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Hislope, Robert. Thomas Jefferson refused to continue the practice begun by George Washington and John Adams of delivering the State of the Union address in person before Congress, because he believed it resembled the British monarch speaking before Parliament. For the next years, presidents conveyed the State of the Union in writing—until Woodrow Wilson astonished Congress by addressing it in person, a practice that once again settled into a norm.


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Although the Constitution allowed presidents to serve for more than two consecutive terms, no one did so until Franklin Roosevelt won a third term, in Roosevelt tried but failed to break another norm when he sought to increase the number of Supreme Court justices in order to secure more favorable interpretations of his New Deal programs. These and countless other examples show that presidential norm violations have often been central to presidential leadership.

Greenstein has put it. Put another way, he is far less hypocritical than past presidents—and that is a bad thing. Hypocrisy is an underappreciated political virtue. It can palliate self-interested and politically divisive government action through mollifying rhetoric and a call to shared values. He is incapable of keeping his crass thoughts to himself, or of cloaking his speech in other-regarding principle.

His successors are no more likely to replicate his self-destructive antics than they would be if he yelled at the first lady during a public dinner or gave a televised address from the White House Rose Garden in his bathrobe. He has been rebuked for his attacks on investigatory independence not just by his political opponents but by more-sympathetic voices in the Republican Party and on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and even, implicitly, by his own Justice Department appointees, who have continued the Russia investigation despite his pushback.

The majority of the other presidential norms that Trump has defied will similarly be strengthened by the reactions to his behavior, and will snap back in the next presidency. During the presidential campaign, Trump gave his challengers derogatory nicknames. Norm-breaking helped him more during the campaign than it has in the presidency. Two days before Super Tuesday, on February 28, , Rubio decided to fight back. But he had sacrificed his integrity, and his campaign collapsed.

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Rubio later admitted that the gambit had been a mistake, and apologized. What happened to Marco Rubio on the campaign trail is now happening to a variety of American institutions. These institutions have risen up to check a president they fear. But in some instances, they have defied their own norms, and harmed themselves and the nation in the process.

Unfortunately, many of these norm violations will be hard to reverse.

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During the transition, and continuing after the inauguration, federal employees who were repulsed by the new president and his agenda discussed strategies to hide or alter documents, leak damaging information, and slow down the process of changing government policy. These tactics had been used before; clashes between the governing class and a new administration are not uncommon. But the scale of the effort, and especially how it was coordinated, was new. Not all of them have come from bureaucrats; Trump appointees have engaged in leaking too. But many of the leaks appear to have come from career civil servants who seek to discredit or undermine the president.

And many involve types of information that have never been leaked before. In August, The Washington Post published complete transcripts of conversations Trump had had with the prime minister of Australia and the president of Mexico. The most-harmful leaks have been of information collected in the course of surveillance of Russian officials. The first, in February , concerned a December court-approved National Security Agency wiretap of a phone conversation between the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and the incoming national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, that included a discussion of U.

The leaks of Russia intercepts may seem commonplace, but they violated taboos that had been respected even in the wild west of unlawful government disclosures. The first was a taboo against publishing the contents of foreign intelligence intercepts, especially ones involving a foe like Russia. It is hard to recall another set of leaks that exposed so much specific information about intelligence intercepts of a major adversary.

This form of leaking risks compromising a communication channel and thus telling an adversary how to avoid detection in the future. The Russia leaks may well have burned large investments in electronic surveillance and constricted future U. The Russia leaks also breached a taboo against revealing information about U. The government acquires this type of data without suspicion that the citizen has engaged in wrongdoing, and thus without constitutional privacy protections.

For this reason, it is typically treated with special care inside the government. The gush of this information to the public was an astounding breach of privacy. It also violated yet another taboo—against using intelligence information for political ends. In the bad old days when J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI, the bureau regularly leaked or threatened to leak secretly collected intelligence information about U.

The intelligence reforms of the mids and beyond eliminated this pernicious practice for four decades and were believed to have created a culture that would prevent its recurrence. The anti-Trump leaks mark a dangerous throwback. But the toll from the leaks has been significant and may outlast the Trump presidency. A world without norms to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information about U. It is also a world in which intelligence bureaucrats repeat the trick for very different political ends that they deem worthy but that might not be.

