Misdeeds shroud achievements
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
I’ll call it the “X86 generation” — a story about the 386 generation, or past pro-democracy student activists, who have now become Korea’s greatest hypocrites. They were born in the ‘60s and went to college in the ‘80s. They fought for democracy during their college years and entered politics in their 30s. They lived in the shadows throughout their 40s when Korea was governed by conservative presidents, but bounced back up after the disgraceful fall of the Park Geun-hye administration to become the generation 586. They will soon be known as the 686 generation.
Without their sacrifice in the past, Korea’s democracy might not be where it is today. There’s no need to further explain that. The problem is that as members of that generation now rise to power, their past misdeeds are shrouding their achievements. New Justice Minister Cho Kuk is a good example.
They always divide our society. No matter how many allegations related to Cho’s family pop up, they have Cho’s back. They snap, “Is there anyone in the [main opposition] Liberty Korea Party less dirty than Cho Kuk?” Their criterion of judgment lies in how much value something or someone can add to their political bloc. They’re dichotomous: someone is either their ally or foe.
Moral superiority was the very foundation on which pro-democracy activists raised their voices in Korean society. When everyone else prioritized caring about their own safety, they fought against military dictatorship. Thanks to them, we now live in a country that fulfilled the goals of both democracy and industrialization. But too much is as bad as too little. They’re crushing the sound order of our society by relaying a set of logic that goes against law and common sense, logic that disregards their own contributions to Korea’s industrialization.
The bigger problem is indulgence toward foul acts. Cho’s daughter received scholarships even though she did not apply for them, and she received an award even though the stated presenter said he did not issue the award. Yet Cho said he did not know about them, and lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) defended him. The DP refuses to admit any illegality on Cho or his family’s part no matter how many allegations rise up against them, suspicions that an ordinary, diligent person would not have experienced even once in his or her life.
Members of the public are left to suffer from anomie — because people they thought were righteous say everything is alright when it does not seem to be. The pinnacle of this anomie all comes down to the Moon Jae-in administration’s zeitgeist: “Everyone will have equal opportunities, the process will be fair and the result will be righteous.” His administration shelved the allegations against Cho’s daughter as if “righteous people” were just utilizing the system really well, even if she received scholarships for six semesters in a row despite the fact that she was flunking.
Even if Cho’s daughter was named the first author of a medical paper while she was attending a foreign language high school, they defend her, saying Cho’s daughter ought to receive that credit. And when prosecutors investigate the allegations, they accuse them of plotting a coup. As they continue to ignore the hypocrisy of Cho’s family, some people say what Korean society needs now is not judicial reform, but a “conscience restoration movement.” Now’s the time to address the limits of liberals.
The prerogatives of the privileged class are not monopolized by conservatives. Cho is only the tip of the iceberg. Confirmation hearings and other occasions have revealed that many people who have built a reputation on being liberal actually lived a life of prerogatives and illegality. The social impact of those revelations is meager when you have only one or two of such cases. But Cho, an iconic figure of Korean liberalism, has unveiled the true side of hypocritical liberals.
Against this backdrop, there’s no way their policies would work. After the Moon administration declared a policy to phase out nuclear reactors, we’re not winning any contracts from abroad to build nuclear reactors in foreign countries, and ecosystems are being destroyed. The income-led growth policy has widened the gap of income levels and shrunk the percentage of Korea’s middle class to 50-something percent. Yet the government claims the economy is doing fine. It’s not different from how they keep arguing that Cho’s family’s foul acts are nothing to worry about.
The liberals have fulfilled their mandates of the times like those who worked in Korea’s industrialization era. They made great contributions throughout the former administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, but their pure hearts have died as they became the 586 generation. Ahn Kyong-wha, a professor emeritus at Seoul National University, who taught Cho, once said that benevolence was needed for the social minority. But they no longer are part of the social minority. What they need now is a conscience restoration movement — and I hope they go through one before they grow more corrupt.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 11, Page 26