This evening I saw CBS news footage of the woman supposedly behind New Jersey governor Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal. The look on her face from the car to the house through the snow - apparently the first time anyone outside her family had seen her in weeks - was the look of a woman whose life was destroyed.
I hadn't followed the story closely. But what little I did hear - that Christie's underlings conspired to snarl traffic in a New Jersey town in order to punish its mayor, made me angry in a somewhat unusual way. Lots of people do bad stuff, but often that's because they act out of rage, are psychopaths, or are otherwise unhinged.
Bridgegate was of a different kind. It an expression of pure contempt of the powerful on hundreds of thousands of individuals -- ALL of whom were at best inconvenienced, many of whom saw their days and potentially their lives ruined by it.
And yet I saw this woman allegedly responsible for it all walk from the car to the house with that look of total defeat on her face, and I felt bad for her. It's like she got caught up in a game that got out of control, and now is paying the price.
I don't know her story, I didn't even catch her name. I don't know if she's guilty. I don't know if she's even remorseful. But that look on her face was so sad that I felt sad for her.
But what if the worst is true, and she DID suggest the traffic jam as political payback? That contempt for one's constituents is scary; what if Christie was elected President and brought her along?
And if this is how she'd treat "her own people," how would she treat foreign peoples? What advice would she give to Christie on dropping bombs on foreigners?
Such contempt for foreign life is easy to imagine. I did myself, in college. This was during the Persian Gulf War, aka the "liberation" of Kuwait. Based on numbers from Vietnam, Korea, and the two World Wars, I believed the countless Iraqi deaths from that war were a "small price to pay" in order to uphold United Nations principles.
If I held such contempt for human life then, which I did, I can easily see myself as a staffer for a politician whom I saw as the "good guy," who would oversee traffic delays (trivial compared to bombs) to punish whom I saw as "enemies" of the good guy.
Success in politics means the increase in power, and power creates its own logic that bends or breaks ethical constraints.
Think of it this way: if this woman wrote a letter to New Jersey's most prominent newspapers saying that Christie's opponents should be punished by shutting down traffic, how would she be perceived? First of all, the letter wouldn't be published, but if it was, it would suggest she was crazy.
But instead, the order was apparently conducted, as policy.
This is the corruption of political power, what Acton predicted.