A recent poll revealed an interesting and somewhat disturbing trend in politics. When it comes to leadership, nearly half of the country would be happy with a president that breaks rules. And guess whose supporters overwhelming uphold that idea that rules and laws are for losers?
Breaking Rules for the Greater Good
Yesterday, I stumbled across some interesting bit of information from one of the thousand of polls.
According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, nearly half of Americans (45%) think that because things in the US have gone so far off the rails, the nation needs a leader who's willing to break some rules to put things in order. Slightly more than half of the respondents (51%) disagreed.
If you think about it, it's really a frightening idea.
But what does it mean "to break the rules"? Does this mean voters think a leader must break laws too? Since laws are rules, that is the implication. And because the Constitution is the foundation of legal powers of the government, does it mean that half of the country would elect a leader that would violate the Constitution?
And since the Supreme Court is the official final arbitrator of how the Constitution is applied, does this mean that 45% of the nation believes a president should listen to the high court decisions only when he agrees with it? Suddenly the entire question of the rule of law is called into question. All of our international treaties and nation-to-nation relationships are left to the whims of a leader who likes to shake things up and be "unpredictable."
Of course, the survey doesn't ask or answer any of these issues. It wasn't designed to. It only provides us with raw data.
Who Love Lawless Leaders?
However, when you break down the numbers, there are other things worth noting about that poll.
Compared to the nation as a whole, Republicans, in general, were more likely to agree with the idea of a "rule-breaker" in the White House. Forty-nine percent of Republican voters compared to 41% of Democrats, with independents roughly representing the national opinion.
(Even for Democrats and independents, those numbers seem rather higher than you might expect. As far as the Republicans, it not shocking in the least.
Republicans, since the shaky days of Nixon, have had a love-hate relationship with the concept of one law for everybody, for both king and peasant.
In the Frost-Nixon interview, the disgraced former president was asked, whether a president should be able to do something illegal even if it is in the best interest of the nation. His reply, which encapsulated the GOP mentality precisely, was clearly stated:
Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.
It's the hypocrisy, however, that makes the position untenable. The rule of law, under Republican presidents, is always flexible and subject to personal interpretation.
If Reagan wanted to get around Congressional limits on arms sales to rebel groups in Central America, then he could find his way to justify it behind the backs of watchful eyes. Selling arms to a terrorist-exporting nation like Iran was a bit harder to rationalize.
Selling weapons to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war was permissible because we could do it and nobody had the authority to stop it. Breaking the rules was the proper thing to do, so long as you don't get caught. And when Reagan did get caught in lies, he simply told the public:
A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.Imagine if President Obama had tried to pass that excuse off?
And yet, the very same Republicans are sticklers for the letter of the law when a Democrat holds the executive post. Clinton was almost removed from office- not for adultery but for lying under oath and yet, misleading the public became a full-time occupation in following GOP administration.
The much-beloved Reagan committed the same crime when he gave his deposition about the Iran-Contra affair. In his 1987 speech in which he admitted that mistakes were made and
As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities. As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I'm still the one who must answer to the American people for this behavior. And as personally distasteful as I find secret bank accounts and diverted funds - well, as the Navy would say, this happened on my watch.
Later Reagan claimed, in a deposition for the defense of his former National Security Adviser John Poindexter. that there was not "one iota" of evidence that profits from the sale of arms to Iran had been diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras or that his aides hadn't lied to Congress about the arrangement. Something he had already admitted before the nation!
But that deposition was submitted in 1990, after he left office. For some reason, unlike Clinton, Reagan was never obligated to give sworn testimony while in office.
So all through the torturous investigation, the president (backed by his cabinet, the right-wing media, and all his supporters) was allowed to misrepresent, fabricate and mislead the trusting public all he wished.
But it was not just in the pre-Cliton days. The rule-breaking resumed the moment a Republican became president again.
George Bush and Dick Cheney came to office, many claimed, by breaking well-established electoral rules. Before 911, Cheney broke rules about secret meetings with oil company representatives in the summer of 2001. After the September attack, there was nearly enough justification to break any law to go after "the bad guys." In fact, the bad guys were very likely supported by the Saudi royal families, at least according to one of the 9/11 co-conspirators. This was something Bush attempted- with much success- to cover up. As one source puts it:
But there are other questions here, and they involve the story of how the Bush administration sought to suppress evidence that would reveal how much it knew of the attack plot —and didn’t do anything to stop it.
Ultimately it was not a question of law, or rules but who had the most weapons of war. It became a question of how much false evidence could be manufactured and which of our allies could be sufficently intimidated to assist in what was actually a lawless act. So long as America was behind the project, invading Iraq without UN approval- a breach of international law- was acceptable. To re-fashion Nixon's quote:
When America does it, it's not illegal.
Thus, supporting torture was okay, because the leader of the free world, dismissing international law with a casual shrug, said it was okie-dokie. Out goes the lessons of the Nuremberg trials. Out to the dumpster goes all of the human rights treaties and War conventions articles.
Kidnapping "evil-doers" off the streets of other nations, holding them in a third country (where the levels of human rights protections were less clear) wasn't such a shameful thing if the stakes were high enough.
Justifications could, it seemed, be made for any action. That's what happens when you fall in love with a rule-breaker.
It's hard to ignore the hypocrisy of the GOP when it comes to their love-hate relationship with rule-breaking. Republicans say they love rule-breakers for presidents but only when the rules are broken to suit their own agenda and to their advantage. Otherwise breaking the rules is a criminal, impeachable offense.
