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Power and corruption

‘Power tends to corrupt,” as they say, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That quote is attributed to Lord John Acton, a 19th century British historian.

Ever heard of him? Me neither, but he sounds like a smart dude.

We just ran through another election cycle and I hardly broke a sweat.

There wasn’t a lot on the ballots in Marquette County. The Marquette City Commission race was probably the big one, with four hopefuls seeking two open seats on the seven-member panel.

Tuesday’s general election was nothing like the last presidential election year in 2016, or the 2018 midterm election.

Those two cycles make me think of the countless commercials and letters to the editor I came across. So many people praising one candidate and piling mud on another. I couldn’t keep straight who I was supposed to hate, so I gave up trying.

It’s downright filthy how ugly these things can get, and yet we’re all supposed to be part of America the beautiful, one nation under God and all that jazz. What a mess. Maybe I’ll just consider myself an Earthling and leave it at that.

The lead-up to this November was much sleepier. Only a handful of letters praising a couple people locally, and without any statewide or national-level races, we were spared the ugly political propaganda.

Beware, it will return next year in full force, and I’m sure it’ll spin our heads around like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

And when an election is nigh, does it seem like politicians are everywhere? After they get elected, you hardly hear from them, but in the run-up to November, they just want to keep talking.

I’ve come across that in my journalism career. They might be traveling around, campaigning and politicking, doing the whole “shaking hands and kissing babies” thing, and their aides and handlers have lined up all their talking points on what their opponent lacks, and they’ll talk till the cows come home.

Other times, politicians can’t wait to hang up the phone. I was talking to one man a few years back, and we had discussed his points at length for maybe 15 minutes, quite jovially, actually. Then I asked of a rumor about donors and who was filling his campaign’s coffers with clams, and he ended the conversation rather abruptly.

And who do you think puts the most money into politics? The rich folks out there of course, because they have the expendable means to do it.

Could I afford to drop a few hundred thousand clams or more into a political race? Of course not! But the rich and powerful elite can do so, very willy-nilly like, without even giving it a second thought.

So, the rich people and corporations buy the politicians, and the politicians, who might have started with good intentions, become indebted to these powerful people, and they, by association and in an effort to save their own hopes and dreams, act corruptly.

What a terrific dance and practice in oligarchy.

It would be nice if politicians would take a serious look at resolving issues surrounding campaign contributions. Better yet, take a look at the wealth inequality in our country and sit down together to talk about how they could fix that. Then we could all buy off our politicians.

Maybe lawmakers can’t fix it on their own? Maybe it would have to include business leaders, or the learned folks in academia? Or maybe some combination of everyone — men, women, trans, blacks, whites, blues and everything on the ROYGBIV scale. We like to say we’re inclusive after all, so long as it doesn’t change where the real power lies, at the top with the elite.

I’d have to see it to believe it, but I hope an inclusive group could find some solution. It seems unlikely the ones at the peak of the financial and social pyramid would be willing though. They’ve got too many clams wrapped up in the whole thing.

People seeking power under the guise of public service. That’s my definition of politicians, though I suppose it’s not 100% accurate. Some probably believe they can do good, and may actually want to help their communities. At the local level of government, I suspect that’s more likely than in larger markets.

It seems the closer you get to Washington, the farther you are from your ideals and the ideals of those who elected you. Eventually, they don’t care about anything but keeping their seat near the power teat.

Of course, what do I know? I’m no political analyst or expert social psychologist.

I don’t know if I’d like being in the middle of politics. I think I’d rather watch from the outside — your shirt doesn’t get dirty from all the mud and your pants cuffs steer clear of the swamp water. And you get a better, wider perspective of the world — as opposed to seeing only what’s immediately in front of your face: your political rivals and their peons and talking heads continuously bashing your points of view.

It must take a resilient soul to handle that type of abuse, and an unwavering commitment to your belief system, especially if your beliefs aren’t what’s best for the world.

Some people will tell you their beliefs are all correct, and yours are all wrong, even if you can skillfully argue and reason that your beliefs are right. Don’t believe those people, and don’t believe yourself while you’re at it. We’re all a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

Power corrupts, as they say.

Even good kindhearted people with altruistic intentions and an affinity for empathy and compassion are subject to that corruption.

I’m glad here at the local level there was a pretty clean campaign for the Marquette City Commission — at least from what we saw publicly.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any “insider” dirt on any of the candidates, and I haven’t heard an inkling of anything that would lead me to believe there was foul play by one side or another. But could there have been some mudslinging by one of the candidates at some point? Perhaps across some private digital medium or at some quiet venue where an offhanded comment was said during a dinner out with friends? Sure.

People do that from time to time. It’s not their fault. It’s in our nature to sling mud. We descended from mudslinging apes, or we were shaped by God from the dust or clay of the Earth.

There’s dirt in our history, whichever belief system you choose.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Jarvi is city editor at The Mining Journal. He lives in Marquette with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Tino. Contact him at rjarvi@miningjournal.net.