Moon Jae-in syndrome
Three leaders are in trouble for by and large a common “sin” — assuming they know better than the people about what they want. Call it an attempt at direct democracy or elected dictatorship (or the beginning of it), but so far the outcome is the political equivalent to a third-degree burn.
The three are President Moon Jae-in, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump. The trio is just sampled from the much greater pot of leaders trying their version, meaning it is a virtually universal phenomenon. Moon pushed for the appointment of Cho Kuk, a “limousine liberal,” who has attacked the vices of conservatives despite his well-to-do background, as justice minister. A flood of accusations of wrongdoing involving him and his family followed, upsetting both conservatives and progressives. What triggered the universal resentment was that the accusations were the same as the conservative vices he had spouted verbal venom against.
Moon stuck to him as long as he could before he ditched Cho as the shortest-serving justice minister after weeks of massive protests occupying the Gwangwhamun Boulevard just like the candlelight vigils that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and ushered Moon to power three years ago. The only difference was that the protests were led by conservatives, demanding Cho be kicked out and that Moon step down.
One conservative figure commented, “Rename the Ministry of Justice as the Ministry of Law because Cho doesn’t have anything close to justice in him,” capturing the zeitgeist of the anti-Cho, antiMoon protests.
Moon observed about the protests, “It is a case of direct democracy, which shows a diversity of people’s wishes so it is not a bad thing.” Moon made a similar remark soon after he took office. He believes, and with good reason, that as the child of direct democracy he possesses strong skepticism about the representative democracy that the paralyzed National Assembly exemplifies.
But the direction of public opinion was not what he expected, with his job approval ratings dropping to their lowest. He tried to reset the course, but the damage has been done: the swooning opposition had been given a new release on life and was ready to pounce with a vengeance on any new sign of weakness in the Moon government. I wonder how the President feels now about direct democracy after being wounded by the caprices of the people’s will.
I still remember reports that Johnson, now British prime minister, did not think that Brexit would pass in the June 2016 national referendum. It passed by a paper-thin majority of 51.9 percent. David Cameron, the conservative prime minister at the time, resigned for his folly of putting this delicate issue to the crude yea-nay vote. The woman (is it a Dame?) with shoes with leopard prints took over after Cameron but did not make it to any conclusion to
It is just a complicated story as with any messy divorce, filled with such things as backstop (is it backdoor? Irish or Scottish?). I once admired Brits for their courage to go out of the centripetal pull from the continent and take charge of its fate, but the quagmire the country is in has made me have second thoughts (maybe, your first, old wife is your best). Now the real meat in the Brexit saga is that Johnson, somehow and along the way, assumed that he has become the Oracle of the people, emboldening him to dupe old Queen Elizabeth II and prorogue (suspend) Parliament.
His deception of the Queen could have been considered as an attempt at the throne and received the severest possible punishment, if the Queen were not ceremonial. More serious was the result: a parliamentary suspension. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the prorogation was illegal, the prime minister has stayed on. The Johnson case shows that a person can attempt to act on his conviction that he represents the people, try to stymie the existing system and get his way. Perhaps just as Moon got frustrated by the goodfor-nothing National Assembly, so was Johnson about the paralysis in the Parliament over Brexit. Can it be an excuse?
U.S. President Trump uses Twitter to send his messages out, while bypassing the media and calling their reports fake news. He portrays himself as a promoter of ordinary Americans — his “Make America Great Again” slogan being populist and, perhaps more importantly, an attempt to bring himself in direct contact with the people. But Trump, a millionaire real estate developer, has broken one precedent after another in presidential protocols starting with the Emolument Clause regarding private assets.
When he cried out during his campaign “Drain the swamp,” he showed his disdain for the Congress, first among the three equal pillars the so-called “founding fathers” thought of for the American democracy. The Congress is where all differing interests clash with each other, symbolizing the political quagmire that gets few things done. Assuming that he is among the ordinary people and promotes the best of their interest, Trump has allegedly tried to enlist the help of foreign leaders to gain the inside track in the presidential elections, first from Russian leader Vladimir Putin in his 2016 election and now Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian president, for his re-election bid, putting himself in the crosshairs of impeachment.
Moon, Johnson and Trump are paying the price for their assumption that they are the power — losing popularity, being rebuked and facing impeachment at the hands of their countries’ respective rival representative branches they have so despised. Where does this revelation leave them? One lesson for them is that there is the reason why a representative democracy has lasted so far — its merit for gathering diverse branches of opinions into one or two big trunks to the best of the given circumstances. Assuming otherwise until a better system is found is a risky business.