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Structure and Rules and What Happened in Montana

Structure and rules, fairly applied, hold our society together. They save us from chaos and injustice.

You can have structure and rules, but without fairness it doesn’t work. Just think Nazi Germany.  You can have fairness, but without structure it fails. Woodstock may have been a few days of communal fun, but after a week or two the lack of organization (people crashing without paying, no food, etc.) it would have been an unbearable mess.

These principles are critical for anyone working in service industries, like waiters and baristas; but also like teachers and airline employees and lawyers. And, above all, politicians.

People whose mission it is to work with and help people. Period.

For lawyers, the structure comes from the legal system, the rules from laws and procedures and the Constitution. Which is also, hopefully, where fairness comes into play.

We saw this all come crashing down yesterday when some yahoo politician from Montana decided it was a good time to assault a member of the press to prevent him from asking questions. It would be as if lawyers started duking it out in court rather than standing politely and asking pointed questions.

I learned the value of good manners and rules as a small child. My parents instilled the value of good manners in us kids while we were learning to walk and talk. It is that ingrained. (Although there are plenty of prosecutors who might beg to differ with that. Screw them is all I can say. JK! Sort of.)

But that is the point; as a child I was a bit wild. Always getting into mischief. Put it this way: I was hospitalized three times when I was three for various injuries, sustained while I was jumping off things and getting knifed by my big sister while acting crazy as she was trying to cut some cheese. When I was a bit older we moved to the North of England.

In England we had to stand and address our teachers as “Sir” or “Miss.” “Please Sir, may I have some more” does not sound foreign to me at all. Other than the “more” part. We would have been afraid to ask. Talk about structure!

But I learned something from all of that imposed structure, the good manners and civil discourse and the rest. I learned that I could do whatever I pleased so long as I stuck to the rules. This is what those stories about English schoolboys getting up to shenanigans are all about. You learned that if you were super polite and said all the right stuff, you could basically manipulate the system to get your way.

Which made for wonderful training for a criminal trial lawyer like me. No wonder I do this; I get paid to fight the Government, but in a civilized and orderly way. Which lets me run wild.

Within reason.

I teach this to young lawyers. I tell them that we deal with some very difficult people in some very frustrating circumstances and sometimes we may want to scream. But if we simply marshal that energy in an orderly way, and play by the rules, we can do things like sue the Government.

Which is what my Learned Friend, Brent Thompson, is doing right now. Fighting the U.S. Attorney over constitutional rights. I admire him so much for that work; all done with skill, and proper procedures and not a little class. It is just what we do.

So when a politician, the ultimate service professional, punches out a reporter when he asks a question just because he is angry and doesn’t want to answer, he is simply being incompetent. He is not good enough to know how to do it correctly. He could have said, “No Comment”, or ignored the question and avoided looking at jail time.

Like lawyers, politicians have a lot of power over other people. But when they go beyond that power by assaulting reporters, they violate more than the criminal laws and the Constitutional protections of the First Amendment.

They also violate the fundamental value of accomplishing change while acting in a civilized way. When they do things like this we are thrown into chaos.

It would be like Nazis running amok at Woodstock.

It is just plain stewpud.

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