Politicians, we assume, are in it for power, as are journalists and those in the entertainment industry who hit lucky and become celebrities. All become, in some measure at least, recipients of our own fantasy projections, which is what makes it OK for us to make blanket assumptions about them and about their motives.
So it is not surprising that when they fall they fall hard and, to a certain extent, we fall with them. When people in power betray the trust of those who put them there, the fall is all the harder for everyone. Fallen celebrities, as well as fallen leaders, remind us of their humanity and hence of our own. Their limitations and frailty, when so harshly revealed, also serve as a reality check of sorts for the rest of us. They reveal the way we consciously or unconsciously collude with the fame fantasy, relishing the circumstances which have brought about the downfall of the famous.
Journalists who are currently being subjected to a dose of unwelcome media attention themselves are a case in point, as is a former prime minister who, it seems, colluded with a journalist by advising her shortly before she was due to appear in court for phone hacking and related charges on how she might possibly salvage her reputation, if not her career. But motives are never straight forward and powerful people are not necessarily entirely bad. The Blair-Brooks email exchange had to do with friendship and collegiality as much as anything else. Powerful people are sometimes loyal, occasionally watching each other’s backs, as well as their own.
Nevertheless, those who hold power in politics and the media are accountable for what passes between them, both publicly and privately, because in our society they are the custodians of democratic freedom. They are the ones entrusted with making democracy work in the way it is meant to work, towards the flourishing of the human person, beginning with that of the weakest and the most vulnerable. Politicians are called to enact righteousness. The media is made up of people called to ‘mediate’ truth. Together, and in their different ways, they are the custodians of what we call a civilised society. So looking after the needs of those over whose lives they have some measure of influence or control calls for resistance to the insidious nature of power.
When power becomes an end in itself, it is sometimes too late for those who hold it to come to terms with what they have allowed to happen. Perhaps this is why we so rarely hear politicians and journalists express genuine remorse for the ways in which they have failed the people to whom they are accountable. The ousted, and now fugitive, president of the Ukraine, will almost certainly be a case in point. From what Viktor Yanukovych leaves behind in the way of personal memorabilia, it seems that the power he held legitimised and fed a fantasy life style, as it has done for other deposed dictators who thought of themselves as benevolent father figures or, as in the case of the Ceaucescus, mother figures as well.
The insidious nature of power also sustains and simultaneously suppresses populations. They are subjected to another version of the same pernicious fantasy, that their leaders are giving them the best possible life in the best of all possible worlds – the one they happen to inhabit. Here, think of the people of North Korea. So when the fantasy is finally blown and the lie proclaimed from the roof tops, the reaction is bound to be violent. People are angry and they are tired of being lied to. They want a new reality, the reality of a freedom which comes from a different kind of power and which shapes a different kind of society, a different kingdom, the one proclaimed by Jesus Christ which his Church is supposed to embody in its own life.
There is a mistaken notion that Jesus was not interested in politics, that his kingdom was purely spiritual and, for this reason, ‘not of this world’. But the central purpose of his coming was to reveal God’s purpose for the world, that its life be powered by the love of God. To this end he was constantly bringing his listeners back to the question of accountability, of holding those in positions of power to account for what they did, or failed to do, for the flourishing of human beings.
His own humanity revealed the inherently relational character of God, the outworking of the love of God in his obedience to the Father, and later in the ongoing and abiding presence of his Spirit. He was therefore as concerned for the well being of society, of peoples, as he was for that of the individual. Far from being detached from political reality, he struggled with people from within that reality, and continues to do so today.