Our President at His Best!
Observations by a Citizen
The Balcony and the Swamp
Back in 2003, an apartment caught fire in Memphis. The flames spread; the residents fled and watched the fire firefighters. Jarrod Martin saw his dog peering from inside the balcony door, plainly in danger. Finally, unable to wait for the firemen to act, Jarrod ran past them, climbed to the balcony, rescued his dog, and jumped to safety.
Bystanders congratulated Jarrod for his brave act. But - the police promptly cuffed him, and hustled him away. He was charged with disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment.
And here, in this tiny story, we can learn some fundamental things about government and citizenship – and freedom.
Jarrod triggered the first sensitivity of those who are considered “public servants.” He defied their orders. You can do all sorts of things, harmful, illegal, or just stupid, and the police can be understanding and even helpful as they accost and perhaps arrest you.
But if you deny their authority, that is an attack on their sense of order. Most will harshly punish it.
So - is that all bad?
In 1774, as the American colonies were beginning the struggle to free themselves from the officers of King George’s government, one of the foremost English thinkers, Samuel Johnson, articulated the problem:
"He that accepts protection, stipulates obedience. We have always protected the Americans; we may, therefore, subject them to government."
That actually makes sense: If you disobey an official’s orders, is it reasonable to expect him to protect you? If you expose yourself to a threat he is supposed to protect you from, doesn’t that frustrate his purpose?
Of course it does, and you can understand the reaction to that rejection.
What if a public servant sees – or imagines – things threatening you that you want to deal with yourself, in your own way? What if the threats are not really the government’s business - like if you want to hang Christmas lights by climbing a shaky ladder?
Well, that’s why we have laws. They specify the things government is authorized to do – to protect you and our society. Our representatives, the lawmakers, agree on laws that are necessary for government to enforce, and leave the rest of our choices up to us. We allow the enforcers some discretion – such as a traffic wreck, where the police are empowered by law to control the actions of people at the scene. But the balance between authority and freedom is precarious.
What if an officer tells you when you can water your lawn – without a law? He will still be angry with you if you disobey his orders. Now, however, he is in the wrong, and has no business ordering you around without authority.
In our Constitutional plan, the powers of our government are “enumerated.” This means that there is a specific list of what they can do. They have no authority over activities not on the list.
Many of us see that our government has assumed many powers not enumerated. So the People elected a President who promised to eliminate regulations that are not proper, and even to disrupt the comfortable power structure in Washington, calling it “the swamp.” The reaction of the bureaucrats and media has been just like the anger of a disobeyed officer, only it’s bureaucratic rather than overtly forceful.
And most of our daily news today is about that reaction. It’s not really about the President – the swamp is angry at us.