Trump has not attacked the U. More than other presidents, he has staffed senior positions with current and former military brass. He has even urged soldiers to contact members of Congress in support of his policies, contrary to regulations and customs forbidding them from lobbying. Trump is also politicizing the judiciary. He has accused the judges reviewing his January immigration order, and a replacement order he signed in March, of trampling presidential prerogatives and endangering national security. But it is important to judicial legitimacy that judges appear neutral and detached, that they appear to follow precedent, and that they appear to pay presidents appropriate deference and respect.

In the Trump immigration cases, the judges sometimes abandoned these norms. They were in a tough spot because they were reviewing extraordinary executive-branch actions in a highly charged context. But they reacted with hasty and, in some ways, sloppy judicial opinions. They issued broad injunctions unsupported by the underlying legal analysis.

They seemed to extend constitutional protections to noncitizens who lacked any connection to the United States. The judges had many avenues to rule against Trump on many issues, especially with regard to the first order. They had plenty of reasons to be angry or defensive because of his tweeted attacks. But they neglected principles of restraint, prudence, and precedent to rule against him across the board based on what seemed to many a tacit determination that the just-elected president lacked legitimacy on immigration issues.

If judges were to continue such behavior for four or eight years, judicial norms and trust in the judiciary might take a serious hit. Federal judges sit in a hierarchical system with the Supreme Court at the top. The nine justices rarely agree on any issue of importance. But they unanimously ruled that, at a minimum, the lower-court injunctions were too broad and had failed to take his national-security prerogatives seriously enough.

The Court did not indicate how it will ultimately rule. But its sober, respectful, low-temperature opinion sent a strong signal about the importance of judicial detachment. For this reason, the judiciary has a fighting chance to return to normal patterns. The same cannot be said of the norms that govern the news media. Journalistic practices, of course, were already evolving as a result of social media, the decentralization of news production, and changing financial models.

But Trump has had a distinct effect. The vast majority of elite journalists have a progressive outlook, which influences what gets covered, and how, in ways that many Americans, especially outside of big cities, find deeply biased. And they were shocked when the strategy worked. After the election, news organizations devoted more resources than ever to White House coverage, and they have produced exceptional in-depth reporting that has been integral to the constitutional checks on the presidency.

Reporting on a flagrantly norm-breaking president produces a novel conundrum, however. Many Trump critics insist that his behavior justifies this level of adverse scrutiny. But even if that is true, the overall effect can make the press seem heavily biased and out to get Trump. Either way, Trump in some sense wins. The appearance problem that Rutenberg described is real. But it is also true that many reporters covering Trump have overreacted and exaggerated and interjected opinion into their stories more than usual.

So, too, do other changes in the norms of covering the president. Many journalists let their hair down on Twitter with opinionated anti-Trump barbs that reveal predispositions and shape the way readers view their reporting. And news outlets have at times seemed to cast themselves as part of the resistance to Trump, and seen their revenues soar. Just as Trump drew energy and numbers on the campaign trail from the excessive coverage of his norm-busting behavior, the news media seem to draw energy and numbers from their own norm-busting behavior.

But while Trumpism has been good for the media business, it has not been good for overall media credibility. Trump is not just discrediting the mainstream news, but quickening changes in right-wing media as well. Fox News Channel always leaned right, but in the past year several of its programs have become open propaganda arms for Trump. And sharply partisan outlets like Breitbart News and The Daily Caller have grown in influence among conservatives.

The media have every incentive to continue on their current trajectories. Many on the right increasingly agree with a point Ron Unz, the influential former publisher of The American Conservative , made in a memo last year. His assault on those institutions, and the defiant reactions to his assault, will further diminish that trust and make it yet harder to resolve social and political disputes. The breakdown in institutions mirrors the breakdown in social cohesion among citizens that was also a major cause of Trumpism, and that Trumpism has churned further.

This is perhaps the worst news of all for our democracy. To that depressing conclusion I will add another.

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But it is conceivable that he will turn things around—for example, by pulling off tax and infrastructure reform and putting Kim Jong Un in a box—and win the election, perhaps in a three-way race. If Trump succeeds and makes it to a second term, his norm-breaking will be seen to serve the presidency more than it does today. If that happens, the office will be forever changed, and not for the better. The second assumption is that the country is fundamentally stable.

But what if the economy collapses, or the country faces a major domestic terrorist attack or even nuclear war? What if Mueller finds evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians—and Trump fires not just Mueller but also scores of others in the Justice Department, and pardons himself and everyone else involved? These are not crazy possibilities.