When it became known that Victoria Donda had tried to “fix” her domestic worker with a social plan, many believed that it would cost her her job at Inadi. When it transpired that Luana Volnovich had gone on vacation to the Caribbean with her second in the PAMI and had left the organization headless – in addition to ignoring a public indication from the President of the Nation – others thought that her hours in the Government were numbered. However, both Donda and Volnovich (among many other officials, judges, ambassadors) have been benefited by the doctrine of “go ahead”, which has abolished the sanction in the State and has enshrined the criterion that errors, however gross they may be, and the transgressions, however audacious they may be, have no consequences. It just lets them go. Explanations and occasional apologies are no longer even required.
It is not a question of returning to episodes or scandals that are already considered time-barred, but rather of noticing a fundamental question that these facts have revealed: the principle that indicated that the higher the position occupied, the greater the responsibility. Without having published it in the Official Gazette or discussed it in any legislative body, the State has inverted that equation: the higher the position, the less responsibility and greater impunity to be handled with arbitrariness and impudence. Thus, a standard has been set for the entire public function, which even transcends the Executive Branch. The cases of Donda and Volnovich have done nothing more than add “jurisprudence” so that no one in the State feels obliged to be held accountable. They established precedents that, in fact, authorize any sub-secretary or area director to feel that they have a “free stone” and that, whatever they do, they are safe from sanction and exempt, even, from giving explanations. If the head of the PAMI continues as if nothing, what could be reproached to the person in charge of the PAMI pharmacies if he decides to close them for 15 days to go to Saint Martin with the sub-manager of pharmacies? Not only does he who acts negligently and indolently go unpunished, but these attitudes are reproduced and strengthened: seeing that nothing happens, no one cares too much or feels obliged to do good lyrics.
The doctrine of “follow, follow” does not conceive the public function as a service, but as a privilege. It recognizes the official more rights than obligations. It is even seen as a “character trait” that, in the midst of a media commotion caused by his actions, “endurance” in his position. Volnovich may be internally recognized for having “banked” her in the face of “persecution and harassment by the media.” Thus reasons the logic of privilege. If she had admitted her mistake and her lack of ethics, and had submitted her resignation, perhaps the ruling party would have accused her of being “lazy” and of having given in to the pressure of public opinion. In that case, she would have been sanctioned with a kind of political ostracism. Resignation is seen as an act of weakness.
In that upside-down world, the principle of authority is completely blurred. It is another of the data revealed by the Volnovich case. As the obligation to give explanations does not apply, the power to demand them is also repealed. The President can set a criterion (that officials not spend the summer abroad amid economic and health restrictions), but no one feels obliged to follow it. As the transgression has no consequences, a license is extended so that each one does what he wants.
In this kind of ethical and functional anomie, the country gets used to anything: a judge (like Ramos Padilla) can lead a march against his superiors (the members of the Court) without the provocation generating consequences. A judge can make out in jail with the criminal whose sentence she tried to mitigate, without her position being in danger. A minister can threaten a humorist on Twitter (as Aníbal Fernández did with Nik) without the outrage going beyond an anecdote. An ambassador can share an act with one of those accused of blowing up the AMIA, and simply say that he did not realize it, or not even say anything. The doctrine of “follow, follow” protects them.
“We can all make a mistake,” the President once said when having to explain a clandestine celebration in Olivos. The phrase passed as one more, in the midst of the litter of political declarations. But perhaps it was, in fact, the consecration of this doctrine with which power excuses itself. Can we all make a mistake? Or do some, due to their responsibility and investiture, have a more limited margin for error? Is an error the same as an ethical fault? Does a crime also count as an error? For the benefits we are not all the same, but for the tolerance before the error yes?
Of course, the task of governing (like all human tasks) can involve failures and mistakes. Of course many should be tolerated and even understood. Neither governments nor the most competent leaders are immune to error. The problem is when everything tends to be equated and the scale of responsibilities is diluted. The right to be wrong (which exists and must be recognized) does not apply to everyone in the same proportion. Like other rights (to privacy, for example) they are restricted when one assumes high public responsibilities. At least it was like that, until the principles began to be inverted and the “go ahead” was consecrated. The border between good and bad faith became more diffuse and stopped being recognized: “We can all make a mistake”. The phrase seems to offer officials (from the President on down) an efficient alibi, whether it is to pardon a slip, an outrage or a gross ethical infraction.
That is why the public reproach that former Minister Ginés González García made to the President these days is justified. He was the only one who was asked to resign in the midst of the VIP vaccination scandal. After a long silence, he acknowledged that he could have made “some mistake”, but considered his dismissal “unfair”. And he said something revealing about the philosophy that governs the State: “If you have to drive, you have to bank.” It is a novel principle: “Governing is banking.” Anything? It looks like it is. González García became the exception that confirms the rule. It is logical that he considers himself the victim of “an injustice”. Why did they kick him out of a government that doesn’t kick anyone out? You’re still wondering. And it finds, naturally, more explanations in internalism than in the validity of an ethical code that seems repealed.
The cases of Donda, Volnovich, Aníbal Fernández or Ambassador Capitanich (to mention just a few) are definitely part of a culture that has entrenched itself in the State: there is no sanction; no consequences paid. Nobody gets kicked out; no one quits. It is a criterion that descends from the top of power and reaches the lowest levels. It also protects a teacher who screams at her students (like the one from La Matanza) or a councilwoman who is filmed while driving while completely intoxicated, as happened in Salta. The sense of exemplarity, the obligation to “be and appear”, the notions of duty and responsibility, all seem abstract and anachronistic concepts. Ethics and power have signed their divorce decree. “Keep going,” shouts the referee. Not even football would be encouraged so much.ß