Long before our time, there was a world where justice and honor was valued more than personal gain, the year was 1215, and the location, England. The air was thick with tension, as the winds of change whispered through the land. King John, a ruler known for his cruelty, dishonesty, and insatiable hunger for power, had gone too far in his transgressions. His tyrannical reign had caused a lot of suffering and discontentment among his people.
While all of this turmoil was unfolding, a group of noble and righteous barons decided that enough was enough. They had watched through all of King John's whims and desires that had eroded the moral fabric of their nation, and they knew that their only option was to act to restore balance and ensure the welfare of their kingdom. United in purpose, they created the Magna Carta, a document that would forever alter the course of history. But, more on that later.
Fast forward to the present day, and one cannot help but deplore the fading echoes of that valiant stand against injustice. The political landscape is shifting each day drastically, and the threads of accountability are becoming frayed. No longer do the barons of our time rise to hold these leaders accountable; instead there is a veil of complacency that has descended upon the world, allowing those in power to evade the consequences of their actions.
There was a time when political leaders knew that their every move was subject to scrutiny, their decisions were weighed against the collective wisdom of the ages. As guardians of the public trust, they were well aware that the strength and stability of their nation/regions depended on their ability to govern justly and fairly. Their actions echoed through time, embodying the very sentiment that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
But now our world is full of unyielding bonds of accountability that have begun to come undone, giving way to a climate of complacency and moral ambiguity. Political leaders now walk the halls of power unencumbered by the watchful gaze of a vigilant public, free to carry on as they please without any fear of retribution.
This erosion of accountability has granted leaders license to act without the constraints that once kept them in check. Gone are the days when leaders were held to the highest standards, their actions a reflection of the values they were sworn to uphold. Now we bear witness to a political environment where transgressions are brushed aside, and those who wield power are allowed to act with impunity.
The Power of Accountability in Shaping Society: Magna Carta, French Revolution, and American Revolution
While looking into these historical moments, I came to realize just how evident the importance of holding rulers accountable was. The triumphs and tribulations of each era serve as a reminder of the profound impact that accountability can have on the fabric of society, shaping the course of history and influencing the lives of countless individuals.
Taking up the point from earlier about the Magna Carta, its significance was not only in the establishment of the rule of law but also in the fundamental redefinition of the relationship between rulers and their subjects. This document marked the first time in Western history where a monarch's authority was constrained by a written charter. By asserting that even the king was subject to the rule of law, the Magna Carta laid the foundation for the development of constitutional governments and the protection of individual rights. The importance of this development cannot be overstated, as it paved the way for the modern democratic principles that are cherished today.
The French Revolution, on the other hand, represented a dramatic response to the unchecked power of the monarchy. For centuries, the French people had suffered under the weight of an oppressive and exploitative regime that cared little for the welfare of its citizens. They chose to rise up and demand accountability from their rulers, the people of France were able to dismantle the oppressive system and pave the way for the rise of democratic governance. The significance of this revolution extended far beyond the borders of France, as its principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity resonated across the globe, inspiring countless movements for political reform and social justice.
And the last event: The American Revolution. It serves as a powerful example of the importance of holding political leaders accountable for upholding the principles of justice, liberty, and self-determination. At a time when colonial America found itself under the yoke of British rule, the colonists faced a series of oppressive measures that threatened their rights and freedoms. Unwilling to tolerate such injustice, the American colonists united in their quest for independence, challenging the authority of the British Crown and demanding their right to self-governance.
The American Revolution was marked by a series of pivotal events, such as the Boston Tea Party, where the colonists protested against the unjust taxation imposed by the British Parliament. This spirit of defiance and the pursuit of justice continued to gain momentum, eventually leading to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This historic document articulated the colonists' grievances against the British Crown and boldly asserted their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Through determination, unity, and a steadfast commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy, the American colonists were able to secure their independence from Britain, ultimately winning the Revolutionary War. The importance of this victory marked the birth of a new nation founded on the principles of liberty, justice, and the rule of law. The United States would go on to serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for countless other nations seeking to break free from the chains of oppression and establish their own democratic governments.
In this light, the American Revolution is a testament to the importance of holding political leaders accountable and demanding justice in the face of tyranny. It is a reminder that the collective will of the people, guided by a shared commitment to liberty and justice, can overcome even the most formidable of obstacles and forge a brighter future for generations to come.
