That didn’t take very long. The specter of Donald Trump moving into the central position of American power seemed troublesome for a minute there, but it is amazing how adaptable people are!
Before we forget altogether, let’s first go back and remind ourselves why he was worrisome to begin with.
There are two parallel and distinct ethical systems: tribal and modern. Another way to describe these are loyalty-based and rules-based. Both are real, both are always present, both have some validity, but they are fundamentally at odds with each other.
The United States was founded on the idea that we could build and sustain a system based on laws. Needless to say, it was never perfect, but fundamentally the idea was that people would democratically agree to a set of rules, and then all agree to follow them. Right up to and including the highest offices of government.
That was then. Lurking just behind the veil was the human-default setting of tribalism. Always there, always a factor, but supposedly taking a back seat to a legal framework of behavior. Trump has put an end to that, for the foreseeable future.
Trump’s message, it ought to be clear by now, is that loyalty is the cornerstone of his power, not rules. Friends will be rewarded, enemies will be punished. Dissent will be silenced, facts will lose their meaning. Business interests will be combined with governing interests in a mutually reinforcing web of Trump family power. Don’t be surprised if military and intelligence loyalties start to be woven in as well. Oh, yeah, they already have been.
The reason I gave earlier this year for my conviction that Trump would never be elected was “we’re not there yet.” Tribalism was always a factor in American politics, but I didn’t think social strains had accumulated to the point where an open appeal to tribal-based governing would win a majority vote here. Okay, actually it didn’t, but, you know, electoral college, whatever.
And how do we know it has been normalized already? Because people like Newt Gingrich feel free now to say it out loud. “We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” he belched recently. And also that Trump can get around nepotism rules by using his power of the pardon.
And this is how it will proceed, as rule follows rule into atrophy, as norm follows norm into memory, then out.
And where are the influential people who ought to be standing athwart this monumental wrong turn of history? You can see most of them lining up outside Trump’s office to curry favor.
And the people? They seem ready to see how having voted themselves out of power works out for them.