Issue Briefs

The Arrogant: “Rules Do Not Apply To Me”

The Arrogant: “Rules Do Not Apply To Me”

Paolo von Schirach

August 29th, 2020

WASHINGTON– A commentator who apparently knows Steve Bannon quite well, (Bannon is a conservative politics strategist who advised Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign), expressed surprise when the news broke that Bannon and others had been arrested and charged with the crime of defrauding donors who had given money to a symbolic project about building a piece of the “famous” US-Mexico border that Donald Trump campaigned on. (The Trump administration has no part in this project). Well, if the charges can be proven, it appears that Bannon and other associates misappropriated part of the money donated and illegally diverted it to other pursuits, this way betraying the donors and breaking the law.

How could this happen?

The commentator could not understand how this could have happened. How is it possible that a very rich man like Bannon would do such a thing? After all the charges are about the illegal misappropriation of a few hundreds of thousands, pocket change if you are worth millions. Why would Bannon take such a big chance, breaking the law for so little money, asks the commentator in disbelief?

Jerry Falwell Jr. advertised his bad behavior

And what about Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. openly advertising his rules-breaking behavior? He really did not know that posting on line suggestive pictures of himself holding a glass with an alcoholic beverage, with his pants partially unzipped, while hugging a woman who is not his wife who also displayed partially unzipped pants would not look good? After all he was the President of a well known Christian University that strongly promotes chastity and proper behavior. Talk about unforced error!

And what about a few movies stars and athletes caught shoplifting? They most certainly do not lack the money to buy the merchandise they intended to steal.


Well, what do we make of these examples of seemingly irrational, nonsensical behavior? I have a simple answer: “hubris”. For the ancient Greeks who coined this word, in a religious context hubris was open transgression against God. In a civil context it meant sexual assault, and also theft of public or sacred property. In other words, hubristic behavior was about acting in open disregard for established social norms and laws.

You get the picture. The hubristic person is in fact an unhinged individual who created a childish, amoral fantasy in which he lives. In this fantasy, he/she truly believes to be superior to all others. Therefore rules and laws that should be followed by other human beings do not apply to them.

Rules are for the others

Assuming that Bannon can be proven guilty, he probably believed that he could freely use money received for one purpose for other goals, as he saw fit. Being smart, super intelligent and clever beyond belief, of course he could do this.

Likewise, with his repeated instances of rules-breaking behavior (the example cited here is just the most recent one), Falwell Jr. reveals that as President of Liberty University he had great fun running an ostensibly Christian higher education institution, while he did not believe that any of the precepts taught to thousands of students applied to him. In others words, it is alright for common folks to follow and respect strong moral principles. But superior, super smart people like Falwell are exempted. They can do whatever they want, with total impunity.

Same thing for the celebrities who engage in law-breaking behavior, apparently for the fun of it.


All the great religions and the moral philosophers teach humility, and warn us against pride and arrogance. Being human, we sometimes fail. We make mistakes. Hopefully we have the wisdom to recognize our errors and try to do better.

But there are some who probably learn nothing from their mistakes, even when they are caught, embarrassed and sometimes jailed. They continue arguing that what they did was not really that bad. Their downfall was caused by sinister plots. Remember: they are special. Rules do not apply to them.

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.

Paolo von Schirach is the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC. He is also the Editor of the Schirach Report.