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Corruptio optimi pessima

When leaders lay claim to moral courage but instead show confusion, they fail us.

The ensign at the U.S. Capitol in Washington flies at half-staff during sunrise Jan. 11, 2021. (CNS photo/Erin Scott, Reuters)

The Saturday morning following the Capitol riot, I participated in our parish’s (now virtual) monthly 7:00 a.m. meeting of Men of St. Joseph. Our young associate pastor, a friend and very talented priest, reminded the group of an old Latin phrase: “corruptio optimi pessima”.

The corruption of the best is the worst of all.

It was a timely reminder.

Just a day earlier, I encountered a post by a business school dean at a prominent university. Having already read a tireless stream of musings from the intellectual community, I admit to almost bypassing this particular post altogether.

But I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t. This one was something.

The author reflected on the events of January 6 when “thugs invaded and desecrated the United States Capitol.” In the aftermath, he shared that a colleague motivated him to think about the “power of words” and how language can be used to “inspire” and “unite” but also “hurt, misdirect and mislead.” His post took the time to explicate that his use of the word “thug” was purposeful; he drew his readers attention to the fact that he refused to call the perpetrators, “peaceful demonstrators.” He also pointed out his use of the words “invaded” and “desecrated” were carefully chosen.

Before concluding, he shared his colleague’s admonition: we need to stand vigilant against the “power of indifference” because it “allows people by their silence to normalize aberrant behavior and permits persistent abnormal behavior to create dangerous precedents.”

Recall that this statement was posted on Friday, January 8, 2021.

If the good dean’s readers are like my 5th grade daughter, perhaps his message wowed. She came home a day earlier with the news that her teacher had led an “objective” and “kid-friendly discussion” on the riots. At least, that was the way the teacher characterized it. This discussion featured a “Newsela” article titled, “Pro-Trump mob storms US Capitol in bid to overturn election.” In talking to some other parents, we knew we were not alone in being told by our daughter that it was among the very worst days in American history.

While we actually like this teacher very much and adore our daughter’s very traditional, Catholic school, this “lesson” – some 14 hours after the riot – was, shall we say, a bit much. And quite unexpected.

So that evening, my wife and I took some time to be parents. While it was our preference to wait for the blur of the news cycle to delve into the details of the mayhem with our just-turned-11-year-old, our hands were now forced. So, we explained.

What happened in Washington was a disgrace. Terrible. And very sad. As for whether it was the worst day in our country’s history, we should be less sure. We explained to our middle daughter that in our 244 year-old-nation, Wednesday was not even the worst December day in our country’s history. That date – which will live in infamy- was December 7, 1941. We also mentioned that for a city which has buried our U.S. presidents after assassinations, Wednesday’s event was not even the saddest day in Washington’s history. And that in a country which survived a four year-long Civil War, two world wars and a terrorist attack on American soil which killed nearly 3000 people in a single day, Wednesday’s exact place in history might need a bit more time to work out.

How much of this was really understood by our daughter? We’re not sure. But what seems likely is that most of her elementary school classmates missed something that surprisingly that very important business school dean must have also missed.

That is that, since May, our nation has endured countless nights of senseless rioting.  From Portland to New York. Buildings destroyed, cars set ablaze, private (and public) property torched, stores looted, an endless line of statues toppled, historical monuments vandalized, churches desecrated.  This wasn’t one night nor was it the work of one faction of a much larger group of protestors in one city.  Just between May and August – not even including the months since then — USA Today reported that Black Lives Matter protests devolved into riots in 220 locations throughout the United States.  For months, BLM anarchists held hostage private businesses in their so-called “CHOP” zone in Seattle and still — to this day — “occupy” privately-owned property there. In cities across the country, these activists have taken to tracking down lawmakers at their private residences, camping outside homes and stalking families. During the height of the tumult, my wife and I put our children to bed while helicopters flew over our neighborhood.

This is not breaking news nor is it some relic of a long ago past.  This is the world we are living in.  While this went on, the broader academic, political and corporate class heralded BLM’s destruction – championing it as courageous.  What should have clearly been called villainy was shamefully declared virtuous.

Now, after seven months of this, our best and brightest minds are telling us about the power of words and the danger of indifference?

On June 8, Catholic World Report published the following words:

And chaos is what is playing out on the nighttime streets of our nation’s cities. From the storefronts of downtown Manhattan to the sidewalks of St. Louis to Olympic Park in Atlanta. Sheer and utter chaos.

As Catholics, we ask ourselves how to process such mayhem.

We’re reminded that the cardinal virtue of prudence requires us to discern what it is and what it is not.

We start there: burning down buildings, torching cars, and desecrating churches is not protesting. It’s not assembling. It’s rioting. Plain and simple.

The virtue of fortitude requires us to stand firm and say what must be said, even when – perhaps especially when – elite institutions from academe to Wall Street vilify those who dissent from the politically correct view.

Here it is: no matter what the supposed motivation for this rioting – it is never right. Never.

And make no mistake: it is most definitely not justice.

