Contrary to the television ads, America does not run on Dunkin’, nor does it run on the Constitution: it runs on a shared commitment to maintaining a democracy.
It’s not laws, or statutes, or court cases; instead it’s an ongoing series of little agreements we make with ourselves and with each other to make the country safe, practicable, and functioning.
We are responsible for it. No one else.
We know, for instance, that if we all wanted drive 100 mph on the Interstate, most of us would get away with it: there aren't enough troopers to arrest us. But we don't do it because we know it's dangerous, it may imperil us, our families, and other people we don't even know. (Why the same philosophy doesn't hold true for masks during this pandemic is regrettable, but a complaint for another day.)
It's those little agreements, all those little niceties, in short all the adjuncts associated with America that are being eroded, removed, and in many cases abolished. We will be the worse for it in the end when we come to the realization that Donald Trump did not drain the swamp, but instead drained away the commitments that keep us from driving 100 mph, or parking in a restricted zone, or throwing garbage into the streets, or mowing our lawns at 2:00 a.m. Trump has removed what we had tacitly shared. He took what we used to call common courtesy, demeaned it as political correctness, and replaced it with a selfish individualism that recognizes legalities merely as objects to circumvent.
To his admirers it's Trumpism. To his apologists it's libertarianism. To those still interested in America as an idea, it's self-absorbed criminality blatantly displayed in full view of the American people with the Justice Department as cheerleader and enabler.
Such is the state of existence when we have a president who consorts with—and may very well be—a criminal.
The framers of the Constitution did not plan for this. They knew there was a risk in allowing citizens to take part in determining their leaders. They knew there would be the uneducated and the uninformed, but they also believed that the love of country would always supersede the love of self. They were wrong more than once: we saw it in the corruption of Reconstruction, in the hedonism of the 1920s, even to some degree in the greed and excess of the post-9/11 world. But the framers never believed that the citizenry would knowingly elect a criminal, and said criminal would pervert their very Constitution, using it to abridge people's rights instead of defending them.
We are at a turning point, one which has less to do with the coming election than with the laws of the land. It's conceivable that the Constitution that served us so well for so long just wasn't designed for a country so radically different from the one that existed in the 1700s. Maybe the founding fathers' desire to forgo a king for a president was merely an issue of semantics...was useful only so long as the president put the good of the country before himself—in short, acted more like a leader of equals than an overlord of inferiors.
Those little agreements: Donald Trump scoffs at them. As such the Constitution has become a travesty, and we are impotent to prevent its further deterioration. Until four years ago, Constitution crises were rare in the United States; now they occur daily.
If Joe Biden can unseat Donald Trump, one of his first missions must be to re-examine the laws of the land to prevent further abuses should another criminal ascend to the presidency. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have shore up the places where malfeasance occurs with impunity, and reinforce and reinstate the concept of a balance of power. That would be a start.
The United States of 2020, with its rapacious president and his effete followers, bears little resemblance to the country at whose inception came aspirations of freedom, order, and democracy. But now that we know where our weaknesses lie and how they can be exploited by autocracy and corruption, we need to pursue a new set of fundamental principles. The old ones lasted more than 200 years; there's no reason a new set cannot do the same.