Money, Media, and Moral Relativism: How does the influence of money and the growing cost of political campaigns contribute to the decline of accountability in modern politics? In what ways do media manipulation and the rise of moral relativism hinder the public's ability to hold political leaders accountable?
So how did we go from where we were then to where we are today? What do I mean, well in recent times, we have witnessed a concerning trend towards unaccountable power in modern politics. This shift undermines the foundations of democracy and the rule of law, and can be traced back to a confluence of factors that have gradually eroded the principles of accountability and justice. The role of money and influence, the impact of media and public opinion manipulation, and the rise of moral relativism has led to the decline of shared values.
The Role of Money and Influence in Shaping Politics
One of the nost significant factors contributing to the decline of accountability in modern politics is the pervasive influence of money. As political campaigns have grown more expensive, politicians have become increasingly reliant on the financial support of wealthy donors and special interest groups. This dependence on external funding has created a system where politicians are more beholden to their benefactors than to their constituents, thereby completely compromising the very essence of democratic representation.
The pervasive influence of money in modern politics can be found in a report by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-profit research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy. According to the CRP's research, the total cost of the 2020 U.S. elections reached a record-breaking $14.4 billion, more than double the cost of the 2016 elections, which totaled $6.5 billion.
This exponential increase in campaign spending demonstrates the growing reliance of politicians on financial support from wealthy donors and special interest groups, and it raises concerns about the extent to which this funding may compromise representation.
Joe Biden became the first candidate to raise $1 billion from donors, with President Donald Trump raising $596 million. The surge in spending was driven by Democrats' strong opposition to Trump, with Democratic candidates and groups spending $5.5 billion compared to Republicans' $3.8 billion.
This massive spending disparity is extremely problematic and unfair for several reasons:
- The financial advantages held by Democrats were able to provide them with more resources to reach voters through advertising, events, and campaign infrastructure, giving them a greater ability to shape public opinion and influence voter decisions.
- The influx of money from wealthy donors and special interest groups, particularly on the Democratic side, raises concerns about the potential influence of these donors on policy decisions, skewing political representation in favor of those who can afford to contribute large sums.
- The spending gap contributes to an uneven political playing field, where one party has significantly more resources at their disposal, which could undermine the democratic principle of equal opportunity for all candidates to compete in elections.
- The increasing reliance on funding from small donors, while reflecting a more grassroots approach, can also create a perception of a "money race," where the success of a campaign is measured by its fundraising capabilities rather than the merit of its ideas or the qualifications of the candidates.
- The unprecedented amount of outside spending by super PACs and other big-money groups, which disproportionately benefited Democrats in 2020, can be seen as an erosion of campaign finance regulations, allowing wealthy individuals and organizations to exert a more significant influence on the electoral process.
This cultural shift toward prioritizing material wealth has far-reaching implications for the health of our democracy. As politicians become increasingly beholden to their financial backers, their focus starts to shift away from the needs and desires of their constituents. This disconnect between political leaders and the people they represent creates a level of disillusionment and cynicism, eroding the trust in democratic institutions and processes.
The Impact of Media and Public Opinion Manipulation
Another key factor in the decline of accountability in modern politics is the increasingly manipulative role of the media in shaping public opinion. With the advent of digital technology and the proliferation of social media platforms, the dissemination of information has become both instantaneous and ubiquitous. This landscape has given rise to the phenomenon of "fake news" and "echo chambers," where individuals are exposed only to information that confirms their preexisting beliefs.
In this environment, politicians can easily manipulate the public opinion by presenting distorted or misleading narratives that advance their agenda. Consequently, the lines between truth and falsehood become blurred, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold their leaders accountable for their actions.
One notable example of the media reframing situations to promote a negative premise is the coverage of the 2012 Benghazi attack, which occurred on September 11, 2012, when militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Following the attack, the Republican-led House of Representatives launched multiple investigations into the Obama administration's handling of the incident, arguing that the administration had failed to adequately protect U.S. diplomats and had downplayed the severity of the attack. The following evidence exists to backup this claim:
- Security Requests: Prior to the attack, U.S. officials in Libya, including Ambassador Stevens, had repeatedly requested increased security at the Benghazi compound due to the deteriorating security situation in the region. Despite these requests, the State Department, led by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, did not provide the additional security resources.
