Mutual toleration is a term that I didn’t know existed but it does almost perfectly describe the current political problems.
President Trump hasn’t destroyed the republic. This should not surprise us. Our democratic institutions are strong. And Mr. Trump, despite his reckless attacks on democratic norms, is a weak and inept leader.
But that doesn’t mean democracy is safe. The problems we face run deeper than the Trump presidency. While Mr. Trump’s autocratic impulses have fueled our political system’s mounting crisis, he is as much a symptom as he is a cause of this crisis.
To function well, democratic constitutions must be reinforced by two basic norms, or unwritten rules. The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.
The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.
Yeah, I can see that these two basic norms for a democracy are being stretched to the limit during our present times. I would suggest you click on the link above to read this entire article if you have the time.
When did we stop accepting that our political opponents are legitimate? When we stop thinking of those on the other side as a loyal opposition and start thinking of them as the enemy, political disintegration occurs. Of course, there have always been radical fringe factions in our political parties with the “enemy” mentality but they now seem to have almost “taken over the asylum” so to speak. I kinda think these times can be easily ameliorated is only all of us would become more fundamentally engaged in the election of our officials.
In some ways, the second stated basic norm is more troubling than the first. First off, when our constitution was written the idea of two opposing political parties was not on the radar screen. I think it was just assumed that the people we elected all had a common goal of representing the “people”, not just a subgroup. It also assumed that the chosen leader of our country would be an accomplished statement, like our first president, who would not seek the office for power.
In a closing thought, I think it is time for us to revisit our cherished document to bring it up to the reality of our times. Putting one person in charge of the entire executive branch is a recipe for disaster. Maybe it is time to more thoroughly define where power belongs to each branch of government. No, I don’t have a proposed solution for this; that effort is way above my pay scale so to speak, but I kinda think it is time to make that happen.