Henry Kissinger famously said, “Power is the great aphrodisiac.” Power is like any other addictive stimulant, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex. However, very few achieve the stratosphere of political power.
Obtaining political power at a national level feeds the ego like no other vice. Your name is spoken multiple times in news cycles and at family dinner tables. Everyone waits for your decision and everyone has an opinion about you. Political leaders who stay in power for years become demigods.
Donald Trump would frequently flaunt that he never touched a drop of alcohol. He did not need to, as he was addicted to power. From his 20s, he sought to become famous.
Fame is another form of power. He would call the New York tabloids disguising his voice and claiming to be someone else reporting on his own antics to make the front page. Soon he learned the more outrageous his conduct, the more famous he would become.
Why else would a billionaire in charge of an international corporation appear on the WWE’s WrestleMania to tackle and pound Ed McMahon?
Through ridiculous stunts, reality TV shows, and blatant showmanship, Donald Trump was able to win the greatest prize for power: the presidency.
The historical titans of industry (e.g., Henry Ford, JP Morgan, Bill Gates) have made more of a lasting impact on society than 90 percent of US presidents. However, the history books only remember the presidents.
As president, Trump’s name was spoken more widely and constantly than any other human on the planet. Military bands would play when he entered a room with thousands of troops standing at attention and saluting.
Devoted voters screamed and cried in adulation when he touched them. The number of endorphins that were excreting from his brain could not be matched by any drug. This addiction tied with his narcissism caused Trump to cling to the presidency like a heroin addict on his last fix.
Governor Cuomo grew up in the world of political power. At the young age of 23, he was already part of the Albany inner circle while his father was governor for 12 years.
I worked for Andrew Cuomo while he was attorney general for New York. I briefly met him when his office hired me as a rank-and-file staff attorney.
A deft politician, he got close to me, fixed my tie, and made me feel important. Leaving that room, I would have done anything for him. During my four years working in that office, I never saw him again.
The old-timers in the office grumbled how the previous attorney generals would frequently come down from the top floor to chat with the staff. They called him “the unavailable control freak.”
Every decision that could have public exposure, no matter how small, had to be vetted by him. He was always concerned about his public appearance for his next political run and sacrificed the well-being of the staff. He denied our annual raises and removed alcohol from the holiday parties, all to protect his image.
After being in politics for over 30 years, you can see that he is exhausted and frustrated as he lashes out against anyone who questions him. Still, he is addicted to power and craves that fourth term in office.
That leaves us with the notorious RBG. Looking at Justice Ginsburg’s career in public service, you would not question her devotion to serve the greater good.
She was a constant force for women’s rights and gender equality. While she sought equal treatment in the workplace for women, she was able to change the law for men to receive equal inheritance under antiquated state statutes.
She was able to achieve the highest position in power that all practicing attorneys covet: Supreme Court Justice. A Supreme Court Justice is the rockstar of the legal profession.
Every law student reads their decisions. They tour the world during their summers off (like school children) to lecture thousands and receive thunderous applause. Rarely are they challenged in an open forum, giving them the confirmation that their word is law.
During the Obama administration, there was a concern about RBG’s age and health. There was hope she would retire so her seat could be given to another liberal-leaning judge.
The highly controversial right to an abortion for women constantly hangs in the balance, as the decisions in the Supreme Court are frequently decided by one vote out of the nine justices.
When RBG was asked about retiring, she responded, “there will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.” Despite her decades of fighting for woman’s rights, she was willing to risk her life’s work to remain in power.
Prior to her death, she was a pop culture icon depicted as wearing a crown based on a similar image of the rapper Notorious B.I.G.
We would hope someone as educated and worldly as Justice Ginsberg would overcome the seduction of fame. However, we have all witnessed even the greatest of people brought low by the smallest of vices. Power is no small vice.
Michael Arcati is an attorney practicing in Forest Hills and chair of the Queens County Libertarian Party.