Just because you can doesn’t mean you should: A lesson in liberty

“What was that?!”

That’s the question my close friend Mark asked his wife Rebecca about 20 years ago as they entered their home after a trip to the grocery store, and heard what sounded like a muffled explosion, followed by teenage giggling, coming from the basement. They dropped their bags and went downstairs to investigate.

They quickly learned that their 17-year old son Stephen and his friends had grown tired of lighting firecrackers outside, so they’d moved inside and had started dropping them down a drain. Apparently, they found the muffled explosions hilarious.

Outraged, Mark yelled at Stephen asking why he thought it would be okay to drop explosives into the plumbing. Stephen simply replied, “You never said I couldn’t.”

I’ve never lived in Mark’s house so I don’t know if he’s actually published a comprehensive set of house rules covering every possible scenario, including the detonating of munitions in the home’s infrastructure, but I assume that rulebook doesn’t exist.

Instead, like all good parents, I’m sure Mark and Rebecca attempted to teach Stephen a set of core principles and logical boundaries, set a small number of specific rules, and then expected him to govern his life within an accepted set of household and societal norms. That’s the only strategy that turns needy children into productive adults.

The Founding Fathers employed a similar strategy for our new nation. First, they outlined their goals for the American family in what is known as the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Then came the Constitution itself, a document that originally contained a mere 4,543 words and was never intended to provide a comprehensive set of rules. Even after adding 27 amendments and increasing the length to 7,591 words, the Constitution is only meant to establish core principles and logical boundaries, set a small number of specific rules, and to help establish societal norms.

The brevity of the Constitution speaks to the faith the framers had in us, as Americans, to govern ourselves according to principle. Frankly, I think we’re letting them down.

“You never said I couldn’t sell weapons to Iran.”

“You never said I couldn’t lie about WMDs in Iraq.”

“You never said I couldn’t just bypass Congress because ‘I have a pen, and a phone’.”

“You never said I couldn’t meet with the Russians in hopes of getting dirt on my political opponent.”

“You never said I couldn’t pay off a porn star.”

“You never said I couldn’t call anything I want an ‘emergency’ to bypass Congress and subvert the will of the people they represent.”

The list goes on…

Our nation has devolved into a nation that craves rules rather than a nation that loves liberty. As the person who should exemplify our principles, boundaries, and norms more than anyone else, our current President relies solely on rules and eschews anything that isn’t spelled out, and even then, interprets those rules for his personal enrichment.

For America to return to greatness, we must stop relying on political parties and elected officials to do our thinking and to make our decisions. The path to greatness does not emanate from Washington DC and will not be found by enacting new laws or regulations.

A great America is an America that resurrects our desire, determination, and ability to govern ourselves by principle and does not rely on the government for everything in our lives.

As we gear up for the 2020 election, look for the candidates — up and down the ballot — who don’t want to treat us like needy children by concentrating more power in Washington.

Let’s use 2020 as a first step in returning to what Abraham Lincoln called “a Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.



Tom Milligan proudly opposes anyone who messes with the US Constitution, regardless of party affiliation. He is a pro-life, gun-toting conservative that supports the Convention of States and other measures to limit the size and power of the federal government.

Tom is the father of 4 great men and husband to an amazing wife. You can follow Tom on Twitter and Facebook.