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Power Corrupts: A Culture of Compliance Breeds Despots and Predators

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Power corrupts.

Worse, as 19th-century historian Lord Acton concluded, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It doesn't matter whether you're talking about a politician, an entertainment mogul, a corporate CEO or a police officer: give any one person (or government agency) too much power and allow him or her or it to believe that they are entitled, untouchable and will not be held accountable for their actions, and those powers will eventually be abused.

We're seeing this dynamic play out every day in communities across America.

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A cop shoots an unarmed citizen for no credible reason and gets away with it. A president employs executive orders to sidestep the Constitution and gets away with it. A government agency spies on its citizens' communications and gets away with it. An entertainment mogul sexually harasses aspiring actresses and gets away with it.

Abuse of power--and the ambition-fueled hypocrisy and deliberate disregard for misconduct that make those abuses possible--works the same whether you're talking about sexual harassment, government corruption, or the rule of law.

For instance, 20 years ago, I took up a sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of a young woman--a state employee--who claimed that her boss, a politically powerful man, had arranged for her to meet him in a hotel room, where he then allegedly dropped his pants, propositioned her and invited her to perform oral sex on him.

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Despite the fact that this man had a well-known reputation for womanizing and this woman was merely one in a long line of women who had accused the man of groping, propositioning, and pressuring them for sexual favors in the workplace, she was denounced as white trash and subjected to a massive smear campaign by the man's wife, friends and colleagues (including the leading women's rights organizations of the day), while he was given lucrative book deals and paid lavish sums for speaking engagements.

William Jefferson Clinton eventually agreed to settle the case and pay Paula Jones $850,000.

Here we are 20 years later and not much has changed.

We're still shocked by sexual harassment in the workplace, the victims of these sexual predators are still being harassed and smeared, and those who stand to gain the most by overlooking wrongdoing (all across the political spectrum) are still turning a blind eye to misconduct when it's politically expedient to do so.

This time, it's Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein--longtime Clinton associate and a powerhouse when it comes to raising money for Democrats--who is being accused of decades of sexual assaults, aggressively sexual overtures and harassment.

I won't go into the nauseating details here. You can read them for yourself at the New York Times and the New Yorker.

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Suffice it to say that it's the same old story all over again: man rises to power, man abuses power abominably, man intimidates and threatens anyone who challenges him with retaliation or worse, and man gets away with it because of a culture of compliance in which no one speaks up because they don't want to lose their job or their money or their place among the elite.

This isn't just happening in Hollywood, however.

And it's not just sexual predators that we have to worry about.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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