The Last Norm
One of the popular online parlor games of late has been wondering whether Donald Trump will give up power if he loses.
You know how it works: Someone says he’ll just squat in the White House. Then Defenders of the System rush in to say that can’t possibly happen, the Secret Service will escort him from the grounds, and besides, his term ends January 20 one way or another, and if there’s any question about succession, Nancy Pelosi steps in.
Fear not! It’s in the rules!
It gets tiresome — not the outlandish fears, but the reasoned responses. The responses treat our system of government as some kind of inviolable physics, when it’s all just people, many of whom play by the rules, and, increasingly these days, many who don’t.
It’s easy to envision the premise: Election results are doubted, declared invalid. Heck, we’re already inclined to that ourself, what with all the outright engineering going on to keep ballots from reaching their destinations, combined with all the other outright engineering over the past decade to prevent citizens from voting in the first place. Voter suppression is tyranny happening in plain sight.
Our personal parlor game is wondering what transpires if that succeeds. Donald Trump won’t win — he didn’t win last time — but what happens if he conquers?
But that’s not the fear du jour. Rather, despite all the hard work by faithful minions to bag it for him, he loses in a photo finish, or at least less than a palpable landslide. And, Trump being Trump, he refuses to accept the results.
That part’s easy to imagine. We could all write the tweets ourselves today, seal them in an envelope, see who comes closest to the storm surge on November 4.
It’s here where the rule-bound rationalists reveal their failure of imagination. In their insistence that The System Will Take Care of Itself, they imagine that Trump is the only one refusing the results, that it’s a simple question of breaking down a bathroom door, snatching the phone out of his hands, and pulling him off the toilet.
In other words, they’re ignoring what everybody else is doing. Everybody on Capitol Hill. Everybody on Fox News. Everybody on Facebook.
Everybody in the streets.
Donald Trump has broken every norm of governing in America, every norm of office. That’s what we’ve been hearing them called — “norms,” the unwritten rules, the traditional etiquette of the thing.
Even the Hatch Act — campaigning on the government’s dime — has been turned into a breakable norm, flagrantly violated during the Republican convention last week, with nary a legal consequence in sight. Who’s gonna draw the line? Bill Barr?
Certainly no howls of protest from other elected Republicans. They’ve shown themselves to be craven pieces of shit since before he was inaugurated. Substantive reports of foreign interference in our election? Not our problem!
You think they’re suddenly going to grow testicles and insist upon the peaceful transition of power? We’ve seen mice with bigger balls.
Hannity and Tucker, maybe? QAnon? Maybe the legion of Russian bots will flood social media with demands that Trump honor an American tradition that goes back to George Washington handing back the keys.
It’s a norm, not physics. Maybe it hasn’t been broken in two centuries, but nobody’s tried yet.
As we write, a Trump fanatic has been shot dead in the streets of Portland. As we write, it’s not known who pulled the trigger — another Trump fanatic, if we had to bet, or at least a bad actor trying to stir up trouble — but we can let the details slide. It’s still August. If not this one, the next. Or the one after that.
One White Martyr, and you can kiss your last norm goodbye.
We don’t know what’s gonna happen between now and January 20. Nobody does. But anyone who insists that something can’t happen, that our very Constitution forbids it, hasn’t been paying attention the past forty-three months.
The Constitution is just a piece of paper. It’s traditions that sustain it. It’s people, generation after generation, who keep it alive.
Kept it alive, anyway. It was what it was.