Folly
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno () - December 15, 2011 - 12:00am

We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton’s dictum, that power corrupts. We are less aware that it breeds folly; that the power to command frequently causes failure to think; that the responsibility of power often fades as its exercise augments.” — Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly

During moments when our politics becomes incomprehensible, I pull out Barbara Tuchman’s classic The March of Folly from my shelf. It is among the most precious books I keep. I strongly suggest the President and his hangers-on read this masterpiece.

Tuchman’s book is a breathtaking scan of history, examining those key points when acts of folly by those who exercised power drastically changed the course of events. It examines, among many other things, why the Trojans dragged that funny wooden horse into their fortifications; why Montezuma, whose fierce warriors outnumbered the conquistadores a thousand to one, lost the battle; why the pig-headedness of the Renaissance Papacy sparked the Reformation; why Israel lost 10 of its 12 tribes; why the British king’s decision to use cruelty instead of conciliation resulted in the loss of the American colonies.

By all the cases studied in this great work, one might conclude that folly on the part of those who wield power is the historical rule rather than the exception. America’s second president, John Adams, once rued: “While other sciences have advanced, government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

Folly is the only word that describes this mad obsession with impeaching the Chief Justice for the most precarious of reasons. Whatever the outcome of this effort, it will leave our institutions devastated and our politics deeply polarized, driven by the obscene dynamic of hate and bitterness.

The setting for this effort is not reassuring. A popular President, constantly deciding on the side of what is popular, tries to sustain his legitimacy through a constant campaign against his unpopular predecessor. That sets him on a course defined by hubris.

Recall this character named Adolf Hitler. He was neither particularly brilliant not constantly lucid. However, he had a knack for blaming all the bad things on a pantheon of scapegoats. That enabled him to be quite popular with his distressed people, at least before he began destroying a whole continent and almost eradicating a whole race. He used his popularity to scuttle his nation’s republican institutions.

Recall this man Mao Tse-tung. From the late fifties to the early sixties, this revered liberator of his people pursued a destructive economic program called The Great Leap Forward. About 20 million of his people died from the famine this caused. Threatened with disenchantment within his own party and government, Mao unleashed his fanatical Red Guards on the establishment, taking down institutions and persecuting intellectuals. It took two generations for China to recover from the damage this episode caused.

The method by which this impeachment effort was launched is not too comforting either.

Palace spinners might vainly try to convince us the President did not initiate this alarming effort. Well, Hitler did not personally burn down the Reichstag either.

Two weeks ago, the President went on a verbal rampage attacking the Chief Justice. Last week, during the Liberal Party’s Christmas Party, the President made the signals very clear. His operatives went to work immediately, encouraged perhaps by the facility with which they were able to force Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign through sheer political bullying.

Last weekend, the President’s supporters at the House held a caucus. By Tuesday, 188 congressmen, none of whom read the articles of impeachment because they were not yet printed, lined up to sign the same, sight unseen.

The process was so scandalous two stalwarts from the President’s own coalition — Deputy Speaker Boying Remulla and Rep. Toby Tiangco refused to sign. Both publicly decried what they basically describe as railroading. Tiangco was immediately maligned by Aquino loyalists as a “turncoat” and subsequently resigned from the majority coalition.

The House of Representatives is often described as the larger but lesser chamber because of its perceived record of political prostitution. That derogatory perception was just reinforced this week. Its institutional independence has again been compromised.

A war between the branches of government has now broken out. With the filing of the impeachment complaint, this war has now moved beyond mediation. It will only conclude with the victory of one and the defeat of the other. Whoever wins and whoever loses, our republican democracy is unhinged.

The onus now falls on the Senate, which must now function as an impeachment court. It is a chamber rife with political ambitions of every sort. Any decision it renders will be read as partisan every which way.

Should it convict the Chief Justice, this will be read as an act of political accommodation to an unfortunately popular President. Should it acquit, even with the volume of reason to do so, this will be interpreted as a coup of sorts because it will immediately reduce the incumbent Chief Executive into a lame duck.

Meanwhile, the rank and file of the judiciary is rallying around the Chief Justice, who has made this an issue of judicial independence. The independence of this branch of government has already been threatened by impoundment of its budget. If the Chief Justice is taken out in this most partisan process just begun, everyone on the bench will be vulnerable.

The next few months we will have hyper-politics galore — as the economy weakens, business sours and the poor multiply.

The march of folly continues.          

ADOLF HITLER BARBARA TUCHMAN BY TUESDAY CHIEF EXECUTIVE CHIEF JUSTICE CHRISTMAS PARTY DEPUTY SPEAKER BOYING REMULLA AND REP MARCH OF FOLLY PRESIDENT
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