Park’s fatal selfishnessPolice arrested and investigated dozens of university students during a demonstration at Seoul National University in February 1986. During questioning, the police wrote in investigation reports that each student was arrested for having shouted a slogan, “Overthrow the dictatorship,” three times.
The police told the students that they would soon be released because their charges were not serious. The students became relieved. But the prosecution applied for detention warrants and a court issued them en masse. They did not use violence or attempt to overthrow the government. They only said what they believed based on their consciences, but all of them faced punishment. It was a cold winter when the rule of law and the value of pluralism were frozen.
Spring 2017 was completely different from that winter. A total of 160 million people participated in candlelight vigils to criticize the behavior of the president and demand her resignation. None were arrested. Former President Park Geun-hye, accused of having abused her office for private gains, was ousted through the constitutional process.
The Sewol ferry was finally lifted from the sea bottom after three years, shortly after the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of Park. As an era of injustice and savagery ends, a new dawn of justice and reason prevails. The tragedy of Park was her lack of ability to communicate and empathize. The former president, who was incredibly indifferent to other people’s tragedies and misfortunes, spent seven hours to demand corrections in the prosecution’s report after she was summoned for questioning. She was probably scared of being detained.
If so, she should have desperately commanded a rescue operation in cooperation with her aides during the critical first seven hours of the Sewol’s sinking, while the students and teachers trapped inside the sinking ferry were exchanging their final promises that they would “Stay alive and meet again.”
If Park had left her residence to attempt to protect the lives of the passengers with the kind of dispatch seen in acting Constitutional Court chief justice Lee Jung-mi on the final day of the impeachment trial — appearing at the court with hair rollers still on her head — Park probably wouldn’t have had to face quite as much rage from the people.
Inheriting political prestige from her father, Park identified herself as a fan of Abraham Lincoln, quoting him frequently. But she didn’t understand the essence of Lincoln in the least. He was a lawyer who built his career from nothing. He became successful for his ability to communicate, reconcile and empathize. While commanding the Civil War, he lost a young son to illness. As casualties were so high at the time, spiritualism quickly gained power among the public, and his wife, Mary Lincoln, was also introduced to a psychic to try to get in contact with the dead child.
Lincoln himself was stricken by loss, but did not make his agony public. Instead, he empathized with other people who lost loved ones. He even gave presidential pardons to runaway soldiers subject to the death penalty because he felt pity for them. Feeling pain for others more than himself was the difference between Lincoln and an individual like Park.
How could Ronald Reagan become a great communicator? It was because he was a powerful man by night. He used his nights of solitude. When his wife Nancy Reagan left on a trip, he summoned lawmakers to the White House for a dinner and exchanged the kind of jokes they could not swap during the day to build stronger bonding. Within his first 100 days in office, Reagan met 467 members of congress through 49 events, and that is not a coincidence.
Presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in said, “Being different doesn’t have to be condemned for being wrong.” It was a clear declaration of pluralism. He will embraced his opponents. He is right. Instead of coercing rivals, having candid communication and offering a justification for grand unity will save both sides and serve the public better.
But the reality is different. When someone presents an idea even slightly different from Moon’s, he or she will be bombarded with text message attacks from Moon’s loyalist. It was no wonder that Ahn Hee-jung complained, “Do you have any idea how seriously it freaks me out and how seriously it disgusts me?”
In his book, “Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter,” Rick Shenkman deplored that only 20 percent of Americans know that the Senate has 100 members. Then just how sharp and great is the discernment of the Korean people, who managed to judge their president, find her wanting, and expel her from power?
“In every democracy, the people get the government they deserve,” said Alexis de Tocqueville. Wise people will never allow another Park, who rejected the call of change — who found herself trapped in some ancien régime.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 31
*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.