So let’s think about it this way.
In a democratic society (which we increasingly are not), should an electorate be allowed to choose a sleazy, corrupt, volatile, sexually abusive, contemptuous-of-duty, lying, incompetent scumbag if the candidate embraces all of that about himself/herself, if there is nothing in any of that which is a surprise, if it’s all there in plain sight before the election? If in fact the candidate is preferred by some for those attributes, because they are expressing their feelings of contempt for the institution or government that is staging the election?
This not a novel problem in democracies, classical or modern. There are Congressional districts in the United States where voters have routinely re-elected Representatives who had most or all of these characteristics, knowing full well that this is what they were choosing. There are Presidents that came pretty close too. (With Warren Harding, voters didn’t know about his sex life or his financial sleaziness in advance.) Berlusconi in Italy fits the bill, and there are other examples all around.
The important thing is not: can people select such a person to lead, with their eyes wide open about what they are doing? Yes, they can, and we shouldn’t be able to simply re-stage the election in a non-elective manner in order to thwart them. That’s the logic of a coup d’etat.
So what makes us a government of laws and principles, then, if it’s possible to elect a person knowing them to be grossly unprincipled and approving of that? In the end, it is this: that there could be or should be some security that the enforcement of the law runs on a separate track from the choice of representatives or leaders.
If there is some reason to think that there is an independent system for holding the elected leadership accountable for actually breaking the law or for violating clearly stated rules, then there is no problem with an electorate voting for someone who has a propensity towards such violations. They’re essentially taking a risk that they will lose their preferred choice at a later date. Yes, the laws being violated or the rules broken may be exceptionally consequential (that’s why there are laws and rules!) but so be it.
The heart of our present dilemma is that there is presently no one who will hold the current elected leader accountable, or there will be no one soon. This is what I’m not sure folks are fully thinking through: there remains a kind of remnant expectation of procedural and cultural norms that functioned reasonably well in Watergate still functioning, but almost every single one of them is gone, most of them deliberately sabotaged. There are no more Barry Goldwaters who, when presented with smoking guns, will recognize an honorable obligation.
The current House of Representatives will under no circumstances of any kind initiate an impeachment proceeding, let alone actually impeach the President. He could murder a baby live on television and they would not. The majority in the House no longer respects the institution they serve or the government they represent. The Senate is unlikely to bring meaningful pressure for accountability of any kind. The Supreme Court might still have a whisper-thin majority that would make a ruling against Trump, but that ends with the next retirement or death. The Justice Department will not only be inactive, it will actively sabotage any inquiry. The Cabinet have been leashed. The press is unaccustomed to being outside the circuit of power and scarcely knows how to use what is left of its fading dominion over the public sphere.
There is no one to send a demand to. We are now alone. We, More than Half the People. The institutions, it turns out, are no better than the human beings who inhabit them, and the sun is setting on the day of people who might have upheld the institutions against their own naked self-interest or their party’s hold on political power. In a way, the only people left to send a demand to are Them, Less than Half the People, and they’re not in a mood to receive it.