- Initial Response: In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Obama administration attributed the violence to spontaneous protests in response to an anti-Islam video on YouTube. This narrative was later proven to be false, as the attack was found to be a premeditated act of terrorism. Critics argue that the administration's initial response downplayed the severity of the attack and misled the public about its true nature.
- Military Assistance: During the attack, military assets were not deployed in time to provide assistance to the Americans under siege in Benghazi. Some have argued that the administration's lack of decisive action and failure to provide timely military support contributed to the loss of American lives.
These investigations (with logical premise) were framed by the media as politically motivated, with many news outlets focusing on the “Republicans' aggressive pursuit” of the matter rather than the underlying issues of why there needs to be an investigation.
One undeniable example of this portrayal occurred during an October 2015 House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing, where then-presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified for over 11 hours.
Several major news outlets characterized the hearing as a “partisan witch hunt,” focusing on the heated exchanges between Republican lawmakers and Clinton while downplaying the substantive questions that were raised about the administration's response to the attack.
This portrayal as being primarily motivated by partisanship rather than a genuine concern for national security and the safety of American diplomats strongly contributed to the public's perception of the GOP as excessively combative and more focused on scoring political points than addressing critical issues facing the country.
In the end, the biggest revelation unearthed by the House special committee investigating the Benghazi attack came: the disclosure that Hillary Clinton had used a private email address and server during her four years as secretary of state. This revelation raised concerns about the security of sensitive information and the potential mishandling of classified materials, which could have contributed to the vulnerabilities that led to the Benghazi attack.
Despite these findings, media outlets continued to focus more on the partisan aspects of the Benghazi investigation, portraying it as a politically motivated attack on Clinton rather than a legitimate inquiry into the actions of the government and its officials. This framing of the issue contributed to the perception that the investigation was primarily driven by partisan animus rather than a genuine concern for uncovering the truth and holding those responsible for any shortcomings accountable.
To me, the reporting done of this event (very obviously) put the media on the wrong side of history.
The impact of media on politics, to me, is an extension of humanity's innate desire for storytelling and narrative-building. As humans, we are drawn to stories that resonate with our emotions and values, making us more susceptible to manipulation by those who control the narratives that shape our world.
News outlets, social media platforms, and other content creators are driven to produce stories that are not only informative but also engaging and emotionally resonant. What ends up happening is that the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred, and nuanced, complex issues are often simplified into easily digestible narratives that align with particular worldviews.
This simplification leads to a distortion of reality and promotes the spread of misinformation, further polarizing political discourse and undermining the public's ability to make informed decisions. How can you hold a leader accountable when different sources conflict with their reporting?
The Rise of Moral Relativism and the Decline of Shared Values
Finally, the decline of accountability in modern politics has been attributed to the rise of moral relativism and the erosion of shared values. In a world where objective truths are increasingly questioned, and moral principles are seen as subjective and malleable, it becomes extremely difficult to hold political leaders to a common standard of right and wrong.
As traditional values and social norms give way to a more individualistic and relativistic worldview, the bonds of community and shared purpose that once united people in their quest for justice begin to weaken. In such a climate, political leaders can act with greater impunity, as the criteria by which they are judged become less clear and more fragmented.
One example of an occurrence where moral relativism affected a debate is over criminal justice reform. The bipartisan First Step Act, signed into law by President Trump in 2018, was a significant step towards addressing problems within the U.S. criminal justice system, such as mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentences.
The First Step Act aimed to reduce recidivism by providing inmates with more opportunities for education, job training, and substance abuse treatment. The law also made changes to federal sentencing laws, reducing mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offenses and giving judges more discretion in sentencing.
However, despite the bipartisan support for the First Step Act, the broader debate over criminal justice reform has often been polarized along partisan lines, with one side typically emphasizing the need for "law and order" and the other focusing on issues like systemic racism and police brutality. This polarization is an example of how moral relativism can lead to a breakdown in shared values, making it difficult for individuals across the political spectrum to find common ground on important issues, even when there are tangible examples of bipartisan agreement.
Overthrowing Corrupt Regimes: What role does public outcry play in a country's political landscape?
There have been documented occurrences from the past of how leaders would be held accountable. We’ll focus on overthrown by public outcry, being held accountable and what the fate of someone that violates public trust is.
Park Geun-hye, South Korea
Park Geun-hye, the first female president of South Korea, faced public outrage when it was revealed that she had been involved in a massive corruption scandal. Park was accused of allowing her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in government affairs and extort millions of dollars from South Korean conglomerates.These revelations led to massive protests across the country, with millions of citizens demanding her impeachment.