* * *
One of the factors mentioned in this poll had to do with economics. Not surprisingly perhaps, citizens facing hard times were more likely to approve of a rule-breaker for president.
A majority (55%) of Americans who report being in poor financial shape, compared to only 37% of Americans in excellent financial shape, agree that the U.S. needs this type of leader.
If you think about history, those numbers don't come as any big fat surprise. The economic uncertainty caused by the Great Depression became the fertile soil for fledgling fascists. Many people to lost faith in democracy and capitalism. They perceived themselves as victims.
Extremism arose as once people searched for a leader who could resolve problems without being overly concerned with civil liberties and bothersome laws. These leaders were law-breakers before they became the law itself, then they became nation-breakers.
The poll found that when it came to race or ethnicity alone, there were no outstanding differences. The variations could be found, however, in the white race. The poll found one important factor in the white population that determine how you might answer the question: educational level.
A majority (53%) of whites with no college education agree that the country needs a leader who is willing to break some rules to set things right. Fewer than one-third (32%) of whites with a college degree affirm this belief.In other words, the view that leaders must sometimes break rules was supported citizens who were both white and a lack of higher education.
That leads to the next interesting discovery.
One thing stood out in the poll results that was hard to ignore. Something that separated Trump supporters from the rest of the nation when it came to the question.
Roughly two-thirds (65%) of Trump supporters agree that America needs a leader who is willing to break the rules while fewer than half of Cruz supporters (40%), Kasich supporters (43%), Clinton supporters (46%), and Sanders supporters (40%) agree.
This dramatic difference makes good sense.
According to an exit poll conducted for the Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research, Trump's core support is overwhelmingly derived from white voters, and not just any white voters, but the less educated population, He draws less support from college graduates and those with postgraduate study.
An earlier survey found similar results, People who supported Trump tended to be less-educated, less-affluent," And Trump also performs particularly well among voters in the 50-64 age range.”
A PBS article quotes Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who observes that Trump’s populist pitch meets with approval particularly among voters facing economic difficulties.
“A lot of people have underestimated Trump because they expect a candidate to do things in a certain way. And because he breaks the mold on that in some respects, they miss when he’s making these appeals that speak directly to the voters."
"Breaking the mold" can be another way of saying "breaking the rules" or at least, defying the usual expectations.
The reason for the willingness to accept an outlaw for president is because many right-wing voters feel the system no longer works to their benefit as it once did.
Once upon a time, a white man without a college degree could generally find work more easily than any black man with or without a college degree. Take that advantage away, you are bound to have a feeling of white disenfranchisement. The sad fact is that it is not really disenfranchisement, but a dwindling of the certainty of white privilege.
“Which of these do you think is a bigger problem in this country — blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?”
The poll found that a large plurality of Republican respondents nationally say that the bigger problem is whites losing out, by 45-19.
Even more importantly, that large percentage was even more pronounced among Trump supporters, with 54% of them saying that the bigger problem is whites losing out.
In any case, Trump's forced to work with a fairly slim demographic and without some expansion out of his core support, winning could be impossible.
Former Mitt Romney strategist (and avowed Trump opponent) Stuart Stevens points out there's a little good news in that.
"The simple truth is that there simply aren’t enough white voters in the America of 2016 to win a national election without also getting a substantial share of the non-white vote."
In blunt terms, when you combine all this information, a clear picture begins to emerge of Trump's support. It's made up the older white folk with low education are looking for a leader who will break the laws on their behalf.
And Trump has promised that he plans to do exactly if elected.
Therefore, the question boils down to whether he can convince minorities, which he needs to win the election, that breaking the rules for white people is just what the doctor ordered. It's hard to see how an African-American voter is going to share in the bitterness of white voters who feel cheated because they no longer receive preferential treatment.
Clearly, that's going to be a challenge.
Even as a candidate, Trump has demonstrated his tendency - indeed his eagerness- to break rules. It's part of his brand. The unconventional candidate composed of 20% politician, 30% businessman, 50% entertainer.
When discussing foreign policy, Trump said:
When discussing foreign policy, Trump said:
"We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable.
The flipside to this view is that it is America's predictability that reassures its allies. In order to be trustworthy, whether we speak of nations or individuals, a high degree of predictability is considered a virtue. (Especially when it comes to a nation with the capability to wipe humanity and all living creatures from the planet.)
His rule-breaking might be endearing to his supporters but when outsiders consider Trump as the next president, they are asking themselves whether we need a president who thinks the laws are dispensable according to the needs of the moment.
Admittedly, Trump didn't invent the idea of the rule-breaker candidate. That was John McCain's 2008 ploy. in which attempted to rebrand his establishment credentials by calling himself as a "Maverick."
With McCain came the Trump enabler, Sarah Palin, who very accurately called herself "rogue." Both candidates reveled in the idea (largely imaginary) of a president who was willing to break rules in order to get things done.
- a man who is dishonest or immoral, or
- a man who causes trouble in a playful way
The word "rogue" can mean "an unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal." It can also mean "someone or something that is straying from the accepted norm of behavior or conduct, sometimes with malicious intent."
There are plenty of people out there who'd say that is a pretty accurate description of rule-breaking Donald Trump.
So, you can't say the GOP leaders weren't given ample warning that tsunami Trump was about hit Republican shores. Now they have to look forward to a popular candidate who doesn't believe in rules, even Republican rules.