To celebrate the release of our new issue, all subscriptions are discounted this week.

It’s the Constitution, Stupid

The discourse of “norm erosion” has nothing to say about the very text that helped produce Donald Trump.

Constitution Day, 1974. The U.S. National Archives / Flickr

We’ve now had, in less than twenty years, two presidents elected over and against the expressed preferences (not in a poll, but in actual ballots) of the majority of the voters. I think most Democrats, liberals, and leftists would agree that both of these presidents were or are disasters. So these two elections were democratic catastrophes on both procedural and substantive grounds.

Yet the single most important determinant of these two disasters — the fact that we have a Constitution that creates an Electoral College that privileges the interests of states over persons — cannot, by the terms of the discourse, be counted as a norm erosion. Indeed, when it comes to this main determinant of the Electoral College and how it works, there was no norm erosion in 2000 or 2016; the system worked exactly as it was designed by the text. (I’m deliberately setting aside the Supreme Court decision in 2000 because that would get us into a whole other realm of controversy.)

So we have a discourse of norm erosion that allows us to reel in shock at the way that Trump talks to senators, governors, and citizens, but that discourse has nothing to say about the very system, the very text, that produced this president that talks in this terrible and shocking way.

Indeed, insofar as some of the peddlers of that discourse believe that these cherished norms ultimately issue from the system and the text itself, and that it is that system and that text that need protecting, one can say that the discourse of norm erosion actually prevents us from tackling the very system, the very text, that produced this president that talks in this terrible and shocking way.