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Demagogic Stress and Constitutional Growth

The US Constitution is less a fixed “thing” than a process of creation and re-creation, an intergenerational project of stress and growth. President Donald Trump, without remotely appreciating or caring about what he has been doing, has engaged that creative process in transformative ways.

CAMBRIDGE – The United States is living through a remarkably convulsive period in its history. Donald Trump has reshaped the American presidency, and his norm-shattering behavior has tested the US Constitution in profound ways. He has placed stress on points of constitutional vulnerability, particularly when it comes to judicially unenforceable norms of respect for fact-based reality, for orderly decision-making, and for investigatory and prosecutorial independence.

Trump’s rise to power has also raised questions about some of the Constitution’s most solidly entrenched provisions. His victory in 2016 highlighted the dangers posed by the Electoral College in the face of changing demographic realities, and now his presidency is testing the viability of the impeachment process to cope with a demagogue who has captured the machinery of an entire political party and controls one chamber of Congress.

Some have argued that that the Trump presidency represents no more than a mere “blip” in American history. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes that historians will view our current moment as no more than “an aberration.” Others have suggested similar notions, characterizing the question of Trump’s long-term impact on American politics and society as up for debate. The arc of history is long, go such arguments, and this presidency will look much smaller in the rear-view mirror than it does today.