The South Korean National Assembly eventually voted to impeach Park, and she was removed from office in 2017. In 2018, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of bribery, abuse of power, and coercion. The impeachment and subsequent imprisonment of Park demonstrated the power of public outcry in holding political leaders accountable. South Korea's democratic institutions were able to respond to the public's demands for justice, ultimately promoting transparency and curbing corruption in the country's political landscape.
King Louis XVI, France
During the 18th century, France was under the rule of King Louis XVI, an absolute monarch who wielded unchecked power. The French Revolution, a monumental event in world history, was fueled by the people's dissatisfaction with the monarchy's excesses, corruption, and inability to address widespread poverty and economic crises.
The revolution led to the establishment of the First French Republic, and King Louis XVI was put on trial for treason. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine in 1793. The execution of Louis XVI marked a significant turning point in history, as it demonstrated that even the most powerful rulers could be held accountable for their actions. The French Revolution sent shockwaves throughout Europe, inspiring further movements for democracy and social change.
Unchecked Power: How does the erosion of democratic institutions result from a lack of accountability for political leaders, and what are some examples of this erosion in recent history?
Over the years, the world has witnessed significant progress in promoting transparency, accountability, and democratic values. But it feels like each time we stride forward, we take two steps back. While history is replete with examples of rulers being held accountable for their actions, recent events have highlighted an alarming trend of unchecked power and diminished accountability for political leaders.
Some of the consequences of an unaccountable political class include:
The erosion of democratic institutions
When political leaders are allowed to act without accountability, democratic institutions end up suffering. The foundational principles of democracy, such as the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the protection of individual rights, become vulnerable to manipulation and erosion. As these institutions weaken, the checks and balances that ensure a functioning democracy are undermined, leaving the door open for autocratic rule and the suppression of dissent.
One example of this erosion due to a lack of accountability can be seen in the case of Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over the past few years, Erdogan has systematically dismantled key democratic institutions and consolidated power in his own hands. His administration has been accused of curbing freedom of speech, targeting opposition leaders, and suppressing dissent.
Following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan's government embarked on a massive purge of perceived opponents, resulting in the arrest of tens of thousands of military personnel, civil servants, journalists, and academics. This crackdown on dissent has weakened the judiciary's independence and undermined the rule of law in Turkey.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Erdogan's government took control of numerous media outlets, leading to a significant decline in press freedom. The suppression of independent journalism has made it increasingly difficult for the Turkish public to access unbiased information, completely eroding democratic institutions and enabling the government to manipulate public opinion.
In 2017, Erdogan won a controversial constitutional referendum that significantly expanded his presidential powers, abolishing the role of the prime minister and allowing him to bypass the parliament in making key decisions. This concentration of power has raised concerns about the further erosion of the separation of powers in Turkey and the potential for autocratic rule.
In this case, the lack of accountability for Erdogan's actions have led to the weakening of Turkey's democratic institutions, demonstrating the utmost importance of holding political leaders accountable to prevent the slide towards autocracy and the suppression of individual rights.
The disillusionment of the populace
A lack of accountability for political leaders can also lead to widespread disillusionment among the populace. As people lose faith in their leaders and institutions, they may become disengaged from the political process, feeling powerless to effect change. This disengagement can create a vicious cycle, as low levels of civic participation further weaken the democratic system and make it easier for corrupt and self-interested leaders to gain and maintain power.
This is very evidently seen in the case of Brazil through the recent years. The country has experienced a series of high-profile corruption scandals involving politicians from various parties, most notably the Operation Car Wash investigation that began in 2014. The investigation exposed a massive corruption scheme involving the state-owned oil company Petrobras, leading to the arrest and conviction of numerous high-ranking politicians and business executives.
These scandals led to the public trust in political institutions to plummet. Many Brazilians have become disenchanted with the political process and disillusioned with the ability of their leaders to govern effectively and ethically. This loss of faith has contributed to a surge in political apathy and disengagement, with a significant number of Brazilians choosing not to vote in recent elections or casting protest votes for candidates from fringe parties.
This widespread disillusionment created a fertile ground for populist leaders who promise to clean up the corrupt system and challenge the established political order. In the 2018 presidential election, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, won a decisive victory. Bolsonaro's administration has been marred by controversies, and his confrontational approach to governance has raised concerns about the further erosion of democratic norms in Brazil.
