Donald Trump and the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy

Excellent piece by David Frum on how Trump is destroying the fragile norms and conventions that define our democracy:

The television networks that promoted Trump; the primary voters who elevated him; the politicians who eventually surrendered to him; the intellectuals who argued for him, and the donors who, however grudgingly, wrote checks to him—all of them knew, by the time they made their decisions, that Trump lied all the time, about everything. They knew that Trump was ignorant, and coarse, and boastful, and cruel. They knew he habitually sympathized with dictators and kleptocrats—and that his instinct when confronted with criticism of himself was to attack, vilify, and suppress. They knew his disrespect for women, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities. They knew that he wished to unravel NATO and other U.S.-led alliances, and that he speculated aloud about partial default on American financial obligations. None of that dissuaded or deterred them.

And later:

Donald Trump is surely the most policy-ignorant major party nominee of modern times, or perhaps of any time. As with the lies, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the revelations of gaps in his knowledge. The most spectacular may have been talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt’s exposure of the fact that Trump lacked the most basic understanding of the structure and mission of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

It’s a fair generalization that Republicans demand less policy expertise from their national leaders than Democrats have usually expected from theirs. Ronald Reagan was less well-informed than Jimmy Carter; George W. Bush had mastered less detail than Al Gore. Yet both Reagan and Bush had at least proven themselves successful governors of important states. Both men offered clear and plausible presidential platforms, which both men implemented in their first year in office more or less as advertised.

What’s different now is the massive Republican and conservative rejection of the idea that a candidate for president should know anything substantive about governing at all. As of November, 2015, 62 percent of Republicans insisted that “ordinary Americans” would do a better job solving the country’s problems than professional politicians. While 80 percent of Democrats wanted experience in government in the next president, according to post-Super Tuesday 2016 exit polls, only 40 percent of Republicans did so. The larger share, 50 percent, preferred an “outsider.”

The idea that the government is so corrupt that we need an “outsider” who doesn’t know anything about government to come in and shake things up is such a silly fantasy. Government service requires expertise just like any other profession. A reality television star has about as much qualification for being President of the United States as I do in trying to right the ship of a failing steak company. What do I know about steaks, about selling food, food distribution, marketing, retailing, or literally anything having to do with selling steaks? Nothing, so I would fail if I tried. Similarly, if we ever elect one of these “outsider” candidates, we’ll soon discover the same: they have no idea what they’re doing, and they will fail.

More broadly, though, Donald Trump represents an existential threat to our government. It’s important to understand this fundamentally. It’s not just picking the person who would appoint the judges you prefer. In this unique case, it’s picking a person who tramples on all the norms and conventions that make up the civil society that define the legal structures created by the Constitution. Those norms and conventions are hard to build up, and they’re fragile and easy to tear down. People take them for granted, but they shouldn’t. The rapid rate at which the cowards in the Republican Party have bent the knee before the ignorant bully shows how easy these norms can be destroyed.