As an Australian, I’m something of an outsider when it comes to US politics. But our two nations are at least cousins, and our politics not that much different. Any Australian can tell you, it can get pretty low. We can relate to a distasteful election. What is harder to relate to is the complete crazy from aspirants to your highest office. I’m talking about Donald Trump. Of course I’m talking about Donald Trump.
I’m not one who indulges in the hyperbole that, if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, he will start WWIII and end the world. The presidency is but one office, and Trump is but one man. I do recognise, though, that it is an inordinately powerful office. No other sensible democracy vests so much power in its head of state. In Australia, we have a Queen, and her representative the Governor-General, and their power is only as moral authority or constitutional safety valves. Indeed, most constitutional scholars  will recognise that when designing your system of government that putting all this power into one office is dangerous, and shouldn’t be done. Yet, somehow America has made the POTUS work, but not without some real effort.
No constitution is perfect. That may be blasphemy for some originalists in America, but surely it’s not that hard to accept that every mortal is flawed, and so is any document they may draft. Thankfully, no constitution requires omniscience from its drafters and complete perfection in its drafting. As times change, as government is put into practice and the kinks start emerging, we discover that there are certain things that need to be done in a certain way, or not be done at all, in order to make the constitution actually work. That’s how a system of custom is built around the constitution, and it is as important as the written document itself. In fact, the UK does not even have a written constitution, simply centuries of custom. That’s the strength of the Westminster system. It’s built on long practice and pragmatism. Things are done in certain ways not because someone in the beginning put forth some lofty ideals (nice as they are), but because when something broke, we had to fix it. Not as clean as the US, perhaps, but the layer of scar tissue holds everything together.
The US is not Westminster, obviously, but still has a constitution held together by down-to-earth, sensible custom. On the issue of the POTUS, it may not be apparent on the surface, but there are many, many checks and balances that keeps the office ‘in line’, so to speak. And of course, there is the simple respect for the office and for the system of democracy and for the spirit of the law that keeps the office from being abused. And this is where a President Trump will be dangerous. Not because he would know the nuclear launch codes (but you’re right, that’s pretty scary) but because his complete disrespect for the responsibilities of the office and for the finer points of democracy. In fact, he doesn’t even need to win to do damage, it’s already begun. He has a;ready refused to commit to accepting the results of the election. And while that position has rightly drawn condemnation from all corners, it already sets a dangerous precedent. Donald Trump does have a very loyal base. His methods have brought him success. And in the future, there will be those who will run for the office of POTUS who will decide that they don’t have to respect democracy, don’t have to release their tax returns, and don’t have to operate with a shred of dignity, because Donald Trump certainly didn’t have to. Just avoid bragging about sexual assault on camera and you’re gold.
And that’s how America falls, not with a bang but a whimper, not by any outside force but by internal erosion. One a a time, the customs and traditions that hold your system of government together get worn away. Perhaps it won’t happen, and the country will do some thorough self-examination. But once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put back.