We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder: How could they be so reckless and brazen?
I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time. Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors. People arrange their meals and social functions for them. They really don’t need to carry cash anymore. They get chauffered to events in limousines. When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately. They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by. Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people? They live lives that are different from normal people. And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue. The missed tests get retaken. The tickets are torn up. The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival. Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.
But then, at some point, a line gets crossed. The police get called. A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public. A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore. Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.
I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.