Countries have written constitutions to serve as a brake against idiocy. But constitutions rely on time honoured conventions. And, because Donald Trump is utterly shameless, he completely trashes those conventions. Jonathan Freeland writes:
Take what he has done this week alone. In firing Comey, he was clearly breaching the wall that’s meant to separate law enforcement from political meddling. But he was not violating the constitution. Technically, a president does have the power to sack an FBI director. It’s just that the unwritten rules have always said a president shouldn’t. Trump saw those unwritten rules and walked all over them.Trump has paid no attention to conventions -- starting with the simple one that says you have to pay your bills. Lots of people thought that, once Trump was elected, he'd have to abide by convention. Fear of public shame might have caused him to do that. But Trump knows no shame.
That’s how he operates. On Friday morning, Trump mused on Twitter that perhaps he should abandon the daily press briefing, long seen as an essential requirement of basic transparency. It’s not in the constitution, but every previous administration has regarded it as fundamental democratic practice.
The same is true of naked profiteering from public office. Past presidents have divested themselves of any business ties, or at least placed their holdings in a blind trust, lest there be even a hint of a conflict of interest. Not Trump. He says the law is on his side and “the president can’t have a conflict of interest”. Legal experts say that, strictly speaking, he might be right. But in the past, the strict technicalities were not the point. The unwritten norm was clear: no president should have his or her judgment clouded by the prospect of personal financial gain.
A similar rule has applied to the nepotistic hiring of unqualified relatives: not done. Trump has done it anyway. He’s appointed his daughter Ivanka to a senior, if vague, White House role while putting his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of such footling matters as restructuring the US government and negotiating Middle East peace.
And that is why, Freeland concludes, Trump is so dangerous.
Image: Carlo Allegri/Reuters