A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election, I was so appalled at the behavior of the president-elect that I started making a list of the political norms he was violating. I feared that I, and everyone else, would get used to the way the new administration shredded the fabric of our democracy and after a few weeks would forget that our government had ever operated differently. And I was concerned that people did not realize how much of the way our government operates is rooted in norms rather than in law.
Originally I was updating a post on Medium, but as the one-year mark approached with no end in sight, I realized the list was outgrowing its original home. So here we are.
As the year has gone on, I have developed some loose guidelines for putting together the list:
- I only include candidates for office, officeholders, their staffs, and political appointees. I don’t include private citizens because I have a full-time job and if I included everyone I would do nothing but this list. My definition of “private citizens” includes journalists and family members of officeholders who do not have official campaign or government positions. (I did include Alex Jones once, early on, but I wish I hadn’t and it’s not something I will do going forward.) I consider the First Lady something of a grey area, but I think she’s only made one appearance on the list (when she filed a lawsuit that described her husband’s election as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to make money).
- I only include violations of political norms. I have lots of opinions about policy. Lots of very strong opinions. However, I try very hard to keep these opinions off this list. (This, too, is something I’ve gotten better at over time.) In the long run, holding our democracy together is (I believe) is more critical than short-term policy issues. When I’m considering whether to add something to the list, I ask myself, “Is this something James Madison would have a problem with?” OK, that may sound silly, but the point is I am trying to make this list about the foundations of our government rather than partisan policy disputes.
- I do not include mere pettiness. I have bemoaned presidential typos a couple of times (I’m only human!) but this list does not include carping about the way the First Lady decorated the White House, the fact that the president failed to shade his eyes when looking at the eclipse, or the way the president dumped fish food in a koi pond. I do not mock the president’s complexion, his hair, or his eating habits. I actually wish everyone would stop with the pettiness, because we have a serious problem here and the constant stream of Cheeto comparisons only makes the criticisms seem partisan.