criminal justice system. Moon’s promise to create a “society without privileges and foul play” is broken. Right now, we don’t see anyone protecting the Constitution among the top political players.

As his midterm approaches, Moon has failed to produce any tangible outcome. The economy and people’s livelihoods have plummeted to new lows, while foreign affairs and national security are in a never-ending crisis. His approval rating has not plunged because the people believe in his good will. That is possible because the public believed that he will perform ethical political actions thanks to his exceptionally strong Max Weber-style convictions.

Insiders in the liberal pews are gloomy as they see a president defending the hypocrisy of Cho. After Moon’s loyalists attack comrades with different thoughts as “traitors,” pragmatists are preparing to leave the liberal camp. A place where internal criticism is not permitted is nothing but a totalitarian camp.

Moon’s world, where democracy has been insulted, will become lonelier. It is unrealistic for him to believe that his supporters will not abandon him just because the opposition parties and the conservatives are worse than him. If Moon defends Cho to the end, he will become another Park Geun-hye, and the Moon administration will likely follow in the footsteps of Park’s presidency.

Thoroughly and dispassionately checking on possible errors in judgment is the basic attitude of a mature political leader. René Descartes, a philosopher from the 17th century, even doubted his own senses. This genius of philosophy, physics and mathematics struggled just because he was not sure if the world before his eyes was reality or a dream.

Based on such strong self-skepticism, modern times — an era of pragmatic reason that triumphed over superstition and madness — started. Blocking all criticism and punishing critics based on self-confidence can be compared to a witch hunt by fanatics.

“I can no longer trust the people that I used to trust, and I can no longer respect the people I used to respect, and I can no longer rely on a political party that I used to rely on,” said Chin Jung-kwon, a friend of Cho. “It seems that everyone has gone crazy after being split between factions.”

“It seems that the liberals have almost become a political establishment,” he said.

The liberals have collapsed and Moon is entirely responsible. “If I do not appoint him because of suspicions even though no clear illegal action that he must take responsibility for has been confirmed, it will set a bad precedent,” Moon said when he appointed Cho. What was he talking about? Untold numbers of nominees to top government posts have dropped out because of ethical issues. The only precedent Cho is setting is remaining in the job despite such devastating ethical albatrosses around his neck. The president is trying to protect his ally and telling the public nonsense — and a divided nation is fighting.

Three years ago, when a corruption scandal surrounding senior Blue House secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo was revealed, Park did not fire him. Eventually, the abuse of power scandal involving her close friend Choi Soon-sil ended her presidency.

Moon is on the exact same path. His loyalists are calling Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who is investigating Cho, the kingpin of rebels. It is closer to totalitarianism than democracy. Karl Popper, who fought against totalitarianism, once said, “Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.”

Moon’s friend and former boss Roh Moo-hyun was different. He dreamed of unity. He offered Park, then an opposition lawmaker, the unification minister post and pushed forward a grand coalition in which the prime minister’s post and those of many ministers would be occupied by opposition politicians. He was genuine in his attempt to use the patriotism of rivals.

A president is responsible for uniting the people. Moon must dismiss Cho and apologize to the people, for what he did was wrong. Only then can division end and the people’s everyday lives will become peaceful.

Genghis Khan led battles during the day, while talking at night to Buddhists, Confucianists, Christians and Tibetan shamans. The true weapon of that leader, who built a great empire in the 13th century, was religious tolerance and communication.

Moon opened the door for talks with North Korea and engaged the recalcitrant state. There is nothing stopping him from talking to the conservative opposition. If he is not capable, he must hire talented people from outside and use them. He must stop being a leader of his own faction in order to prevent another tragic fall of an administration and win the support of the entire nation.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 7, Page 31