*This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution"
by Jamal Greene, ACS Board of Academic Advisers Member and Dwight Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
The election of Donald Trump as president represented a failure of American politics. No healthy political culture could have produced his presidency. What is less clear, and what I wish to address here, is whether Trump’s election also represented a failure of the U.S. Constitution. Do our constitutional arrangements predict just the kind of political failure that materialized in November 2016? If so, does that mean that the long-term remedy for that failure lies in constitutional reform? Does our constitutional fate, in other words, determine our political fate?
Trump’s election has many causes, some of which are clearly contingent. It is easy to imagine Hillary Clinton winning an election held one week later, say, or two weeks earlier. And so the question that interests me arises from the possibility of Trump’s being elected rather than the fact of his election itself. The question does not, moreover, depend on Trump’s particular cocktail of policy interests (such as they are). Trump’s presidency is a crisis not because of his policy positions but because of his corruption, his infantile temperament, his dangerous self-obsession, his sexism and sympathy to white nationalism, his indifference to the truth and his fundamental indecency. A leftist version of Trump is imaginable and, in my view, equally frightening.
The set of conditions that create the possibility of a Trump or Trump-like presidency are many and are contestable. The umbrella term I will place over at least a subset of those conditions is one I borrow from economics: disintermediation. Disintermediation is what it sounds like: cutting out the middle person, typically from a supply chain. Intermediaries such as distributors or brokers connect sellers to buyers. This is easy to see in a commercial market, and it is equally easy to see how technological change can reduce the need for intermediaries. Amazon is a low-cost means of connecting buyers to sellers. Trulia connects home buyers to sellers without the need for real estate brokers. But disintermediation also occurs in political and information markets, as the Internet and social media platforms diminish the need for traditional information brokers such as major media outlets.