Throughout the 2016 campaign, the political class talked a lot about “norms” and how Donald Trump was violating them all. He brushed off fact-checkers, assailed the media, went on Twitter tirades against his critics, and dabbled in racism. Since taking office, his norm busting has spread. Members of Congress who under other circumstances might be constrained by shame, custom, or the will of their constituents have learned from Trump’s election that you can get away with more than we used to think.
Norm erosion is real, and it matters. Economists Daron Acemoglu and Matthew Jackson of MIT and Stanford have written about how rules are only effective when they are backed up by social norms “because detection relies, at least in part, on whistle-blowing.” Their Spanish colleague Patricia Funk emphasizes that in a variety of contexts, “the strength of the social norm of ‘not committing a crime’ is shaped by social interactions.”