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Arrogance of power

Jan 20,2020
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Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Unexpressed emotions get into your mind and cause neurological disorders. It could lead to sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches and cause impulse or anger control disorders. Did the ruling power think it would be dangerous to step back? It suffered a short breakdown after the eruption of all controversy over the appointment of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk but has regained confidence after defeating the prosecution. Frank expression of its emotions is spotted here and there. Sometimes, it was disguised as a blunder or sometimes, it was nicely packaged as sincerity.

“My district has only gotten worse,” said Kim Hyun-mee, the Minister of Land and Infrastructure, who visited her own district where she had served three terms before her appointment as minister. With those remarks, she openly insulted the residents. Rep. Lee Hae-chan, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party who had stirred controversy after belittling people with disabilities a year ago, made a similar blunder. This time, he said, “Those who were born with disabilities from birth have a feeble will.” Kang Ki-jung, a senior presidential secretary for political affairs, came up with the idea of forcing real estate buyers to get permission from the government to make purchases — an anticonstitutional proposal. Later, he hid behind the excuse that it was his personal view.

Were they insensitive or careless? Or are they arrogant? It would be fortunate if they were mistakes. I never thought that new Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae would attack Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl for “not obeying her order to meet him to discuss her plan to reshuffle top prosecutors” who have been investigating corruption and abuse of power involving the Blue House. Why should the prosecutor general comply with her call to help her change his core aides? She made the remarks reminiscent of the days of monarchy. The Blue House went so far as to openly ignore a court-issued search warrant to destroy the principle of separation of three powers by appointing the former head of the legislature as prime minister.

The climax of “honesty” came at the New Year’s news conference of President Moon Jae-in. “I felt indebted to former Justice Minister Cho Kuk for the ordeals he had to go through.” Is that because people come first as he said? Where did values of the liberals go? Being able to express feelings frankly is a power itself. The powers that probably would not have to conceal their feelings when their schemes — involving the establishment of an extra law enforcement agency aimed at investigating high-level government officials, including prosecutors and judges; electoral reforms; and reshuffling top prosecutors and revamping the organization of the prosecution — are all over. These impolite words cannot be said without the confidence that power can be recreated without any trouble. The incompetent opposition is only a helper.

The Moon administration has based its pressures on the top law enforcement agency on the “democratic control of unelected power.” But the hidden meaning behind the sophisticated rhetoric is: “Do not attack a president who was elected by the people.” The logic is not entirely wrong in a democracy, where election gives legitimacy to power. But what the government portrays as “democratic control” directly goes against “political neutrality of power agencies,” which is another axis of democracy. The moment that the two contradicting concepts lose balance, democracy is in danger.

Bringing up the problem of “unelected power” leads to the question on: How to control an elected power? Is the guaranteed five-year presidential term a time solely for a current power? A responsible government is a responsive government. For nearly three years, has the power been responsive? Can the power which broke the spear aiming itself with the justification of “democratic control” be called a “responsive power?”

True power requires modesty and empathy, not force and coercion, argues Dacher Keltner, the author of “The Power Paradox.” The Moon administration, in particular, has been emphasizing empathy. But power is also self-contradictory. “Power weakens the ability to understand other people’s ideas, knowledge and feelings from their perspective,” says Kim Byung-soo, a psychiatrist. The character and paradox of power is that once it is completed, it is getting ready to collapse by itself.

The power that disables the checking device is already showing signs of speeding up. Avid supporters create a strong defense shield. But half of the people who became the object of exclusion complain helplessness and nervousness — and are burning with revenge. In the end, it is up to the people to control the elected power. The key is election.