Microcosmic: As Rachel Maddow asks Michael Beschloss his opinion on campaign norms―e.g., releasing tax returns―it occurs to me that we are quite possibly witnessing a microiteration of a problematic thumbnail sketch: If achieved, then change standard.
As Maddow asked, what about the future? And that would approximately make sense: Hillary Clinton is about to be elected president of the United States of America. We’ve already decided that everything else in her career is just that much more volatile and alarming and inappropriate than any man who came before her, repeatedly suggesting with each iteration that we will, in fact, attempt to change the rules in order to forestall certain outcomes.
For instance, who remembers the One-Drop Rule? Was there nothing incongruous or untoward about the proposition that we finally laid the one-drop rule to restα when Barack Obama was elected? Okay, that’s not fair; we lynched the One-Drop Rule and then put the corpse in whiteface: If Barack Obama is one-drop white, we haven’t yet elected our first black president.
Remind me all you want that it didn’t work; I’ll just shrug and wonder why we bothered trying.
Still, though, if we call off the customary tax return release? It’s easy enough to expect the ritual to survive Donald Trump, but we’ve seen this happen before. No, really, did you know that politicians were never supposed to get paid for public speaking when they weren’t in office? Apparently this has always been the rule, and Hillary Clinton just wasn’t smart enough to know. And since her predecessors didn’t really use the private email systems that they actually did, Secretary Clinton should have known that behaving like her predecessors was forbidden; I mean, it’s not like we suddenly invented this standard that what she did was unacceptable out of thin air just because she’s Hillary freakin’ Clinton, right? It’s not like we didn’t care when it was anyone else and then just decide to care because some scandalmongering political opponents decided to pretend something entirely ahistorical and―you know, since it’s “Her”―well, yeah, why not, sounds great. Sorry, I guess that’s just a distraction, isn’t it? Because while we’re spinning pay for play fancies because transparency means we can, the only reason we don’t care about the idea of pay for play through Colin Powell’s foundation, while he was Secretary of State, is because he’s Colin Powell, not Hillary Clinton, so that sort of thing could never, ever happen.
Nor is it just about girls, though it’s true in this case it kind of is. But the underlying principle of schoolyard socialization dynamics includes a function whereby a bellwether among the despised might achieve a threshold of respectability, and the communal response is to alter the threshold in order to maintain exclusion. That is to say, some kids will simply never be allowed by their peers to be cool; it’s a general bully principle, because without it the list of people bullies are allowed to treat poorly pretty much crumbles to dust in the wind.
Image note: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)
Maddow, Rachel. “Historic debate could reset campaign norms”. msnbc. 27 September 2016.