Enough breaches of trust — and I haven’t even started to hit all the scandals out there, by a long shot — and ordinary people will start to assume that the whole system is corrupt. And if that happens, people will quit following the law because they think it’s the right thing to do, and only do so to the extent they’re afraid of getting caught. Plenty of countries operate on that principle. They’re just not as nice to live in as countries where the law has moral stature. When government officials breach trust, they push us closer to that sort of third world condition. Which is why, when they’re found doing so, they should be punished severely.
It’s also why we should try electing, and employing, people with strong moral compasses of their own; government officials who will follow the law because they think it’s the right thing to do, rather than simply to the extent they’re afraid of getting caught.
Good luck with that. Bill Clinton showed that people don’t give a damn, or at least didn’t. Maybe they’ll start to figure out why integrity and probity are important in public officials, but I’m not hopeful. I think that the results of the New York City races (particularly the Spitzer outcome) will be somewhat revealing, at least for that electorate.