October 31, 2016

h/t Heather

I come from a family with immigrants from Ireland, Iran, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Poland and England in just the last two generations (and even more beyond that) and I married a Danish immigrant. So I regularly communicate with family and friends from all over the world. And almost to a one, their questions circle back to "What the hell has happened to your country?"

Don't get me wrong, it's not an entirely new question. I was visiting a writer friend for whom I did some editing in the Netherlands right after the Iraq invasion and occupation and she introduced me to her friends and colleagues as the "good kind" of American, meaning I wasn't a Bushie. We went to France in 2010 to see my brother-in-law and the landlord of our rental flat congratulated us on having had the wisdom to elect Barack Obama, whom he assured us was very, very popular in Europe.

But then this election season happened.

And left and right, we see the norms by which we have held this democracy, by which we have operating being violated, with little to no recourse. James Fallows:

The rules in politics haven’t changed that much in recent years. What has changed is adherence to norms, in an increasingly destructive way.

I made that case, using examples different from the ones I’m about to present here, nearly two years ago. The shift in norms is also a central part of Thomas Mann’s and Norman Ornstein’s prescient It’s Even Worse Than It Looks and Mike Lofgren’s The Party Is Over, plus of course Jonathan Rauch’s “How American Politics Went Insane,” our very widely read cover story (subscribe!) this summer.

The norms—that is, the expectation of what you “should” do, what you “really have to do,” what is the “right thing” to do, even if the letter of the law doesn’t spell it out—have changed. For its survival, a democracy depends on norms. That’s why the shift matters.

And that is the context in which I think about James Comey’s plunge into electoral politics, with his announcement about whatever “new” Clinton-related email information the FBI may or may not have found.

So when Fareed Zakaria warns that this move by Comey has all the hallmarks of a banana republic in some third world country, that's not something to dismiss easily. There are far-reaching ramifications that go long past the easy partisan shot being taken here. Imagine how much harder it will be for the US to condemn other countries for election shenanigans. How far has our standing dropped in the eyes of the rest of the world?

I wonder if the Republicans goading Comey into this unprecedented action gave one bit of consideration to that.

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