What's been so remarkable to me is not just Trump and his manifest incompetence and ignorance. He is a piece of work, but he is only an extension of the same pathologies we've seen emerge in figures like Sarah Palin--the naked racism, contempt for knowledge and expertise, and that shocking melange of arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance. He's not different from Palin, he's just a more concentrated version of all the same qualities.
No, what's remarkable is that he has shattered the norms that govern politics. Societies function not because of formal laws, but because of unwritten agreements. It's the way civilized people navigate the world. These unwritten agreements undergird government function, and critically. In 2000, Al Gore acceded to the nakedly political (and internally inconsistent) fiat by the Supreme Court that installed Bush as president. In functioning governments, the judiciary's rule is sacrosanct--if it is nothing but a rubber stamp to the party in office, then there's really no law. Once one branch defies another, things fall apart. And there's no law that says they can't defy each other. Had Gore said, "Nah, I don't accept it. Democrats, stand with me as we continue to fight this battle," things could have gone sideways very fast.
The GOP has been nibbling at the edges of this kind of norm-flouting for years. Obama's got the constitutional right to have his Supreme Court nominee considered by the Senate, but they've refused. Earlier, they shut government down as a negotiation ploy for their preferred policies. They impeached Clinton. They questioned Obama's legitimacy and legal right to be president. But in every case, there was an acknowledgement that certain lines of conduct couldn't be reasonably transgressed. There were lines, even if they wanted to push them to the limit.
Not anymore! Trumpism means letting your freak flag fly. Like rebels in a developing country, they call not only for their political opponent's jailing, but sometimes even her death. (An elected official in New Hampshire--and an advisor to the Trump campaign--did that yesterday.) It means constructing grievances over things that are not happening. In Trump-world, everyone is red-faced because Obama has diminished the US's standing in the world (false), because he has illegally used executive decisions to thwart Congress (false, but a necessary rhetorical precursor for a party that means to ignore the rule of law), because the economy is collapsing (false), that jobs are all gone (false), that Hillary Clinton is a criminal and murderer (false, as if it even needs to be said). A speaker at the Republican National Convention did indeed literally call Clinton a murderer.
All this grievance (and it's clearly authentic; these people are melting down in real anger) means the folks at the convention, and in the GOP generally, feel that they can break all norms and cross all lines. The Democrats, by this line of thinking, are the ones who crossed the lines. Any reprisal is justified. The Democrats are the ones who flout the law; they are the ones who have nominated a criminal. We have to stop them for the greater good. The ends justify our means.
All of this has culminated in a convention in which a former candidate for president (Chris Christie) put Hillary Clinton on a show trial, and which the constant call-and-response refrain is "lock her up." In politics, once you delegitimize your political adversaries, you'd dropped the threshold--measured by adherence to unwritten rules of conduct--and justified any action you take. This is how third world countries lurch from coup to coup and devolve into constant wave of civil war. We're obviously not immediately devolving into civil war, but we're also not standing on the same firm ground we enjoyed in 2000. (Indeed, imagine an election that close happening this year; would you rely on the GOP to stand down in identical circumstances? Of course they wouldn't.)
That I did not foresee.