Since 2010, Democrats have watched their opponents crash through norm after norm, taboo after taboo. They watched Republicans push the country to the verge of national default in 2011 in order to impose their budgetary preferences on the president. They watched the Republicans engage in blatant racial gerrymandering in North Carolina and other states—and then watched the Supreme Court in 2013 strike down a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act. They watched a Senate majority refuse to even schedule a vote on a Supreme Court nominee in 2016. In recent months, they have watched Donald Trump’s Department of Justice thwart oversight and fight congressional subpoenas to assist him, and now are watching the spectacle of Republicans rushing to defend Trump’s second attempt to collude his way to reelection as no big deal, a mere technical infraction.
Having lived through all this, will Democrats conclude that what’s called for is a return to norms and normality? Or will they conclude that with opponents like these and with rules that are stacked against them, norms are for suckers? They might, quite plausibly, conclude the latter, imposing policies popular only among the far left via executive order or other means—thereby plunging the political system into an even deeper crisis in Trump’s aftermath. If neither side abides by the rules of democracy, then democracy effectively ceases to exist.
Recent experiments by political scientists have shown that a shockingly large percentage of Americans of both political parties are willing to countenance the violation of democratic rules and norms in service of advancing their partisan interests. Likely it has always been thus. Democracy has been sustained less by public opinion than by elite consensus. The Trump presidency has put that consensus brutally at risk.