A failed bro­ken win­dows pres­i­dency

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is a bro­ken win­dows pres­i­dent.

Let me ex­plain. In 1982, the At­lantic pub­lished an ar­ti­cle that be­came leg­endary in con­ser­va­tive cir­cles. Au­thored by Ge­orge Kelling and the late James Q. Wilson, “Bro­ken Win­dows” ar­gued for bet­ter com­mu­nity polic­ing. Po­lice walk­ing a beat, they urged, tended to re­duce the qual­ity-of-life crimes that de­grade city life — pub­lic uri­na­tion, ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling, turn­stile jump­ing.

“Dis­or­der and crime are usu­ally in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked,” they wrote, “if a win­dow in a build­ing is bro­ken and is left un­re­paired, all the rest of the win­dows will soon be bro­ken.”

For the bet­ter part of two decades, “bro­ken win­dows polic­ing” was cred­ited with the sharp drop in crime the na­tion ex­pe­ri­enced start­ing in the 1990s. That may or may not have been jus­ti­fied; the drop in crime has yet to be fully ex­plained.

What­ever the prob­lems of im­ple­men­ta­tion may have been with bro­ken win­dows polic­ing, the in­sight on which it was based — that dis­or­der begets more dis­or­der — seemed sound, par­tic­u­larly to con­ser­va­tives who are tem­per­a­men­tally more sen­si­tive to dis­rup­tions of or­der than lib­er­als. If drug deal­ers are able to ply their trade un­mo­lested on street corners and drunks are sleep­ing in vestibules, it’s an in­vi­ta­tion to more se­ri­ous break­downs of pub­lic or­der.

Oddly, con­ser­va­tives seem not to have ap­plied this in­sight to Don­ald Trump, who, from the mo­ment he en­tered the fray, has been hurl­ing rocks through win­dows. He smashed the win­dow that re­quired can­di­dates to pro­vide their tax re­turns. He lobbed a brick through the norm that Amer­i­can pub­lic fig­ures do not en­cour­age vig­i­lan­tism. He de­mol­ished the prin­ci­ple that Amer­i­can pres­i­dents don’t dan­gle par­dons be­fore for­mer aides caught in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

Ev­ery time he has vi­o­lated a law or a norm and re­ceived no push­back from his party, he has made fur­ther vi­o­la­tions of law and cus­tom more likely.

Though it was hardly the most egre­gious in­frac­tion dur­ing his ten­ure, Trump used the White House as a po­lit­i­cal plat­form for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. This vi­o­lates the Hatch Act, which for­bids most ex­ec­u­tive branch of­fi­cials from en­gag­ing in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity dur­ing their work­ing hours.

When the pres­i­dent first floated the idea of hold­ing the con­ven­tion at the White House, a cou­ple of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors de­murred. Sen. John Thune, the ma­jor­ity whip, said, “I think any­thing you do on fed­eral prop­erty would seem to be prob­lem­atic.” And Sen. John Cornyn used nearly iden­ti­cal lan­guage: “I would have to have some­body show me where it says he could do that. I would think on govern­ment prop­erty would be prob­lem­atic.”

But then Trump went ahead and did it, and they were heard no more.

Dur­ing the orig­i­nal re­port­ing of Trump’s ex­tor­tion­ate de­mands on Ukraine, Ax­ios asked Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham whether he could en­vi­sion any cir­cum­stances un­der which he would vote to con­vict Trump.

“Sure,” he said. “Show me some­thing that is a crime. If you could show me that Trump ac­tu­ally was en­gag­ing in a quid pro quo, out­side the phone call, that would be very dis­turb­ing.”

But when the ev­i­dence was forth­com­ing, Gra­ham was not. Like ev­ery other Repub­li­can ex­cept Mitt Rom­ney, he let it go.

And be­cause the Repub­li­can Party elites have over­looked so many vi­o­la­tions of law and cus­tom, the trans­gres­sions have be­come more fla­grant. The morn­ing af­ter Robert Mueller tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress and was per­ceived to be in­ef­fec­tual, Trump di­aled up Volodymyr Ze­len­sky and at­tempted to ex­tort him. When his in­vi­ta­tion to sup­port­ers to rough up pro­test­ers went un­re­but­ted by Repub­li­cans, he openly cheered vig­i­lantes who strapped on long guns and went look­ing for vi­o­lence in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin.

The irony is thick. In 2016, Don­ald Trump ran against what he called the “cor­rupt” Repub­li­can elites who had failed to stand up for the work­ing man. In re­al­ity, the true dere­lic­tion by Repub­li­can elites has come af­ter Trump’s tri­umph, with their cring­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion of his es­ca­lat­ing of­fenses.

Only Repub­li­cans were in a po­si­tion to af­fect Trump’s con­duct. Any crit­i­cism by Democrats would be dis­missed as par­ti­san snip­ing. Only mem­bers of his own party could have up­held cru­cial stan­dards of demo­cratic gov­er­nance, and they failed.

There have been one or two ex­cep­tions to this rule of Repub­li­can ser­vil­ity. When Repub­li­cans joined Democrats to crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing im­mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents at the bor­der, Trump re­versed the pol­icy. And when the pres­i­dent floated the idea of post­pon­ing the elec­tion, Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell and Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy both jumped to con­tra­dict him.

Trump never men­tioned it again.

But those ex­am­ples are not com­fort­ing. Quite the op­po­site. They re­veal how sen­si­tive Trump ac­tu­ally was to pres­sure. They show how very easy it would have been for Repub­li­cans to main­tain a min­i­mum of civic hy­giene. In­stead, they ig­nored the po­lit­i­cal equiv­a­lent of turn­stile jump­ing, pub­lic uri­na­tion and break­ing win­dows. They per­mit­ted an at­mos­phere of dis­or­der and law­less­ness. And now Trump is openly in­cit­ing vi­o­lence on the streets, fo­ment­ing distrust of the elec­tion re­sults and wel­com­ing in­sane con­spir­acists into hon­ored po­si­tions in Amer­i­can pub­lic life.

When one bro­ken win­dow goes un­re­paired, the rest are soon bro­ken as well. Mona Charen is a se­nior fel­low at the Ethics and Pub­lic Pol­icy Cen­ter.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, flanked by Don­ald Trump Jr., first lady Me­la­nia Trump and Bar­ron Trump, stands on the South Lawn of the White House on the fi­nal day of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion on Aug. 27.



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