In the fall of 1984, my parents drove me from Lake Placid, my small hometown in south-central Florida, to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Although I had visited our nation’s capital before, I was not coming as a tourist this time, but as an incoming freshman at GWU. Through the university’s cracker-jack housing assignment process (more on that in a moment), I was assigned a room on the 7th floor of Thurston Hall. A nine-story apartment building converted into a freshman, dormitory, Thurston housed about 100 students on each floor. Although the rooms were single-sex (i.e., all-male or all-female), the floors were co-ed. That certainly made for an interesting introduction to college li.
Perhaps more interesting was my own living experience with two roommates. One was Bob Golbert, who would be my best friend through college (and still a good friend today) and roommate for three out of four years at GWU. We had met each other earlier in the summer and somehow hit it off. This Southern Baptist boy from small-town Florida and this Jewish boy from big-city Denver just clicked. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
How else to explain our third roommate? I’ll call him “Steve.” Neither Bob nor I had requested Steve as a roomie. The GW Housing Office, in their infinite wisdom, put the three of us together in what turned out to be an experiment in peaceful co-existence. When I applied for housing, one of the questions on the housing form was (I am not kidding), “Do you prefer a roommate who does not use illegal drugs?” My mom and I scoffed at the question. I checked “YES.” Who uses illegal drugs? In what universe would I have a roommate that used illegal drugs? Apparently, I was just a tad bit naïve when it came to the issue of illegal drug use. You see, the use of illegal drugs at GWU (and perhaps most colleges and universities in the 1980s) was rampant.
When my parents and I arrived at my room, we discovered that Steve and his parents had already moved him in early. He had set up his bed in a large walk-in closet. He had already made himself at home. Sitting in the middle of our living area on the coffee table was not a coffee mug, but an object that I had never seen before. Rather weird shaped, that object happened to be a bong. What’s a bong? I had no idea. Turns out Steve used it to smoke marijuana. Often.
It wasn’t too long after all our parents left and we began this journey of living together that I came to the realization that I disliked the rather distinctive smell of marijuana wafting through our tiny dorm apartment. I thought that Steve and I had come to an understanding that I didn’t want him to partake in the shared living areas. One day, I returned to find him and his friends toking it up in the living room. If looks could have killed, there would have been multiple dead bodies piled up on the 7th floor of Thurston that day. Apparently, the look was enough. I never saw or smelled marijuana in our dorm room ever again.
However, that didn’t mean that living with a roommate who smoked pot was easy. In fact, I talked with our RA (Resident Assistant) for our floor. If memory serves, her name was Lisa. I shared with her my dislike of what was taking place in my room. I don’t know the policies now, but back in 1984, marijuana use was not only illegal in the District of Columbia, but it was against the rules of GWU Housing. When I asked Lisa if she could do anything about this illegal drug use, she said that she couldn’t. Or, wouldn’t. Not sure which. But, she wasn’t going to make waves. If she had started enforcing the rule against no illegal drug use in the dorm, the overwhelming majority of the residents would have been kicked out.
Rules are rules, but some rules can be ignored while others must be strictly enforced. I suppose that’s the way it’s always been and the way it will always be. You see, a short time later, my good friend Stuart Kurtz and I were kicking a soccer ball in the long hallway outside of my room. I don’t think the ball ever left the ground. It certainly wasn’t causing damage to the hallway. In the middle of our kicking spree, who should round the corner but RA Lisa. Seeing that we were breaking the rules by kicking a soccer ball in the hall, she picked up the ball and scolded us. She was going to confiscate the ball. As she was walking away, I simply said, “Lisa, if you are going to enforce that rule (no kicking of balls in the hallway), why don’t you start enforcing ALL the rules?” She knew what I meant. She stopped and handed back our soccer ball. At least she was aware of her glaring hypocrisy in not enforcing the rules equally.
