You can tell a lot about a culture by its crimes, and our culture has just created a new one.
This crime will take some getting used to. Neighbors meet, a service is cheerfully provided and gratefully received, and then they wish one another a good day. The treachery in all of this could easily be missed.
Most crimes aren’t like this. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, almost every culture in human history has shared a common set of values, and we instinctively know what they are. Don’t steal. Don’t hurt innocent people. Tell the truth. Keep your word. These ideas were once written on our walls, and they are still written on our hearts.
As a nation, we took those ideas seriously. Our many rules grew out of one Golden Rule. Our many rulers were held to those rules. We didn’t need rule books to stay out of trouble because we instinctively knew what was legal. “Do to others what you’d like them to do to you.” Crimes against our culture were, in one way or another, crimes against humanity.
But lately, we have new rules, invented by new rulers – by officials no longer doing what we elected them to do. They, too, claim to speak for humanity, but their rules are unruly; they are not written on our hearts or reasonable to our minds, and they make criminals of the most unlikely people.
My dad was a barber, a good man who worked hard and loved his customers. Karl Manke seems like the same kind of guy. He is cutting neighbors’ hair in his little shop in Owosso, doing the same thing he has done for 60 years, but today it is a crime.
Power is useful if you cannot persuade. Our new rulers can apparently make crimes and punishments out of thin air and have shown an alarming readiness to do so.
So far, the Governor has directed policemen to ticket Karl, the Department of Health to order his shop closed, and the Attorney General to suspend his professional and business licenses. No doubt, further punishments await this humble man if he perseveres.
The new rulers are rich in power, but it may not be enough. Men like Karl are not gentle because they are weak, but because they are strong. They remember the Rule at the heart of all good rules, and they bow their knee to nothing less. They remind us what America means.
The fact that Karl continues his gentle work and that neighbors line up to support him shows us what the new rulers fear. They are rich in power but no match for a 77-year-old barber who is rich in humanity.