My grandson Rhyland and I started playing chess when he was 4. Playing chess requires learning some complex rules. Learning the different ways in which each piece is permitted to move while figuring out strategies to support each move requires a player to learn the rules. Until you learn to abide by them, you’re not really playing chess.
When a grandpa is teaching a grandson and making it fun so that a youngster will continue playing, there are times when you let them make up their own rules. Rhyland’s king was allowed to move several spaces to kill my queen. His pawns moved in the wrong direction, and his knights could perform like the queen. When you are 4 years old, winning matters more than rules.
So, grandpa accommodated that to keep him interested. The goal was to make sure he enjoyed the game while gradually learning respect for the rules.
Rhyland matured. Ten years old now, he understands why the rules matter, and playing the game with integrity demands everyone play by the rules. Today, he does play by the rules, and he wins as often as he loses, enjoying the victories and accepting losses if everyone follows the rules.
If Rhyland cheated by changing the rules as he did when he was a 4-year-old, his peers wouldn’t want to play with him, and I’d be deeply concerned for his character. At age 10, he knows the fundamentals of honesty.
So, what’s up with Mike Enzi and John Barrasso? They know the rules. They played by them in the past. They once defended them. In 2016, they demanded others play by those rules. Now that the rules might cause them to lose, they make up new rules, just like my 4-year-old grandson once did.
But, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi are not 4-year-olds. The voters are not their grandparents. They are United States senators and old enough to follow the rules. Indeed, they swore an oath to do that.
In 2016, there was a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The election was nearly a year away. The Democratic president nominated a replacement. John Barrasso said the rules prohibited that. “A president on his way out of the White House should not make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Barrasso said, “The American people will soon decide our next president. That person should get to choose the next Supreme Court nominee. Give the people a voice, and let them chart the course for the court and the country.”
Now, with the shoe on the other foot, Barrasso wants to change the rules.
There is a vacancy on the court a few weeks before an election. The polls say Trump will likely lose. Reasoning like a child, Barrasso jettisons what he said back then. With a Republican in the White House, Barrasso reveals what is behind his shifting positions. There are rules for Democrats and different rules for Republicans. “Heads, I win. Tales, you lose.”
His justification reminds me of William F. Buckley, who, when confronted with a duplicitous debate opponent, said, “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”
Mike Enzi joined Barrasso in a 2016 op-ed explaining why they opposed an appointment by a Democrat during the last year of Obama’s term. They agreed, “Obama wasn’t entitled to appoint U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland nearly a full year before he left office.”
Why are they cheating in a game with such enormous stakes? For the same reason my 4-year-old grandson did. They want to win. But, this game has real life consequences. It’s not a friendly game of chess. Real people will lose their health care, their right to vote, their livelihood, even their constitutional protections.
“If you have the power, stick it to them.” That’s the lesson they are teaching their grandchildren.
Wyoming Republicans might find Enzi and Barrasso’s behavior acceptable, but I know a 10-year-old who wouldn’t play chess with anyone like them.