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Power and Addiction

One minute I held the key
Next, the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

Those lines were from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, a song about a king who lost his kingdom. I sometimes wonder how it feels like to be a person of power one minute and an outsider the next. It must be the worst hangover.

I had often read that Power is the most addictive drug. With “conventional” drugs, you get high for a few hours. With Power, you get high continuously for years. With conventional drugs, you feel like you can do anything. With Power, you actually can do anything.

Then comes the hangover. The crash. I remember a line from the movie Amistad about how there is nothing more pathetic than a former president. Maybe this is why some people will do anything to stay in power. Some would willingly sell their souls, and those who didn’t believe in souls would gladly run over the bodies of their own children if that’s what it takes to gain and regain immense power. It’s really not unlike the meth addict who will do anything for the next fix.

In January 2009, less than two weeks before Barack Obama assumed office (he was already president-elect then), I saw this picture of the five living US presidents standing side by side with George W. Bush at the center, Obama and Clinton at either side of him, and Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter beside them. It was a sight to behold. No matter what it meant to be the most powerful man in the world, these men had known and accepted that the Presidency is bigger than the president, that it is the Presidency that gives the president his temporary power, and that each of them must pass on the torch that he once clutched so tightly from the moment it was passed on to him.

I wonder if our country’s torch will be passed as willingly, and if our people will be able to sing:

Now the old king is dead
Long live the King!

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