Lawyers, rather than elected leaders or activists, are playing the most visible role in responding to emergencies created by the Trump administration. I have a great deal of respect for attorneys — as a law professor, I make my living by training them — but they are not the best first responders to the Trump presidency.

In a time when Donald Trump’s platform — building the wall, banning the Muslims, making America great “again” — poses central questions about our national identity, everybody has an opinion about rules. Even ordinary citizens are using legal discourse, rather than discussions of values or policy, to assess the dire state of affairs. Americans are asking questions like, is collusion a crime? Can a sitting president be criminally indicted or would he have to be impeached first?

One poll reports that 49 percent of voters think the president is guilty of obstruction of justice. Cable television features debates about whether President Trump’s tweets should be admitted as evidence in federal court. Senate committees convene to consider whether Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign conspired with Russians to subvert United States democracy but the senators’ questions focus on whether any of the president’s men attempted to impede the investigation (at this point no women have emerged as subjects of the investigation).

The resort to law in a time of crisis is not new. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in 1835, observed “there is hardly any political question in the United States that sooner or later does not turn into a judicial question.” But the prominence of legal discourse waxes and wanes depending on whether we trust the political process, and our elected officials.

Whether they loved or hated Barack Obama, hardly anyone thought he was corrupt. But when we don’t have that confidence about our elected leaders, we revert to legal concepts and principles — and of course lawyers — to frame discussion of public issues. During such times, Americans may feel an especially urgent need to invoke law as a constraint on power.

Enter Donald Trump. His 2016 presidential campaign is being investigated to determine if staffers colluded with Russians, and the president is reportedly under investigation in connection with his firing of James Comey, the F.B.I. director who was leading the collusion probe. Now many people associated with either the campaign or the Trump White House are lawyering up. Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, has even hired his own lawyer.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian influence on the 2016 election, may be the most powerful person in the country right now. But whether obstruction of justice counts as a high crime or misdemeanor is not the most important question posed by Mr. Trump’s presidency. We should not have a crook for president, and we absolutely need an investigation to determine whether we do. Still we’re not all good if the special counsel determines that Mr. Trump did not commit an impeachable offense.

Regardless of what happens with Mr. Mueller’s investigation, we should be worried about what President Trump’s rise to power says about our values, public policy and culture. Does the alt-right movement present a significant threat, or is it a fringe group that’s best to ignore? Why did 52 percent of white women vote for a man who repeatedly made sexist comments, and against a better-qualified female candidate? What will be the consequences of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s plan to ratchet down federal oversight of police departments and ratchet up the war on drugs? Is Mr. Trump’s “America First” isolationism in our nation’s best interests? Do the president’s consistent attacks on the media jeopardize a free press? Why don’t Mr. Trump’s lies seem to bother his supporters? These are conversations in which ordinary citizens — teachers and artists and faith leaders — should have as much to say as lawyers.