“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton
The remarkable thing about this last grotesque chapter of Donald Trump’s presidency is how much he has proved Acton both wrong and right.
Few axioms are more popular among pompously earnest pundits and politicians than Lord Acton’s line about power. Acton surely believed that power corrupts. His real indictment, however, wasn’t of the wielders of power, but of those who enabled them. He decried those who exempted the powerful from the rules that bind the rest of us. “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it,” Acton wrote in the same letter.
In one sense Trump proved Acton wrong. Power didn’t corrupt Trump. It merely gave his corruption room to run, like handing an inveterate drunk driver a bottle of Jack Daniels and a monster truck to play with.