In fact, looting stores – whether it’s the independently-run pawn shop or the high-end Neiman Marcus – is the definition of intemperance. I want it, I deserve it, I’m going to take it. That is the stuff we teach our children never to do. It cannot somehow in any way be judged different or acceptable because the party doing it feels aggrieved.

That is incoherence.

I’ll admit it feels a bit uncomfortable to quote myself, but I just did.

Those words were true in June, they were true last Wednesday and they will be true tomorrow.

And they should not be hard to say.

Put simply: when leaders lay claim to moral courage but instead show confusion, they fail us.

Chaos fills the void.

And it should come as no surprise to anyone that after one set of rioters spent seven months convincing our nation that historical statues and monuments hold no special place in civil society, that another set of rioters would treat our Capitol as though it is merely some 200 year-old-shack located somewhere between Maryland and Virginia.

When the smartest guys in the room express outrage and shock amidst the wreckage, we should all stop to reflect.

“Corruptio optimi pessima.”


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About Ronald L. Jelinek, Ph.D. 6 Articles
Ronald L. Jelinek, Ph.D., is a Professor of Marketing at Providence College. The opinions expressed here are his own.

24 Comments

  1. Let’s just cut to the point – in this last year, who has failed us more than ANYONE?

    The press.

    On Saturday May 9, 2009 the 1st White House Press Association Dinner of the Obama administration was held. Obama was the last speaker. He stepped up to the dais and said “I’m Barack Obama. Many of you covered me and ALL of you voted for me.”

    The reaction? Laughter and applause.

    This is on record – I am NOT making it up, and it was 12 years ago. Given the media’s unconcealed hate for President Trump and the passing of 12 more years since the above – what do you expect?

  2. The allegations of voter fraud have not been proven to date, but the media’s thuggery and lack of fair play in the last election is ripping the country apart – from Seattle, to Portland, to the Capitol. I wish I had money to start a real newspaper [as in the pattern of the old WSJ].

  3. Suppose there were a Vice President tasked with certifying an election just as Mike Pence was last week. Suppose further that that VP believed reasonably that he, the President and their voters had indeed been cheated. Finally, suppose that their opponents in addition to supporting all of the unjust laws on life and sexuality which they now support were to also support the mandatory incarceration, torture and death of all people with initials S.S. And let’s throw in there that they supported a return to legal slavery and Jim Crow laws or whatever else is generally condemned in the court of mainstream public opinion. Could anyone maintain that the VP would do the right thing in choosing to follow procedure and precedent in not intervening or protesting in some way?

    The question is, at what point must the inertia of typical national processes give way to what is just?

    • Roughly said, but altogether true. Our nation’s capital has long been desecrated
      by the actions of our “representatives” and their bureaucratic cohorts.

  4. Trump defies the most basic of human dignities, moral obligations.

    The most direct fact of, if a person wants to bring grave moral, economic demise to a community, then put in a Casino. In all of history, gambling breeds alcoholism, prostitution, and destroying the family structure.

    Today, the tag mahal, Trump tower and the blunder of, is up to be demolished, in an event of hopefully to help children.

    The tag mahal was a evil built to destroy the family structure, as the wall, as the Horrific and Evil Genocide on Yemen that Trump extended on Yemen, the worst humanitarian evil crisis in all of World History. A action worse than Stalin in making Russia communistic.

    • As usual, a profoundly ignorant post full of falsehoods. Trump has been the most actively pro-life president we have had in a long time. Protecting life at its most vulnerable point is certainly commendable in that it deeply honors human dignity. There is no verifiable evidence that the presence or absence of casinos has anything to do with the destruction of the family in a society, so that is just your uninformed opinion. And thinking that the “genocide in Yemen,” a figment of your deeply disturbed imagination, is worse than what Stalin did in the Soviet Union, demonstrates a profound ignorance of basic Western history. Please go find something else to do with your time. You are embarrassing yourself, and no thoughtful person here can take what you say seriously.

    • Sorry for the harshness, but it needs to be said: This is one of the worst posts I have lately seen on the Internet. Replete with spelling errors and incomplete sentences, it seeks only to underline that its author hates Trump… for reasons the same author hasn’t the compositional skills necessary to explain.

    • Apparently you’re unaware of the 11% out of wedlock birth rate of black families up to the 1930’s compared to the current 74%. The cascading generational failure of the “Great Society” is rearing it’s ugly head.

  5. I found this article very helpful as I grapple with all that has happened in the last week, and indeed for months leading up to the election.
    I found this article very helpful as I think and reflect on all that has happened in the last week, and for months leading up to the election. Prayers for our beloved country needed now more than ever. There is no peace. We know that if President Donald J. Trump had been declared the winner of the election that most of our cities would be burning now. And I happen to believe that the president was re-elected. But that’s another subject, for another day and time.

