Normal parameters

donald-trumpIf you were to express to a politician the well-argued view that a policy that politician supported was unconstitutional, you would get a reasoned argument in response. Not necessarily a good argument, but an argument. Some people arrive at the position by tortuous reasoning and others by self-rationalization. A few are probably not even sincere. But any politician – every political appointee in the federal government in the Obama or Bush administrations, and every member of Congress – would argue that her or his policies are constitutional It is the price of admission to the game that you at least pretend to believe this.

Donald Trump is different. When it was suggested to him that his proposed ban on Muslims is unconstitutional he replied:  “You know−the Constitution−there’s nothing like it. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, as a country, OK?”

Actually, not OK. If that answer means anything, it means that Donald Trump thinks a strong leader should override the Constitution if the issue is important enough. In Trump-world, that is what strong leaders do. And Trump is obsessed with the notion of “strong leaders” and the fantasy that he is capable of being one.

This is one example of one of the “normal parameters” of politics of which the humorist, P J O’Rourke, was speaking when he said that Hillary Clinton was “wrong about practically everything, but wrong within normal parameters”. President Clinton would pretend to be constrained by the Constitution. President Trump would not.

Clinton is more than usually paranoid and self-obsessed. Her illegal – though, perhaps, marginally short of criminal – decision to use private email servers put national security at risk. She bears grudges. But, like Richard Nixon, she is a lawyer and cautious by nature. She might use the power of the IRS and the FCC to harass her critics, but she would stop short of using the FBI, except with a plausible case for criminal investigation.

But every FBI agent works for the president. The president is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. A president who has no concern about the law or the Constitution could order the arrest and detention of a critic. The courts might turn that person free, but the FBI still works for the president, who could order that the person be arrested again.

And Donald Trump bears grudges. He uses Twitter – and before that the US mail – to harass journalists for years over imagined slights. Famously, he became obsessed with harassing a journalist who claimed that Trump had short fingers. Trump held that grudge for 30 years. Good job it was nothing serious.

Trump uses junk lawsuits to harass people, bringing actions which he knows have no possibility of success just to inconvenience people and to force them to hire expensive lawyers. If a man like this ran the FBI then he could bring junk criminal charges against anyone whom he imagined had not shown him enough respect. And he is a colossal narcissist. Even if you deeply respect Donald Trump, there really isn’t any possibility that you respect him enough for his taste.

The normal parameters are there for a reason. Trump’s contempt for them is dangerous.

Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School

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