Thirty-six years after this incident, I still remember it as vividly as when it happened. I am reminded of it today because of the glaring hypocrisy of certain government officials in how they have decided to enforce some laws while choosing to forego the enforcement of other laws. We are supposed to be a “nation of laws,” but we have seen an increase in lawlessness over the last decade. It did not start with this President or the last President. It is a spirit that has been around since the Garden of Eden. It is a spirit that manifests itself in many ways, some seemingly “good” or benign, but which always leads to a greater spirit of lawlessness.
It should not come as a surprise that we are seeing that spirit of lawlessness in every facet of society and across the political spectrum. It happens when the rule of law begins to break down. When law enforcement and the justice system treat suspects differently based on the color of their skin, a spirit of lawlessness increases. When local and state governments refuse to enforce duly-enacted federal laws or cooperate with federal law enforcement (i.e., immigration laws and sanctuary city policies), a spirit of lawlessness increases. When government officials unfairly apply or enforce laws or guidelines based on whether or not they like or agree with certain activities or actors (i.e., NYC’s no large gatherings except BLM), a spirit of lawlessness increases. When local officials, business owners or average citizens believe that state government leaders are hypocritically and haphazardly enforcing the laws by not using the same standards with similarly situated groups (i.e., shutting down in-door dining at restaurants in New Mexico when there is no evidence that restaurants are responsible for the COVID-19 spike, but keeping Big-Box stores and Gyms open), a spirit of lawlessness increases.
For almost four years, we have heard from certain quarters that “resistance is patriotic.” “Resist” has been the message. Well, like it or not, that message has resonated. It has resonated not just with one part of the political spectrum concerned with resistance to the President at the Federal level, but is now resonating with a different part of the political spectrum concerned with overreach in response to COVID-19 at the local and state levels. Of course, those who support or oppose resistance against one level of government often find themselves doing the opposite when it comes to a different level of government. Those who would support laws enacted by a President or Governor with an “R” by their name would oppose those exact same laws enacted by a President or Governor with a “D” by their name. And, vice versa.
While most Americans, by and large, want to follow the rules (even those rules they may not agree with), many will begin to ignore or resist those rules if they believe that leaders are hypocritically enforcing those rules (or not following their own rules). In the last month, we have seen rules responding to COVID-19 and rules relating to peaceful protests intersect. However, in many cases, the application of those rules has been inconsistent at best and unconstitutional at worst.
Whether it’s enforcing a rule against kicking a soccer ball in the hall while not enforcing the more serious rule against illegal drug use in the dorm or it’s enforcing the rules against in-door dining at restaurants while not enforcing the ban on large gatherings (which we have been told constantly leads to the spread of the Coronavirus) or actual instances of looting, violence, & vandalism, the unequal application of the rules is something that most Americans will not tolerate. At least for long. That’s perhaps why at least two restaurants in my area are keeping their dining rooms open, resisting the Governor’s “public health orders” requiring them to shut in-door dining down.
I know that we are in a Presidential election year. How much of this increase in a spirit of lawlessness is related to politics is anyone’s guess, but to think that none of what we are witnessing in our culture today is related to politics is incredibly naïve. Everything, from COVID-19 to sports to entertainment to you name it, has become political. Politics, in many ways, has become a god. One of the main ways to worship this god is through conflict and division. That is what happens when you have a spirit of lawlessness. Rather than unity, we have division. Rather than peace, we have unrest. Rather than love, we have hatred. Rather than obedience, we have lawlessness.
No one person started the fire that is destroying our culture through acts of hypocrisy, resistance, and lawlessness. We are all responsible for either contributing to a spirit of lawlessness or a spirit of obedience. Obedience is, more often than not, harder to accomplish. Just ask my foot when I am driving down the road. It somehow always wants to go just a little faster than the law allows. The question for each of us in these unsettling times is simply this, “Will I live under the authority of the rule of law or will I live with a spirit of lawlessness?” How each of us answers that question will determine the future trajectory of our nation, regardless (that’s still the only proper word) of who “wins” in November. If we don’t come together, we will all lose.