Arrogance and obstinacy
The author is an emeritus professor and former president of Korea University.
The year 2020 is finally coming to an end. As I look back, I wonder whether I fulfilled all of my New Year’s resolutions, distressed myself or others or was engrossed with living a busy life. Then I regret I did not push myself harder over the past year.
In 2021, the Moon Jae-in administration will be entering its twilight years, and people will start to refer to him as a lame duck president. It is time for Moon to look back at his three and a half years in office and contemplate the year and a half left.
What exactly has the Moon administration accomplished? It strived to eradicate jeokpye (deep-rooted evils) in society, reform the prosecution and control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Moon came into office pledging to build “a country no one has experienced” by creating jobs, cooling the heated real estate market and laying the groundwork for peaceful unification with North Korea. Yet he has failed miserably on all of them. Rather than painting a positive future for the nation, he doubled down on revisiting controversial issues from the past, leaving nothing but burdens to the future generation.
Moon’s three and a half years in office will go down in history as a period of conflict and confrontation. It was rough and tumultuous, and placed the Moon administration in a hopeless state today.
Constantly playing hardball in life does not always lead to a better outcome. Sacrificing everything for a particular cause is worse than going with the flow. In politics, the values of democracy are akin to the values of a free life.
Many people believed that if democracy fighters of the 1980s took top government posts, Korea’s democracy would improve. But liberal pundits have made the opposite assessment.
Democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. People may engage in heated debates and lock horns during the process, but in consequence, true democracy is always about making concessions and meeting others halfway.
Democracy is based on inductive reasoning. Treating democracy as if it were a good-versus-evil game and adopting a deductive approach to reach what one believes is an absolute good is nowhere near democracy. That’s more like a religious faith. Justifying a means to reach an end is nothing more than blinding oneself by self-righteousness. There’s no such thing as a correct answer in democracy.
In a democratic society, crucial political decisions should not be made simply based on the rule of majority. Koreans have not forgotten the painful history of the Yushin (Restoration) dictatorship, when President Park Chung Hee formed a rubber stamp legislature to ram through bills under the false impression they were being passed by a majority vote. The populace, at the time, yearned for democracy as the Park regime enforced whatever it deemed served the authoritarian government.
Self-righteousness has no place in our society today. True democracy is about listening to all voices across the political aisle — including those of minor oppositions such as the Justice Party, the People’s Party and the Transition Korea Party — and convincing them of the need for consensus.
The Moon administration and ruling Democratic Party (DP) must ponder why a group of college professors across the country recently coined a new phrase as their Idiom of the Year to denounce the liberal administration for having double standards.
The phrase asitabi, a combination of four Chinese characters, criticizes the government for acting like it’s always right and others are always wrong.
As the saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the government rules the nation with self-righteousness and obstinacy, democracy fails. On the first day of 2021, I hope Moon reads his inauguration speech and mulls over his remaining months in the Blue House.
As former DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan stressed the need for the ruling party to draft a 20-year plan to remain in power, I wish Moon draws up a 20-year plan for Korea’s democracy.