Mark S. Weiner

Donald Trump and the Rule of the Clan

In Rule of law, Rule of the Clan on November 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

A number of readers have written in the wake of the American presidential election to ask how I would read Donald Trump’s victory in light of the arguments I make in The Rule of the Clan.

I’ve just returned from a weekend away to receive a kind new review of my book by Karen Schousboe, editor-in-chief of Medieval Histories, which is based in Denmark. Because she’s a sensitive and careful reader of my work, I’d like to let her review answer the question, but I’d also like to add some thoughts of my own from a related perspective: as someone who has devoted most of his professional life to the non-partisan teaching of American constitutional law and the principles of liberal constitutional democracy.

Over the course his campaign, Donald Trump consistently flouted basic principles of democratic constitutionalism. Trump violated these principles not incidentally or at the margins of the race, but rather through specific promises that were at the heart of his campaign, as well as in his repeated public behavior toward his rivals.

Trump’s violations of these principles concern, most importantly, the process by which our political life in conducted, the ideas and structures that enable a healthy democracy in the first place, and the terms on which the power of the state may be legitimately exercised. The anti-liberal character of the following actions speaks for itself:

1) Trump publicly declared that his main political opponent should be imprisoned—he called, that is, for the politically-motivated prosecution of his rival by the federal government.

2) He proposed to establish a religious test for travel to the United States.

3) He suggested that Americans of one religious faith in particular be required to register with federal authorities (he later stepped back from the idea, but only slightly).

4) He called for the killing of the families of terrorists—he called, that is, for collective criminal and military punishment.

5) He enthusiastically endorsed waterboarding and more generally supported torture qua torture.

6) He threatened to “open up” libel laws and thereby erode free speech guarantees for journalists investigating and criticizing public figures—a threat that follows on a long history of his bullying lawsuits against journalists who accurately cast doubt on his business acumen.

7) He suggested that the nation’s primary foreign rival seek to influence the presidential election.

8) He regularly resorted to innuendo to smear his political opponents, for instance in his insinuation that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, and he used rhetorical ambiguity in ways that encouraged violence at his rallies.

9) He announced that he would keep citizens in suspense as to whether he would accept the results of the election.

In taking these positions, Trump eroded our constitutional and political life in ways from which it will take a long time to recover. Norms that have placed certain positions and behaviors well outside the bounds of acceptability have been breached. These norms have always been hard fought, from the seventeenth-century battle against Stuart tyranny through the construction and maintenance of an open society in the West in the wake of World War II. And this election provided a lesson in the importance of first principles.

But more than abstract ideas are at stake. As we saw in the wake of Trump’s victory in the primary, most partisans naturally fall in line behind their party leader (the great exception has been GOP intellectuals and national security leaders, who deserve great praise). And with the help of partisan allies, Trump’s vision thus will soon begin to shape institutions.

American institutions are strong. They are staffed by career lawyers who understand the meaning of the rule of law. But nobody should doubt the potential influence on those institutions of a man who built his public persona on his willingness to say “you’re fired!”

And in the meantime, a great deal of damage has already been done to the cultural foundations of constitutional democracy.

Politics are cyclical. That a Republican succeeds a Democrat as president after eight years is unsurprising, and that he should bring with him new priorities and agendas is only to be expected. What worries me is not that conservative ideas will have greater influence over national policy. Rather, it is that a candidate whose campaign flagrantly disrespected core principles of constitutional democracy has won power.

  1. Very interesting and that should be an op-ed somewhere. ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Houghtful,brief analysis. That did and observers never bothered to speak up, but think it cute, or just “rhetoric” was embarrassing. And those who did were ridiculed. More than temperament but a lack of understanding more interest in constitutional polity.

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  3. I worry that we might think our basic institutions are safe with lawyers. For a while now we have been taught to trust lawyers and judges with knowledge of rights and liberties but also with some aspects of our institutions. During the campaign, Khizr Khan waiving a copy of the Constitution was an interesting case of calling attention to law. I had not realized that Mr. Khan was a practicing lawyer, so he is not the best example of my concern, but I loved the populist nature of his challenge and it seemed to gain authority not from his legal background but from the sacrifice made by his son and family.

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  4. they are TRIBAL: “my tribe yay, your tribe boo!” It really is that simple. The rest is cosmetics. -John Dolan

    Constitution, law and liberal democracy means nothing if the underlying society can’t support them. Ideology stems from biology, and diversity brings tyranny and conflict. What use is electoral process if my tribe’s politician goes against politician of another tribe, my choice is already made at my birth, and the elections are just head counting.

    Better hundred years under tyrant than single day under foreign rule.

    As USA grows more diverse it will become more authoritarian and there will be more conflict. That’s how the things work in the real world. And with Pax Americana losing the ability to enforce the peace the thing are already starting to revert to their old ways.

    And whatever Trump foreshadows that seems unspeakable today, will become completely normal in few presidential terms, and all those strong institutions will be eroded and end up with justices thrown out of a helicopter. Nature doesn’t care about rules of men, it reasserts itself and always wins. The USSR failed to make New Soviet Man, the West is already starting to suffer similar fate.

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  5. WordPress lost half of my lengthy comment, so this is from my memory:

    Extremely disappointing article from the author who knows far better. I expected explanation of the situation from the lenses of the Rule of the Clan instead I got liberal propaganda.

    Trump won due to being able to exploit tribalism of the white voters, using the Steve Sailer strategy explained 16 years ago http://www.vdare.com/articles/gop-future-depends-on-winning-larger-share-of-the-white-vote

    In short, since all the ethnic groups are more or less voting as blocks, working & middle class whites should do it too. GOP ignored it and lost twice, Trump didn’t made the same mistake.

    Whining that Trump way leads to abandoning liberalism and rule of law is almost painful to hear. Of course that tribalism is incompatible with liberal democracy and rule of law. As Lee Kuan Yew said:

    In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.

    You can’t have tribalism and diversity of opinions because the more cohesive “tribes” will win over the less cohesive ones. Forget being dissident in such setting. And rule of law means nothing when individualism means nothing.

    Most people are not rational,they are TRIBAL: “my tribe yay, your tribe boo!” It really is that simple. The rest is cosmetics. -John Dolan

    Constitution, law and liberal democracy means nothing if the underlying society can’t support them. Ideology stems from biology, and diversity brings tyranny and conflict. What use is electoral process if my tribe’s politician goes against politician of another tribe, my choice is already made at my birth, and the elections are just head counting.

    As middle eastern proverb says, better hundred years under tyrant than single day under foreign rule. People are ready far more crap from someone who they consider one of their own, but outsider would have to use force.

    As USA grows more diverse it will become more authoritarian and there will be more conflict. That’s how the things work in the real world. And with Pax Americana losing the ability to enforce the peace the thing are already starting to revert to their old ways.

    And whatever Trump foreshadows that seems unspeakable today, will become completely normal in few presidential terms, and all those strong institutions will be eroded and end up with justices thrown out of a helicopter. Nature doesn’t care about rules of men, it reasserts itself and always wins. The USSR failed to make New Soviet Man, the West is already starting to suffer similar fate.

    Like

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