These days I'm just waiting to see what institution, individual or entity will be the next disgraced by scandal, lies or cover-ups. How the mighty do fall, and they seem to be falling in ever more rapid succession in a 24/7 news environment and the exploding social media universe. In many cases, we "know" way too much about a possible scandal before the facts can prove it right or baseless.
The current headline-making scandal, of course, is not baseless. The facts tell a sorry tale of Secret Service agents partying heartily with prostitutes while setting up security for the President's recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia. So far nine agents have resigned or been pushed out, and investigations are ongoing by four congressional committees, Homeland Security and the Defense Department. The question is whether this was an isolated incident or a pattern of behavior in the agency. Already there are new rules in place that limit alcohol consumption and ban "foreigners" from Secret Service rooms. Chaperones, believe it or not, will also accompany advance contingents.
Now I'd have bet good money on the integrity of the Secret Service, wouldn't you? I thought if you could trust anybody, you could trust the Secret Service. Really, what could be more important than protecting the leader of the free world and his family, even if you don't - or didn't - like the president? Agents are supposed to be willing to "take a bullet," as it goes, but now I wonder if some of them really would make that sacrifice.
Over in Greensboro, N.C., the lurid trial of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards has brought tears to a key prosecution witness and the former candidate's adult daughter. Edwards is charged with soliciting almost $1 million from deep-pocketed supporters to abet the cover-up of his affair with a campaign aide who produced a baby girl. For a time in his life, he was golden-haired - and well-coiffed - the doting husband of the glorious Elizabeth Edwards as she battled cancer, the successful and wealthy trial lawyer who built a 28,000 square foot home for his family and the self-made son of a millworker. Hubris - arrogance that leads to ruin - brought him down in a graceless fall from aspirations that envisioned a desk in the Oval Office.
Try counting the many powerful icons of our times brought down by greed, arrogance and a belief they were untouchable, above the law and beyond scrutiny? Can you say California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had more than a passing interest in a household employee while married to the well-esteemed and successful Maria Shriver? Or longtime golfing great Tiger Woods, who had a penchant for an almost unknowable number of exotic girlfriends and call girls outside his marriage to Swedish beauty Elin Nordegren? Now we see them for who they really were, not the smoke-and-mirrors image they wanted us to see.
Home run king and regular most valuable player Barry Bonds wanted us to believe he set those records all by himself, instead of through the magic of steroids and human growth hormone, so he lied to a grand jury and got himself convicted of obstruction of justice. Former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich lied to and ran around on two wives because he thought his powerful position and higher aspirations relieved him of accountability.
Think of other entities we once thought to be trustworthy and above reproach: The Catholic Church. Real estate as an investment. Banks and bankers. Some presidents, vice presidents and defense secretaries. Once we believed corporations were simply businesses, job creators, money-makers, and service and goods suppliers. Now the Supreme Court has told us we were wrong: they're people just like us and have all the freedom we have to donate money to affect political outcomes. The court has made day into night and night into day.
Just who and what can you trust anymore? Almost nobody and nothing, it might seem, but my point, however, is not the systemic erosion of trust in these times. Rather, it is the immutable fact that if you're doing something you shouldn't be doing, if you're lying about who you are, if you think you won't someday be caught red-handed, if you're not paying your taxes, if you're stealing from your employer, if you're running around on your spouse, if you think your wealth, success or power is a bullet-proof vest, you better be looking over your shoulder. Justice has a long reach, and sometimes it takes its time.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.