At age 10, I controlled the government.
It all started with a knock on the door of our trailer house. We lived on the family junkyard along County Highway 7, a couple miles south of Eveleth Taconite in the Sax-Zim bog. Such knocks came rare and usually involved directing toothless men back to the shop before they asked to use our bathroom. When my father answered the door this time, however, the man introduced himself as an encyclopedia salesman.
This happened about 1989, precisely the last moment in history when someone claiming to sell encyclopedias door to door wouldn’t immediately trigger a call to the police. Not quite the Dawn of the Information Age, this was certainly the Dusk of the Heavy Books Age.
In just a few minutes, the salesman pressed a thick volume from the Student Handbook series into my little paws. A bookish third grader, I immediately begun devouring the reference tome. The first one was free, he said. Of course it was. That’s how, in a series of payments, my family ended up with a set of encyclopedias that cost three weeks of our income. It would be years before I realized the sacrifice involved.
I made good use of the volumes, reading them cover to cover, alphabetically at first and then returning to my favorite topics. One of the well trod sections related to the United States government, specifically the balance of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
Before long, I decided it was time to create my own government from small toys that I had been collecting.
My mother sewed our clothes back then. She would buy us discount craft items from the front counter of the fabric store if we were good. Among mine was a fuzzy owl wearing a stocking cap. Owl, the oldest and wisest of these toys, would be my President. To balance the ticket by geography, my Vice President would be the equally fuzzy Alligator.
I filled the cabinet with other toys accumulated over the years. Some appointments seemed obvious. A Happy Meal toy depicting Garfield driving a car became the Secretary of Transportation. Scrooge McDuck was an easy pick for Treasury Secretary. Others were personal. Was Snoopy qualified to be the Secretary of Defense? Never mind. We went way back. And I could only trust Birdie, a weird orange-shaped bird that was a souvenir of a relative’s trip to Florida, for the important role of Secretary of State.
Most other cabinet posts went to penguins, who were reliable and always dressed for work. I lacked the resources to seat a Congress, so I dispensed with the legislative branch. Watching the nightly news with my parents, it seemed that would be for the best.
I knew I needed a judicial branch, but didn’t want any interference. Thus, a number of pink dinosaur erasers filled out my Supreme Court. This rubber stamp court was literally made of rubber.
My government got off to a great start. President Owl called numerous cabinet meetings, many of which were photographed with our Kodak 110 camera and its replaceable flash cartridges. In time, my mom sewed a drawstring sack to store my government. In months, I had resolved to construct a three story capitol building out of craft sticks. I painted it white and built a reviewing stand. Oh, how they cheered for my hand-picked president.
The government barely held together when we moved at the end of my sixth grade year. In junior high, I began to neglect my duties as the power behind the throne. Left to their own devices, my government quickly came apart. One day I noticed that my sister had turned my Supreme Court into some kind of necklace. Other officials were glued down in some kind of diorama. In just a few short years, my reformist government scattered to the winds. I went to college. My parents divorced. I found one of the pictures in an old box last week. That’s all that remains.
Running a government isn’t easy, especially when you’re 10. Depending too much on the executive branch seems like a good idea if you like what it’s doing, but it can’t last. Eventually the tide turns. Power goes to your head. A democratic republic requires debate, oversight and constant renewal.
Lacking this, the question becomes not if the government falls, but when.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 12, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.