It seems that many of our fellow citizens were not taught to wipe their feet before coming into the house or to pick up their toys when they were children. This is probably the result of two or three generations of the anything-goes mentality, the “me” generation, the do-your-own-thing approach to life.
The result has been the ever-expanding trend over the last few decades to flaunt the rules set down to promote a well-ordered, safe, and civil society.
Many of the transgressions seem petty. We constantly see such violations as the guy with 42 items using the 12-items-or-fewer line, parking in the fire lane in front of the drug store, driving in the left lane on W.Va. 9 all the way to Martinsburg, parking in a handicapped parking spot, using cut-and-paste from the Internet to meet the deadline for that term paper, leaving a grocery cart out in the middle of the parking lot, throwing empty bottles and burger wrappers out of the car window, dumping old tires along the road, not waiting your turn at a four-way stop. (Okay, I admit to ripping the tag off a pillow once.)
Other offenses have more serious consequences. When is the last time you saw anybody actually slow down—let alone stop—before turning right at a red light or a stop sign? If your mother didn’t make you wipe your feet or pick up your toys, you probably are one of the people who cuts across the center line on the curves on Route 9 going up the mountain or climbing over the hills on W.Va 51 on the way to Inwood. People are injured and people die from those kinds of actions.
So what is the point? The point is that all these smaller issues are symptomatic of a larger problem—one with national implications: the ever-encroaching breakdown of the rule of law. The U.S. Constitution and all the laws that spring from it are the foundation of our well-ordered society. But are they really?
A very wise college professor—a resident of Jefferson County when she is not teaching elsewhere—taught for many years at the University of Beijing. She says Chinese students are enthralled with what makes the United States a great power. Eventually, she asked this question of every class: “Why do you think the United States is what it is today?” And, inevitably, their answer was the same: “Because you have a Constitution that provides for all the guarantees and freedoms you have.”
Her answer was: “Wrong. Although the U.S. Constitution provides the guiding principles, it is the trust each and every person has that those principles will be adhered to by the government, its leaders, the country’s organizations and companies, and its individual citizens that makes those principles actually work.”
Therein lies the problem today. We have a breakdown in the trust of laws for two general reasons. The first is that we see laws that are not enforced—immigration laws come to mind. The second is that ordinary citizens see laws enacted that are too complicated, unintelligible, and often one-sided. They see laws that are crafted not in accordance with common sense or for the common good, but rather to further a political goal or, in many cases, for the economic benefit of one segment of society. When we then add to the problem by having activist judges “interpret” those laws well beyond the principles intended by the U.S. Constitution and its authors, we have the stage set for personal nullification of everything from common courtesies to enacted laws.
If we as a nation—both governmentally and individually—cannot wipe our feet and pick up our toys, we are on the road from national greatness to national mediocrity, from a well-ordered society to chaos.
— John Bagladi is a retired government contractor. He writes from Shannondale.