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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Does the Broken Window Theory Apply to the President of the United States?

Presidential Broken Window Theory (White House Down)

The Broken Window Theory has acquired a certain cachet in American society. It began as an article in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. It gained national prominence in the 1990s through its application by the New York City Police Department. With the substantial drop in crime, a phenomenon that continues to this very day, the phrase “broken window” moved beyond the realm of criminologists and into the public arena.

The theory posits “sweat the small stuff.” This mantra contrasts with the better known phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “chill.” It proposes that breakdowns in the social order should be nipped in the bud before they escalate out of control. Better to fix a small manageable problem like a broken window before it becomes “there goes the neighborhood.” Better to teach a young child to read than to try to teach a high school teenager who long ago abandoned any desire to learn.

What does the Broken Window Theory mean for the President and the White House? During the last few years we have witnessed the results of the failure to curtail aberrant behavior when it starts and instead to let it fester until it is out of control. At this point no one knows where the spiral will end. Election Day 2020 will mark one critical date in the effort to provide or restore adult control and perhaps the House of Representatives will eventually do something with the assistance of the courts but that is questionable.

The first incident of a broken window occurred during the Republican Presidential debates in 2016. During that campaign, one candidate declined to release his taxes. The Republican Party had the option of stating that if a candidate declines to follow the rules, he cannot participate in the debate. Such a laying down of the law would not have caused the candidate to release his taxes. As everyone knows he is even more afraid of his taxes being publicized than China is of freedom and for the same reason: it would be the end of everything.

In 2016, the Republican Party did not even attempt to apply the rules. The lesson to the candidate was obvious. If you take an eight year-old out to dinner and he carries on like an immature child throughout the meal disrupting everyone, guess what? He will keep acting that way. If the seventh-grade-smart-aleck-dumb aleck is not disciplined in the classroom, guess what? The teacher loses control of the class. If the Republican Party stands by when a candidate flouts the rules, guess what? He is in control of you, not you of him.

Remember when serious educated people appearing on talk shows said once he became the nominee, he would behave like a grown up?

Remember when serious educated people appearing on talk shows said once he became president he would behave like a grown up?

Remember when serious educated people appearing on talk shows said once he had to deal with a crisis in the real world he would behave like a grown up?

Is there anyone who seriously believes he will ever grow up, behave responsibly, take his oath to the Constitution seriously, and put the needs of others before his own?

The second incident of a broken window occurred immediately after the inauguration. The newly inaugurated President claimed that his inaugural crowd was bigger than his predecessor’s. The crowd was so huge it even stretched all the way to Alabama! His spokesbeing repeated this gross distortion of the truth to the press and the country. A colleague introduced the world to the concept of “alternate facts.” Almost right from the start of the presidency we were put on notice that the new president operated in an alternate reality and that there would be flunkies who help him to sustain that distortion.

Perhaps at first, it seemed funny. After all, it was only a parade, not the Cuban Missile Crisis, Charlottesville, or a Class 5 hurricane. At that point, one could even sympathize with Sean Spicer. Once upon a time he had been a Republican, now he was becoming a Trumpican. Historians one day will trace the transformations of Spicer and Mike Pence to determine exactly when they sold their soul to the Chosen One. No such analysis will be necessary with the Huckabee Huckster.

Now, in retrospect, we can see that the crowd size was a harbinger of things to come. Like the broken window, it heralded the dawn of a new day. Instead of being a laughing matter, it was an example of how the game was going to be played in the new administration. Just as tax regulations are something to be worked around or ignored, so too, all rules of conduct went out the broken window. Who was going to stop him?

Here we are over two and half years later and we can see WHITE HOUSE DOWN. It was the work of no foreign terrorists, no disgruntled insider, no coup d’état. Sometimes people complain that nothing sticks to him, that no matter what egregious action he takes, it has no impact, no effect on his worshipers. One factor overlooked is the pace of the breaking of windows. Think of the beleaguered parent(s) attempting to control the uncontrollable child at that dinner table in the restaurant. The child is inexhaustible, you are not. Remember Greenland? It is already ancient history. How many tantrums have there been since then? Would it ever have occurred to anybody that when a hurricane barreled towards the mainland and devastated the Bahamas, that the President of the United States using a sharpie on a weather map to include an unaffected state would become a leading political issue …and for days upon days?

Amazingly, it once occurred to people that someone would alter an official weather document. So doing was made illegal in 1948. That action drew on decades old efforts to protect the name of the government weather department as the reliable source of weather data.

Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.

Since it is up to the Department of Justice to prosecute the violation, the odds are this broken window will remain broken. It will become another example of how the rules do not apply.

Future President in Training (http://savedfromthepaperdrive.blogspot.com)

Perhaps our immature child president was drawing on his childhood experiences with “Winky Dink.” This television shown from 1953 to 1957 was called by Bill Gates “the first interactive TV show.” What made it interactive was that a viewer using Winky Dink crayons could draw on the TV screen whatever Winky Dink needed to complete his mission. Was he stuck in a hole? Then draw a ladder. Did he need to cross a river? Then draw a bridge. The key was application to the TV screen of a piece of vinyl plastic called a “magic drawing screen.” The vinyl could be removed when watching other shows.  For all we know the president who functions as an eight year old simply was doing what was normal for him only using a Sharpie instead of a Winky Dink crayon.

Unfortunately, one small step for an immature child becomes one giant leap for the President of the United States. The latest in the never-ending saga of broken windows is the violation of Article I of the Constitution. Why should the President of the United States be bound by such restrictions regarding spending? He is the smartest person in the room, he knows best, and only he can solve the problems facing the country. If he tried he could probably find all the funding he needs to build the wall from Kentucky alone. Why stop at taking money set aside for military schools? Why not take the funds set aside for public schools as well? How about social security and Medicare payments to Kentucky residents? What about agricultural subsidies? Just because he choose not to today does not mean he would not choose to do so tomorrow. That is the way the broken window theory works. There is no limit as to where it might lead save in the mind of the individual who mocks the concepts of checks and balances and oaths to the Constitution. At that point, “there goes the neighborhood” becomes “there goes the country.

The press needs a better system to categorize and organize the presidential actions in a broken window society. A proposed system will be the subject of an upcoming post.

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