While important, it is almost low hanging fruit to point out when Donald Trump “bucks” a norm. I’m using quotations because the better word, I think, is subverts. I’m making this distinction because Trump et al isn’t merely undermining some tradition like pardoning a Turkey. These norms and customs are the most bedrock ways we govern because everything can’t be put into writing. We can’t anticipate every conundrum and we don’t have the resources to police each situation that arises. Norms are effective guidelines for behavior and that facilitate the rules we do have in place.
That’s why Bolton’s proposition is so dangerous. “Normalization” is the word of the moment so, yes, this normalizes further subversion of institutional norms and customs, but the real issue is that it actively chips away at the already deteriorating faith the American people have in public institutions. In a democracy, this faith is pivotal. If people feel like the system isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, they have little reason to feel beholden to its outcomes, whether that’s the election system and who becomes president, or something already discussed at length, such as the justice system and how it metes out punishment.
If I call out false flags, that’s potentially dangerous. It’s potentially dangerous because I have some minimal impact on the people who read and listen to what I say. Ultimately, though, the probability is small. I’m not influential and I don’t work in any official capacity for these institutions, nor have I ever.
However, if Ambassador John Bolton makes these claims, they have credibility. They have credibility because he was, at one point, formally a part of the government apparatus. They have credibility because his statements are newsworthy, and therefore necessitate reporting, thus widening the range of his influence. This also mainstreams a view that was previously preposterous and marginalized and for good reason: the people propagating the claim were of little public import and, in order to become mainstreamed, would have to offer up some evidence to lend credence to their claim. In a “post-fact” moment, one that has been primed by the President-Elect, this is no longer a requirement.
I wish I had more to add here than a basic lamentation of the abdication of personal responsibility public figures feel they have to the American public. Maybe they never had that expectation but norms certainly did, and they’re becoming less and less beholden to those. I’m not sure what the next step is to hold on to what little trust is left in these public institutions when the people who operate and are a part of them continuously subvert integrity for no cause other than their reckless machinations and lust for power.