By Doug Dworkin
In the past few weeks, there has been a great deal of amusing discussion about the President’s ability to pass the MoCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment) test indicating that his cognitive abilities are “normal,” in that he’s not showing any precursors of dementia or Alzheimer’s. This is reassuring. Of course, in his repeated flaunting of the results, he serves up examples of a few of his other character flaws: extreme narcissism, and a penchant for exaggeration, braggadocio and outright lying. Despite these and other deep character flaws that have been exposed in the press and in numerous books, there is one way in which Trump endangers our republic more than anything else—his refusal to observe the political norms that help hold our country together.
Since our founding, our country has established many rules, laws and customs that govern us: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, statutes, Supreme Court decisions, etcetera. But all these rules and laws are dependent on an implicit agreement among the overwhelming majority of us that we will follow them. It’s a kind of “honor system” as Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold recently described it. Some laws and rules have enforcement systems and some don’t, but even those backed by enforcement would collapse if everyone refused to abide by them. The I.R.S. would never collect any revenue if everyone failed to comply. Though the fear of enforcement is there, there are not enough I.R,S. agents and courts to handle wholesale flouting of the law.
Following this honor system is “normal’ in our politics too, and well-grounded in history. In the first years of our shaky republic, the Federalist party of George Washington and John Adams held the presidency for the first 12 years. But the election of 1800, preceded by the stormy first term of John Adams, was bitter and divisive. Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party was challenging the Federalist Party’s Adams, who was seeking a second term. Each party said the other’s victory would endanger the very existence of the republic. They vilified their opponents with slander and character assassination. And, because of a since-corrected flaw in the constitution, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Even with all this turmoil, Jefferson was declared the winner and the presidency was peacefully handed over to him. It was the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. Adams’ bitterness remained for years, but he and his followers ceded power because of the “honor system.” It is because of this peaceful change of power that the election is called the “Revolution of 1800.” It set an important precedent for our fledgling republic.
Now ask yourself this question: Based on his willingness to trash political norms for the last 3 ½ years, do you think that Trump would act like Adams did in 1800? Would he follow that important precedent? The evidence points to no. As 2020 approaches, we should remember this: Trump is not a “normal” president.
Doug Dworkin is a former junior high school teacher, encyclopedia editor, and IT executive at IBM. Now retired, he Is beginning a new career as a professional dabbler and dilettante.