Here is an idea that needs to be taken out and shot, before it does any more damage.

Whether it is invading Iraq, torturing suspected terrorists, imposing long prison sentences for low-level drug crimes, looking the other way when police officers shoot unarmed black men or building jails for babies in Texas, there is always someone to argue that the government action was necessary, automatic, because of something someone else did.

If the victims of our overreaction, our bad judgment, our need to punish, didn’t want to be attacked, tortured, jailed, shot or subjected to institutionalized child abuse, then those people — or their parents — shouldn’t have done what they did.

Well, no, in many cases they shouldn’t. A basic don’t-do-the-crime-if-you-can’t-do-the-time argument has much validity to it.

But when the citizens of a democracy consider whether their executives, their armed forces, their police, their courts, even their media, have acted with justice and decency, one factor always must be at the front of our minds.

Our job as citizens, as voters, as the media, as decent human beings, is to judge the people who work for us, not the people who don’t.

Partly because the people who work for us generally have the most power — socially, financially and legally — they must be held to a higher standard of behavior than those who have little or no power.

That doesn’t mean we should forgive the murderer or the rapist. Those acts are an abuse of power, unofficial power, thug power, but power nevertheless. And abuses of power are the ultimate crime.

And so when our government launches an pointless invasion, builds a secret prison, resorts to mass incarceration or behaves as if black lives don’t matter, it is abusing its power and failing to do its duty.

The frequent targets of government power may have had, and may have failed to live up to, their individual responsibility to society. That’s bad. But it’s, usually, small. And it’s, often, too much to expect powerless individuals to have done anything else.

Certainly that is the case for the desperate families fleeing violence and lawlessness in Central America, who come to the United States because, well, for more than 200 years, it’s been where people in desperate circumstances go.

They may be mistaken, taking advantage or not so helpless as they would like us to believe. But whatever they are, they don’t work for you.

Your members of Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol, the White House, they do work for you. At least in theory. They have a duty, a responsibility, to uphold our highest ideals.

It is your duty to hold them to it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

gpyle@sltrib.com