Trump Not Simply Violating ‘Norms’
An important message from Josh Marshall.
Josh Marshall makes an important point: critics of President Trump continually point to his violation of Constitutional norms. In doing so, they’re unintentionally minimizing his misfeasance.
“Norms” aren’t laws for a reason. They are like bumpers on the roads of our civic and political life which are there to keep people of basically good faith from crossing lines they shouldn’t cross. They can also be warning posts so others can see when someone is either going down a bad path or needs to be brought back into line.
One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop. That’s the problem. The norms are just the orange rubber cones he knocked over when he drove out of his lane and headed for the crowded sidewalk.
I’ve noted something similar about the language of “conflicts of interest.” I have heard many people claim that that $500 million Chinese state loan to a Trump Organization partnership development in Indonesia is a “conflict of interest.” Whether or not you think that is the best example there are many others to choose from. Plug in whichever story you choose: Jared Kushner hitting up the Qataris for loans for his family business empire while supporting a blockade of their country or pressuring foreign government and political groups to use the President’s DC hotel or a million other examples.
These are not ‘conflicts of interest’. A ‘conflict of interest’ is a case in which the nature of a situation makes it impossible for a person to separate their personal interests from their public responsibilities (or to appear to do so). All previous Presidents put their private wealth into blind trusts. We assume they weren’t going to try to directly make money off the presidency. But they wanted to remove any question of it and avoid situations where there own financial interests would bump up against their public responsibilities. What we’re seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They’re straight-up corruption. It’s like “norms”. Defining “conflicts of interest” is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power crossing the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency. It’s happening in front of our eyes, albeit not quite as visibly as the coverup.
The other problem with “norms” – perhaps the really critical one – is that they can easily sound like some precious bureaucratic niceties which simply aren’t that important. I was listening to the aforementioned CNN segment and it started to sound like that to me – ornate concepts from a world of foreign or elusive proprieties. Who before Trump talked so much about “norms”? It can all sound frivolous and precious. Maybe you need a President who will upset the apple cart a bit and try new things?
Again, we’re confusing the issue. It’s not norms. The President is trying to obstruct and stymie and hamstring a lawful investigation into his own crimes and those of his associates: by repeatedly lying, firing and threatening to fire people, intervening in law enforcement decisions in his own interest, fabricating fake stories to impede the investigation.
There is clear and daily evidence of corruption. Of high crimes and misdemeanors that would be grounds for impeachment were Republicans in Congress less complicit. That he’s also breaching standard protocol is almost beside the point.