Exceptions to the Rules

As we walked the dogs early Saturday morning, we passed a site with three vehicles parked on the grass, with one of the vehicles parked head-in off the pavement. The park rules clearly stipulate that there can be no more than two vehicles per site, and that they must be parked parallel to the pavement. That relatively insignificant “violation” prompted a lengthy, surprisingly emotional conversation about fairness, American values, and patriotism.

We spend at least three weekends a month at Loyd Park, so we have ample opportunity to observe how park rules are enforced. A few weeks ago, we saw park rangers stop at a neighboring site to tell the campers who had parked their smart car (a vehicle that’s actually smaller than some golf carts) in their campsite (near the pavilion and fire ring) that they had to move the vehicle parallel to the street. Fair enough. Why then allow other campers to flout the parking rules?

We’ve also seen “selective enforcement” when it comes to pets. Park rules clearly state that all pets in the park must be leashed, and cannot be left unattended at any time. Yet we’ve seen uncounted examples of visitors who allow their pets to roam freely or who leave them unattended while they go inside their rigs or visit other campers. In a couple of instances, we’ve had to protect ourselves and our pack from aggressive dogs that have charged us as we’ve walked along the road.

All of these observations led us to ask some basic questions: Why aren’t the rules applied equally to everyone? Why do some people seemingly get a pass? Why do others act as though the rules don’t (or shouldn’t) apply to them?

These may be small matters of little importance in the scheme of things, but they point to the larger issue of equality. If all are equal, why do so many of us look for exceptions? Worse, why do so many of us think we’re entitled to that exception?

In the larger sense, it’s important to remember that our founders revolted against a system of entitlement. In so doing, they set in motion a representative form of government that continues to this day. Their rejection of monarchy, aristocracy and inherited political power was guided by the idea that the rule of law should apply to all citizens, equally, as should the administration of justice. Regardless of whether it’s a simple transgression at a park or an act of treason against the government, the principle of the rule of law is the same: all are equal, without exception. The idea, then, that some people are entitled to exceptional treatment is almost un-American.

And yet an attitude of entitlement persists.

It’s un-American to think that any one of us is superior or inferior to anyone else. It’s un-American to think that anyone with a particular ethnic heritage or ancestry is somehow entitled to certain privileges of citizenship simply because they were fortunate to be born in this country. And it’s un-American to think that the national interests are best served by members of a certain group, be they land owners or gun owners or slave owners, educated elites or white nationalists or shameless capitalists or opportunistic populists.

In July 1776, almost immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were tasked with designing a seal and a motto for the new nation. Because Congress opposed anything theistic, they proposed E pluribus unum, Latin for “out of many, one.” Adopted in 1782, it served as the de facto motto of the United States for nearly 175 years, until it was officially replaced with “In God We Trust,” in 1956, at the height of the Cold War. The move signaled opposition to the feared secularizing ideology of communism–a legacy not of the nation’s founders but of the founders of modern American conservatism.

America’s greatest contribution is not in its ability to circle the wagons and protect itself against outside influences but in its ability to forge unity out of diversity…to leverage diversity as a strength, not a weakness. And to ensure that all people–citizens and non-citizens alike–are treated equally.