Customs, traditions, norms and laws have significant differences. But they all establish the limits and boundaries of institutions. This makes it sound like they hold institutions back from reaching their full potential. On the contrary, they give definition to institutions. Without rules, institutions do not exist.
A few days ago, I wrote about institutions. Their presence necessitates a segmentation and decentralization of power into different parts of society. But an institution does not have power. The institution is not an organization. It takes an organization or a position to accumulate power. The family is an abstract notion of rules to define a power relationship. The family has no power. But an individual family does represent a power relationship between the parents and the children.
But parents have limits to their power. Some of these limits are defined through other power relationships. For example, the government prosecutes child abusers. Social workers may step in for the protection of the children. There are rules to govern the family. Some are laws but some are social norms. The clothes we wear, the food we eat and the activities we participate are all part of societal norms. Modern society has broken down many traditions, but new expectations and traditions are established to take their place.
The specific rules for institutions are not important. The difference in family law between the United States and Russia does not fundamentally change the institution of the family. These are categories we create in our minds. Institutions have expectations we create for them. This governs the power relationships within the institution. This becomes critical as we begin to think of “political” institutions.
Laws are simply customs. They have meaning when they are backed by the power of the state. The power of the state is compelling when it establishes its institutional supremacy. But “political” institutions are governed through norms and customs as well as norms. The Presidency of Donald Trump has become so unsettling for many Americans because he defies many of the essential norms for democracy.
During the 2016 Presidential Election, Donald Trump said the election was rigged. This was dangerous. But on October 19th, he told moderator Chris Wallace he was not sure whether he would accept the election results if he lost. Instead he said, “I will look at it at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.” This cavalier attitude toward the central norm of the American Republic and Democracy represents the greatest threat to the American political system.
Controversy has not escaped American Presidential Elections. The election results in three states were in dispute in the election of 1876. This brought about the “Corrupt Bargain” that ended Reconstruction. The results in Florida were suspect in the election of 2000. The ruling of the Supreme Court gave the Presidency to the Republican Party. But in both cases, the outcomes were determined peacefully.
The Presidential of election of 1860 brought about the election of an abolitionist President. The South did not dispute the election results but refused to accept his Presidency. The result was a catastrophic Civil War. What happens when the President refuses to relinquish power because the election was rigged? What happens when the President rigs the election? Sometimes the most important rules are not written into the law. They are etched into our hearts. So, what happens when the President has no heart?
jmk, carmel, indiana, firstname.lastname@example.org