As President Donald Trump faces reelection, it is hard to see him as a conservative in the strict sense of the term. Since taking office, he has demeaned and dismissed a wide swath of long-respected institutional practice at all levels of government.
He's having the Commerce Department end the 2020 census collection four weeks earlier than planned, to better exclude people in the country illegally from the congressional reapportionment count. The early deadline brought warnings this week from former Census Bureau directors of “seriously incomplete enumerations.” But the sanctity of a nonpartisan count of households may matter little at the White House.
Earlier, the administration tried but failed in court to include a question about immigration status on census forms. But Trump last year criticized earnest bipartisan objections from census professionals as "part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen."
Even the Postal Service draws his institutional disrespect. The new postmaster general, GOP donor Louis DeJoy, has announced operational changes that could lead to delays in mail delivery. This happens to come as the coronavirus crisis increases the demand for mail-in voting, which Trump selectively denounces as fraud-riddled, depending on which party controls the state using it.
Trump's demeaning of the way bipartisan state election boards generally carry out balloting began early. He appointed a "voter fraud" commission, which was soon disbanded after discovering nothing. The president never specified reforms or tried to encourage confidence in the system. He uses the term "rigged" with abandon.
If elections can be unfairly rigged in the U.S., certainly court cases can be fixed, as if this were the old Soviet Union or the new Russia.
Believe Trump, and you must accept that our courts are inequitable. That, you would guess, is so widespread that every time one of Trump's campaign associates is convicted, it is a travesty that can be corrected only by presidential commutation or pardon. Justice Department lawyers handling corruption cases in recent years were overruled by Trump's loyal attorney general, William Barr.
The institutional attack prompted 1,100 former prosecutors and officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations to sign an open letter in February condemning Barr and Trump for insider manipulation of the Roger Stone case.
Trump also implies that the IRS is inefficient and unfair by claiming he’s been under audit for many years, which we are to believe prevents him from disclosing his taxes like other candidates. Not paying taxes "makes me smart," he said in 2016.
Trumpian contempt for U.S. institutions is broad: Environmental Protection Agency experts can’t be believed on climate change; the pandemic preparation task force wasn’t worth keeping; generals must be corrected on Mideast strategy because the president knows better; and the Pentagon let the military become denuded before Trump came along.
Also part of the Trump doctrine: The news media is the enemy; the FBI can be manipulated by a “deep state”; inspectors general are useless; civil rights legislation of the 1960s failed to do anything; and the no-good Congress overstates its power to approve budgets and impeach presidents.
For someone who likes military parades and denounces those who kneel for the national anthem, the president shows amazingly little reverence for the daily operations of the republic for which the flag he makes a great show of hugging stands.
Who knows? Maybe if he wins reelection, Trump can scrape up a little faith in the workings of the American system, which the average citizen already seems to have.