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Breaking Political Norms In The Age Of Trump

President Donald Trump smiles during a discussion for drug-free communities support programs, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
President Donald Trump smiles during a discussion for drug-free communities support programs, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

With David Folkenflik

What about all those norms being busted in Washington? Among our guests: two guys named Norm.


Judi McLean Parks, professor of organizational behavior at Washington University’s Olin School of Business.

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic. Co-author of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported.” (@NormOrnstein)

Norman Eisen, senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings, CNN political commentator and chair of the government watchdog group CREW. Author of “The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House.” (@NormEisen)

Bre Payton, staff writer for The Federalist. (@Bre_payton)

From The Reading List

The Guardian: “Donald Trump and the erosion of democratic norms in America” — “Ask people with deep knowledge of the US justice department about the damage Donald Trump might be doing to the country, and the conversation quickly flips back to Watergate.

“Following Richard Nixon’s failed attempt to pull the plug on a special prosecutor who turned out to be on to something, the need for investigators to work free from White House interference was recognized by the public and reinforced by elected officials.

“But now Trump is president, the public can seem apathetic or amnesiac and the norms governing justice department independence are being tested. Severely.”

Washington Post: “President non grata: Trump often unwelcome and unwilling to perform basic rituals of the office” — “Shunned at two funerals and one (royal) wedding so far, President Trump may be well on his way to becoming president non grata.

“The latest snub comes in the form of the upcoming funeral for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which, before his death, the senator made clear he did not want the sitting president to attend. That the feeling is mutual — Trump nixed issuing a statement that praised McCain as a ‘hero’ — only underscores the myriad ways Trump has rejected the norms of his office and, increasingly, has been rejected in turn.

“Less than two years into his first term, Trump has often come to occupy the role of pariah — both unwelcome and unwilling to perform the basic rituals and ceremonies of the presidency, from public displays of mourning to cultural ceremonies.”

New York Times: “Opinion: Breaking Norms Will Renew Democracy, Not Ruin It” — “Hardly a day goes by without President Trump being accused of breaking a presidential norm or two, doing something that no president has ever done — nor, it’s implied, ever ought to do.

“He tweets. He runs down the F.B.I., the intelligence community, his own attorney general. He makes fun of other politicians. He hires and fires cabinet secretaries, lawyers and communications people with abandon. He revokes a former C.I.A. director’s security clearance. He fails to disclose his tax returns. He picks his Supreme Court nominees from a list prepared by outside groups. He alternately threatens and sweet talks foreign despots.

“Guilty as charged — but so what? All norms are not created equal. Hence breaking norms is neither good nor bad except as the norms themselves are good or bad. We elect presidents partly to separate the wheat from the chaff: to energize government by shedding or retiring norms that no longer serve the public good, and by adopting fresh ones that do.”

President Trump promised to change the way business is done in Washington D.C. Since his arrival, 20 months ago, he’s done just that. Certainly, in the way he carries himself. Many of Trump’s critics condemn him for flouting convention. Shoving aside decorum. Shattering norms. But what does that really mean? How is such demeanor affecting larger society? And given the way Washington typically works — and doesn’t work — is such unconventional behavior such a bad thing?

This hour, On Point: our era of busted norms.

— David Folkenflik

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.