Nations or empires rise and fall throughout history. They all went through the same stages of change in their political ethos regardless of whatever political system.
When an empire or a nation is in the ascent, the leaders will be honourable and work for the betterment of country and people. The same leaders could become dishonourable and cheat, and run the country for their own personal benefits when the empire or nation is in decline. When nations are on the rise, there will be righteousness, rule of law, able leadership and a few good men.
A good example of a nation on the rise is China. Just ignore the political craps coming out from the West and look at how that country is being managed, growing in leaps and bounds, and will soon overtake America, driven by its own talents and political leadership. It was blessed with admirable and selfless men like Deng Xiao Ping, Jiang Ze Min, Zhu Rong Ji, and now Hu Jin Tao and Wen Jia Bao plus a few very able second echelon leaders.
These men are not without faults. But they are driven with a cause. The country is also not without faults, with corruption and abuses of authority in many places. But the rule of law is upheld and will deal with the violators. The violators are the scoundrels and the law is against them. The scoundrels know that they are doing wrong and will have to face justice and the rule of law.
When a nation is in decline, like the US, there will still be the rule of law. But scoundrels are everywhere. And the scoundrels do not think that they are doing wrong and that they have to account for themselves under the rule of law. They hijack and apply the rule of law to their benefits. The rule of law is for the scoundrels. When such a situation is reached, the descent from glory is imminent and unavoidable. For the scoundrels are in charge and the rule of law will not stop them, or cannot stop them from their wrong doings. The scoundrels are on the right side of the rule of law and interpret the rule of the law to their advantage.
See the difference in the case of a nation in ascent? There the scoundrels know that their actions are wrong. In the case of a nation in decline, the scoundrels do not think they are doing any wrong, and their conscience is clear, or they just pretend to be so.
Every society has its own share of scoundrels. But scoundrels are normally put in the right places on legal grounds, ethical and moral grounds. When legal, ethical and moral grounds are blurred and scoundrels can scale over them, no longer obstructions to their actions, when there is no guilt, no wrongs and no conscience pricks, the end is near.