Ethical guidelines exist for a reason. Norms exist for a reason.Perhaps "Make America Great Again" will be in the rediscovery of the Constitutional separation of powers, in a new birth of dissent, and, shall we hope, in the restoration of bourgeois conventions.
The reason is not “Jerks who think they’re smarter than us trying to control our lives from on high.” The reason is that human history is long, and all of the mistakes that could possibly be made have been made, and at a certain point people figured out that following some common sense rules could prevent us from making the same dire mistakes over and over again. Mistakes that come from human nature. Mistakes like: allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to make money for themselves, or allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to squelch legitimate dissent, or allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to flout the very ethical guidelines and norms that prior people in powerful positions established to keep people in powerful positions in check.
We are all coming to realize that our civil society institutions may not be strong enough to protect the flawed but fundamentally solid democracy that we thought we had. We are witnessing the rise to power of a leader who does not care about norms. Since these norms were created to prevent political, social, economic, and cultural disasters, we do not need to wonder how this will end. It will end poorly.Mr Nolan might be eight years late to the realization, or perhaps a quarter-century late, but let us recognize what has dawned on him.
Our society and our institutions are simply not set up to deal with someone who is fully prepared to flout all of our norms of good behavior. Our system, to a large degree, relies on social sanction rather than laws to prevent powerful people from getting too far out of line. When our most powerful person is willing to ignore all of that, there is not much in place to stop him. The normalization process is well underway. The pomp and circumstance and deference will only increase after the inauguration. The press and the Congress are the only two institutions standing between a dangerous man and total power. They must both realize this is not the time to salute and grovel. This is not the time to fall into familiar patterns of default respect for someone who does not himself respect the responsibility to the public that he has been given. This is the time for them to rise to the occasion. And the occasion is a fight for civil society.Let us be grateful that he didn't put "norms of good behavior" in sneer quotes.
Let us be grateful that he wrote "not set up to deal" rather than "constructed."
Let us hope that he recognizes the ways in which "social sanction" is emergent, and, rightly understood, confers evolutionary advantage on people who interact under its formal and informal procedures.
If, at the same time, a Trump presidency is occasion to "scrub off some of the ridiculous luster" that has accompanied the Cult of the Presidency, let it be so.