Publication Date

April 2018


Logan Dancey


American Studies (AMST), Government


English (United States)


Since the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, democratic norms and informal conventions have risen to the forefront of the American political consciousness. In Senator Jeff Flake?s speech announcing his retirement on the Senate floor, he declared that ?we must never regard as ?normal? the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.? My thesis revisits what a norm is in the context of the contemporary United States and draws out a history to point to why norms are currently in a state of crisis. My new theory contends that democratic norms are created when political actors relinquish certain legal rights to act in the name of promoting stability. This creates confines for acceptable behavior - political red lines - that are enforced through a system of political coercion, imposed by both elites and voters punishing those who cross red lines. However, the proper functioning of this theory has been thrown off. Both voters and elites have become less willing to retaliate politically against those who violate norms due to certain major trends of modern politics. The end result of this trend is that political red lines have lost their strength. Instead of decisions being made on the basis of political calculus, actors are increasingly using all legal authority granted to them, leading to unstable governing. Major case studies include violations of norms of governing due to gridlock and the uniqueness of Donald Trump in the modern context of norm erosion.



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