The potential for increased corruption and abuse of power
Unchecked power often breeds corruption, as political leaders who face no consequences for their actions may be more inclined to abuse their positions for personal gain. This corruption can permeate all levels of government, from local to national, creating a culture of dishonesty and self-enrichment at the expense of the public good. As corruption becomes more entrenched, it can undermine economic growth, exacerbate inequality, and erode public trust in institutions, ultimately threatening the stability and well-being of society.
This was exactly how Zimbabwe was under the rule of former President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe's 37-year tenure, which began in 1980. It was marked by widespread corruption, economic mismanagement, and the abuse of power.
During his time in office, Mugabe and his inner circle amassed a tremendous amount of personal wealth, while the country's economy and infrastructure crumbled. The government became notorious for its lack of transparency and accountability, with high-ranking officials frequently involved in corrupt practices such as embezzlement of public funds, nepotism, and the misappropriation of state resources.
One notable example of corruption during Mugabe's rule was the "Willowgate" scandal in the late 1980s, which implicated several government ministers and officials in a scheme to buy and sell cars at inflated prices, using their privileged access to foreign currency and government-controlled car dealerships. The scandal led to the resignation of a few ministers, but the culture of corruption persisted.
Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program was completely covered in prints of corruption, which involved the seizure of white-owned farms and their redistribution to black Zimbabweans. While the program was initially presented as a means of addressing historical injustices and promoting economic empowerment, it was marred by violence, cronyism, and the mismanagement of agricultural resources. Many of the seized farms were allocated to Mugabe's political allies and supporters, rather than to the intended beneficiaries, contributing to a sharp decline in agricultural productivity and food security.
History has shown us time and time again that when political leaders are not held accountable, the consequences can be dire. It is important to recognize that these issues are not confined to any specific region or political system.
In the United States, the consequences of unchecked power and diminished accountability for political leaders are also evident. We have witnessed the growing polarization of political discourse, the spread of misinformation, and attacks on the foundations of democracy, such as the rule of law and the freedom of the press.
It is important to learn from the history of other nations and take the necessary steps to hold our political leaders accountable, safeguard our democratic institutions, and restore public trust in the political process. Failure to do so can lead us down a dangerous path where history is bound to repeat itself, resulting in the decline of democratic values, the rise of authoritarianism, and the erosion of the freedoms and rights we hold dear.
Restoring Accountability in Politics: What measures can be taken to reform political systems, limiting the influence of money and power, and ensuring a fair and transparent democratic process?
In order to restore accountability in politics, it is important to revive shared values, empower citizens, and reform political systems. The following is a roadmap to outline a path towards achieving these goals:
Reviving shared values and morals through spiritual and community engagement
Reestablishing a sense of shared values and morals is essential for creating a culture of accountability. This can be achieved through spiritual and community engagement, which buds a sense of belonging, compassion, and empathy for others. By participating in religious, spiritual, or community-based activities, individuals end up developing a greater understanding of the common values that unite us, and the importance of upholding these principles in our political systems.
Empowering citizens through education and civic participation
Educating citizens about their rights and responsibilities is critical for creating an informed and engaged electorate that can hold political leaders accountable. This includes providing comprehensive civics education in schools, organizing workshops on civic engagement, and encouraging open discussions about current events and political issues.
Then secondary activities include promoting civic participation by encouraging citizens to vote, volunteer, and actively participate in the political process that can empower individuals to make their voices heard and influence the direction of their country. By creating opportunities for citizens to engage with their political representatives, we can ensure that the needs and concerns of the populace are heard and addressed.
Reforming political systems to limit the influence of money and power
To restore accountability in politics, it is vital to address the influence of money and power on our political systems. This can be achieved through various reforms, such as implementing campaign finance regulations to limit the impact of corporate and special interest donations, promoting transparency in lobbying and political spending, and establishing independent electoral commissions to oversee fair and transparent elections.
Other things we can do are strengthen the separation of powers, ensure the independence of the judiciary, and protect the freedom of the press. We can help create a system of checks and balances that prevents the abuse of power and promotes accountability among political leaders.
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."
- Abraham Lincoln
The ultimate power in a democracy lies with its citizens, and it is each and every one of you’s responsibility to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. To take the time to learn the civic system. The only way to protect ourselves is through remaining vigilant, engaged, and committed to the principles that define our democracy.