How the mighty have fallen - and keep falling.

How the not-so-mighty revel in the mighty's comedowns - or to put it another way, comeuppances.

Yet how can we balance righteous satisfaction over deserved disgraces of big-shot hypocrites, frauds, liars, cheats and scoundrels with fair recognition of our own misdeeds?

Among the local and state political luminaries who have suffered - with varying justifications - public humiliation in recent years (in alphabetical order):

Ken Ard: Resigned as lieutenant governor in 2012 after pleading guilty to seven counts of campaign fund violations. Avoided prison with plea deal.

Wayne DeWitt: How much longer will he be Berkeley County sheriff after being charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident on Dec. 28?

Robert Ford: Resigned S.C. Senate seat in 2013 under ethics fire. Pleaded not guilty last month in Circuit Court to eight charges of campaign finance violations.

Bobby Harrell: Pleaded guilty to six counts of illegal use of campaign funds in October, six weeks after suspending himself from role as S.C. House speaker. Resigned seat as part of plea agreement that averted prison time.

Thomas Ravenel: Resigned in 2007 after less than seven months as state treasurer. Pleaded guilty to cocaine charges less than two months later. Space limitations preclude listing his numerous ignominies since then.

Mark Sanford: Though back in Congress, remains national punch line partly for going AWOL as governor in 2009 to wander "Appalachian Trail" - but mostly for rambling about "soulmate" angst when he returned from actual destination of Argentina.

Such reputation devastation is tough on proven - and merely accused - culprits.

However, it delivers welcome doses of der schadenfreude (German for taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others) to lots of regular folks.

Their giddy glee also has long been induced by the shaming of big names beyond our state's borders - and across a dizzying range of scandalous celebrities in and out of politics.

That's human nature.

That's entertainment.

That's news.

And lawmakers - and law enforcers - who break the law are especially unworthy of sympathetic slack. Then again, DeWitt's drift from lawman to alleged DUI law breaker stirs this question:

How many people around here have at one time or another - or more - gotten away with driving drunk?

After all, Mothers Against Drunk Driving issued a release Wednesday citing federal figures showing that South Carolina has the nation's highest rate of highway fatalities fueled by alcohol.

Yes, Thursday's front-page story about that reported that the interpretation of those numbers is subject to dispute. Regardless, any presumed prevalence of inebriated S.C. motorists shouldn't dilute the consequences for anybody convicted of DUI. Instead, it bolsters the case for stern penalties on drunk drivers.

And if DeWitt's really taking "full responsibility" as he said, why hasn't he resigned yet?

Meanwhile, are we South Carolinians collectively responsible for electing so many politicians who betray our trust? Are we also culpable on a group basis for our state's shameful standings in not just DUI-related deaths but in men killing women, obesity, public education and deteriorating roads?

We're even a sordid No. 5 on the federal Centers for Disease Control's "Worst States for STDs" list, trailing only (No. 1 through 4) Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease, the now-standard term for what we used to call VD (Venereal Disease), or much more quaintly, "social disease."

Whatever you call famous people who become infamous, don't test fate by calling yourself immune from a potential descent into disrepute.

Keep in mind this enlightening exchange in "Unforgiven," which won 1992 Oscars for best picture and director (Clint Eastwood):

The Schofield Kid (played by Jaimz Woolvett), trying to suppress rightful self-guilt after hitting his first paid-killer mark: "Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming."

Will Munny (Eastwood): "We all got it coming, kid."

OK, so maybe you don't have any public shame coming.

But just in case, remember:

The farther you climb up on your high horse, the harder your fall.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.