In his 2nd volume of The History of the English Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill made the claim that what separates his people from all the rest is the recognition that a leader has no authority unless he is supported by the rule of law. This is certainly a key part of what makes societies work. I would add another rule: To be civilized one must accept that we are obligated to conduct ourselves with restraint. We must all take the greater good into account before we … steal, murder, plunder, lie, cheat, extort etc.
The first world applies the law and a need for restraint differently depending on what you do. What we deem to be ethical or appropriate is entirely different in the public sector compared to the private sector. There is an expectation that when you choose to become a public servant, you also choose to become (more) ethical. A worker in the private sector is expected to be driven by the profit motive and the materialistic demands of the conscience-free corporation. We expect a company to pay a lobbyist to win a tax break for their business. We similarly expect a politician to resist such pressure unless it benefits his voters or the country. We expect a CEO to make a fortune and fly in a private plane to Davos every year. We are (rightly) outraged when a public servant gets paid a lot of money or receives unusual/excessive perks like flying around in AirForce 2.
When we elected a businessman with no sense of duty and a history of taking advantage of whatever angles he could find, we knew it would be unlikely he would pivot and become a public servant. Civic values are often established by the examples our public figures provide. We don’t look to Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg for ethical or political guidance any more than we looked to Rockefeller or Vanderbilt. We don’t just revere Lincoln, we need him as a guidepost to tell us what’s right and wrong. This was the function provided by Augustus Caesar, Henry IV, (France), Queen Victoria and Churchill.
The damage done to a democracy by putting such people as Maduro or Putin in power is no different than if we elected Martin Shkreli to be our president … or Donald Trump. It naturally causes everyone to question the ethics of the government at every level which leads to people dodging taxes, paying and accepting bribes, moral relativism in every facet of life. Trump fans arrive at the same conclusion because they believe his denunciations of the “deep state”. Do we want to live in Somalia? If we do we have found the fast lane.
Ethics survive by virtue of the archetypes we see in government. The entire society will follow their example. We’ll need a figure like Gandhi to offset the damage done by Trump in this regard.