  6. What crossed my mind is that the elected officials in the building got to “flee for their lives” from the mob, but an unborn human being has nowhere to “flee” when the surgical instruments come in to rip their limbs from their torso—-heinous murder if it happens to someone outside the womb. The day the Roe/Wade decision came is another day in American history that continues its’ murderous rampage to this day. Why aren’t the 2 “good” Catholics in the highest offices of this country trying their hardest to stop this tragedy?? Why aren’t the Catholic “leaders” voicing their opposition to Biden and Pelosi? You know the media loves the Catholic church….you’re the ones they cover every Christmas and Easter!

  7. If we stop the murder of sweet babies Our Loving Lord will heal our country and world. I have received this from Him. And I believe many other real Catholics have heard this also.

  8. True, Jelinek’s assumption that “corruptio optimi pessima” may apply to President Trump. A question on this current matter must be answered. Is it treason to disagree with the result of an election? Where do we find this is the Constitution, in legal precedent, in any law journal? If that premise is ratified by Congress in this impeachment ‘trial’ [the President is not given due recourse] of the new administration can feasibly use this as precedent to legally enforce their policies with threat of legal sanction.

  9. “Yessss good readers, you must support Trump! Remember the evil black thugs!!! This was sad and pathetic display of pent-up racism and false victimhood but REMEMBER THE THUGS, THEY ARE COMING FOR YOU AND THEY HATE THE CHRIST!”

    I’m glad your daughter was there to receive your sage guidance, lmao

    • Normally I wouldn’t put through this sort of inane and insulting remark. But it might be helpful for readers to see how some folks such as yourself cannot handle reasonable, sane observations about current events.

    • When you sign off with “Imao”, I suppose you mean it to say “In my arrogant opinion,” the standard translation we find in dictionaries of texting acronyms. But I fear some, after reading your post, may be sorely tempted to assign another meaning to that ‘a’ in your acronym.

  10. The DEMS saw NO reason to condemn the riots which have gone on for almost a year now and threatened ordinary people’s homes and destroyed businesses. Some of those businesses were owned by Blacks. In fact, ever self-serving, the DEMs felt the need to KNEEL in “solidarity” with rioters. How is that NOT “incitement to riot”??? I recall the DEMs laughing in derision at Trump when Secret Service removed him and his family to a secure location when the summer DC riots were raging and a CHURCH across from the White House set on fire.Again the DEMs attacked Trump for going outside to confront the rioters. Looks like they were not laughing last Wednesday when THEY were perceived to be at risk. Oh no, then its all drama. Its a terrible thing the officer died and the female air force vet shot to death. But this was all set in motion after a year of other riots were given tacit approval by the party which now finds them to be sedition.The LEFT should be up on charges. Does anyone recall the protesters INSIDE the capital during the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, pounding on the locked hearing door?? Or the legislator confronted within inches of his face by other hysterical protesters at that same time? Have you observed in recent years the number of conservative speakers and legislators ( Josh Hawley the latest) who have had “protesters” threaten them at their own front doors?? When did such threatening behavior become OK here?? How is that attack and threat somehow protected ” free speech” but suggesting a legally encoded investigation of possible election corruption is suddenly viewed as an attempt to overthrow democracy? We have a lot to lose here in terms of our constitutional rights if people remain silent in the face of this level of political partisanship and corruption. Write a CIVIL letter to your legislators disapproving of what is happening .And refuse to support the impeachment process of Trump who is on RECORDING asking supporters to march PEACEFULLY.Contact the companies who are financially cutting off GOP legislators from donations or business dealings and tell them you will no longer patronize their businesses. If you are able and own their stock, sell it. And if indeed your school is teaching your children partisan politics or to hate their country, you MUST speak out immediately to stop it. Call the teacher AND the school board.Involve the other parents. This is the sort of indoctrination you’d expect to find in North Korea. I find it incomprehensible that Americans can vote for people of this ilk.

  11. May I offer another candidate for worst days? How about January 22, 1973. How many millions of desks at schools nationwide have been unnecessary because of incalculable destruction? More than Pearl Harbor, more than the Civil War, more than 9-11. Indeed far more than all three combined.

    Good piece, Ron

  12. The Inauguration day of Biden and Harris( the president in a year or two),in my opinion will be the darkest day in American history.
    Also, it will be the end of America as we know it,a country of God,Freedom, and Life

  13. I want to reply but don’t know what to actually say to express what I am feeling. Stressful to read such angry vitriol. I understand that Trump touted anti abortion. But so much else he touted was hateful, so much what he did was disgusting. I just don’t understand how all that is/was ignored because he was against abortion. I don’t think a president should be the one who decides if lesbians, guys, etc. should or should not have rights. We all should have rights to be treated as humans with equal rights. I am a woman and do not think I have the right to abort. Yes, I should be able to make decisions about my own body but a fetus is not my body. OK, enough; back to praying for all of us.

  14. We didn’t see Americans beheaded on live television during the Trump administration; during his time in office Donald Trump crushed ISIS. He also accomplished what no other president had been able to do: the Abraham accords which established peace between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other Islamic states. Yes, he was rough around the edges, but many if not most of his policies were innovative and positive — just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor, whom Biden has now said he will prosecute anew.

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