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All this craziness must stop

Sept 25,2019
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Kim Jin-kook
The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

A sitting justice minister had his home searched by prosecutors. How is this even possible in a country which has traditionally prized dignity and cause? How did we end up like this?

The online social community has become extremely polarized, attacking one another instead of cooling off after reflecting on the facts. President Moon Jae-in might have foreseen all the consequences when he pressed ahead with his appointment of Cho Kuk — his beloved former senior secretary for civil affairs — as justice minister even when Cho’s family were the subjects of a prosecutorial probe.
He was reportedly persuaded by Cho’s pleas despite opposition from some of his aides. But that alone cannot explain his high-stakes move. The ghost of late President Roh Moo-hyun hangs over the Moon Jae-in administration. In his memoir “Destiny,” Moon most regretted his failing to see through prosecution reform and the abolition of the National Security Law as Roh’s senior secretary for civil affairs. Roh faithfuls still believe the prosecutorial probe of Roh, a probe that sent him to his death, had been a vendetta by “politically-motivated prosecutors” to end reform efforts.

President Moon relied on Cho to complete the reforms. He refused to see any faults in the allegations around Cho’s family and instead perceived the attack on Cho as another resistance move against prosecutorial reforms. The reform bill is already pending in the National Assembly for fast-tracking. It is the task of the legislature to finish the job. So why Moon’s obsession with Cho? There still remains the task of revamping the prosecution and eliminating the “ills” within the institution. Then there is the harder work of scrapping the National Security Law. That also is up to the legislature. Is Cho really the only person Moon can rely on to pull them off?

National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang likes to quote an ancient Chinese sage who said that “the way to win the people’s heart is abundance in food and soldiers” when he was asked by his disciples what is most important in politics. Food should come before soldiers. But without public trust, the state cannot exist. The Park Geun-hye administration was taken down by massive candlelight vigils after losing public confidence. The governments with tragic ends — led by strongmen Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee — all crumbled when they lost public trust.

A newspaper in 2017 picked the ancient Chinese saying — that if the ruler is the boat, people are the water — as the quote of the year. The saying means that the people can hold up leadership or tip it over. The power over the state is in the hands of the people — not the leadership — since our democratization movement. But all governments listen to the public cheers while turning deaf ears to public scorns. They lose control at times of turbulence. Leadership does not necessarily have to chase public opinion. Decisiveness is needed sometimes. But going against public sentiment is highly dangerous.

Looking back at his experience with the Roh Moo-hyun administration in his book published while running for presidency, Moon said it was important to stay connected to the people, otherwise a war with the mainstream cannot be won. But he shunned the people. The public polls clearly showed they opposed Cho’s appointment. Yet he persisted.

His excuse was that he did not wish to leave a bad precedent of disqualifying a candidate simply out of allegations when nothing of his doing had been proven illegal. But numerous candidates did not get their ministerial posts even when they had not been convicted. Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached even before the court declared her guilty.

Moon tends to find fault with everyone else except himself. The president cannot excuse himself by simply comparing his administration with the past governments. Apology should come first when wrong has been done.

Moon has repeatedly defied public sentiment. When his approval rating had fallen to 40 percent from over 80 percent two years ago, the presidential office maintained a bold facade and said it saw no need to respond to comments on the dramatic fall in his approval rating.

Moon’s loyalists are left alone in defense of the president. They could resort to a blind slander campaign on the internet. Political wrangling could worsen when election season nears. Should the election be a contest over the Cho controversy? Should it be a vote over the bad or the worst? Justice is coming down and pulling down the country. All this craziness must stop. We must find an exit.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 24, Page 35