But some talk of norms is just dodgy—a way of pretending that power politics has some basis in principle or precedent. Following the deaths of Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Ginsburg, we heard a lot about the so-called norms regarding whether a president in the last year of a term can fill a vacancy. If I rightly remember Mitch McConnell’s contortuplicated explanations, a president in the final year of their term cannot appoint someone to the Supreme Court unless that president’s own party controls the Senate, in which case the president must be allowed to do so, if and only if Jupiter is in the house of Mercury, or else a longstanding norm invented by a blogger with an angry baseball avatar is at risk of being violated.
Moreover, the Trump presidency should have awakened us to how our norms can be abused by people who don’t give a rip. Many political norms actually contributed to Trump’s rise and allowed him to abuse the system at the expense of competitors who were coloring inside the lines—as when he bullied debate moderators and levied the types of personal attacks that would have made WASPy George H.W. Bush clutch Barbara’s pearls.