If the last two months have taught us anything, it is the truth of Lord Action’s epigram that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Too many of our governors and mayors, given a taste of power, have discovered that they like it and want more. As the populace becomes increasingly restive under arbitrary and oppressive executive orders, they have become more willing to simply ignore and defy them. Like any dictator facing increasing opposition, the ruling class becomes increasingly repressive.
Hence, we have governors threatening to arrest, jail, fine and revoke business licenses of hairdressers, restaurant and bar owners, and anyone else with the temerity to defy their orders.
An Elon Musk can ignore a threat of arrest and get away with it because California’s governor realizes that Musk can move Tesla (and its jobs and tax revenue) to another state
Kevin Promenschenkel cannot, and the perception that the powerful and politically connected are not bound by the same rules imposed on the rest of us serves only to breed contempt for the governor specifically and his executive orders generally.
The sheriffs of Ogle and Whiteside counties understand this and are refusing to enforce J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order against individuals or business owners despite the governor’s threats against them for not doing so. At least Pritzker won’t be compared to Hitler; his preening and posturing are more reminiscent of the clownish Benito Mussolini minus the jutting jaw and clenched fist.
As Paul Robinson pointed out in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (May 20), opposition to heavy-handed laws can promote disrespect for the law generally. Citing Prohibition, he noted that “violent crime increased every year from 1920 until repeal.” Then, as now, the leaders exempted themselves from the law. Senator Harding voted for Prohibition while as President, he served whiskey at White House parties. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot went to a (presumably closed) salon for a haircut and J.B. Pritzker responded testily to a reporter’s question about the necessity of his wife’s vacation travel.
J.B. Pritzker and his fellow autocrats would do well to consider Mr. Robinson’s conclusion. “Even if the government officials believe they have sound technical reasons for their restrictions, their program may fail unless they convince the general public of this. Even in an emergency, minidictatorships won’t win the day. Success depends on social compliance, which in turn depends on community perception that the law deserves to be obeyed.”