The Riddle of Trumpian Normalization

Here’s a riddle that I hope we will all keep in mind:

Two weeks ago, there was bipartisan consensus that Donald J. Trump was uniquely unqualified for the job of President of the United States.

We heard this from Democrats, we heard this from Republicans, we heard this from every newspaper editorial board not owned by one of Trump’s close, personal friends. Newspapers that had not endorsed a Democrat in over a century weighed in against Mr. Trump, so sure were they that he would be an existential crisis for the country.

If you believed two weeks ago that Donald Trump was temperamentally unfit for the Presidency, and you believe today that he might be just fine, what new information led you to this new conclusion?

In the week since Trump became President-elect, we have seen an increase in racist and sexist violence across the country. Trump’s response was to deny that it was happening, blame the media, and then offer a lukewarm rejoinder, “I’ll say this, if it helps, stop it.” We’ve also seen anti-Trump protests, which provoked him to tweet “Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!

Mr. Trump, it seems, has not yet figured out that if he wants the country to come together and unite, it is now his job to unite us.

Trump has also appointed Steve Bannon as his Chief White House Strategist. Who is Steve Bannon? He’s the white nationalist purveyor of Breitbart.com. He’ll be in the White House now, directing strategy from here on out.

This is not normal. This is the Trump that we feared two weeks ago. The only new information that might lead us to think differently is “well, but he’s president now.” And that is the refuge of the cowardly complacent.

We are not safe right now. This is a dangerous time. Pretending that it isn’t only permits the danger to spread.

We are going to need the press to adopt a new adversarial identity. We still have press freedoms right now. They have not yet been restricted. Those freedoms will be chipped away if we grant the new Trump administration the assumption of normalcy.

We are going to need Republicans who are willing to stand up to the worst excesses of the Trump administration, even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular with their base. And that is true both for members of congress and for individual citizens. Right now I am hearing a chorus of Republicans (and their enablers in the pundit class) chanting that there is “nothing more offensive” than labeling all of Trump’s voters as racists.* At a minimum, all of those voters condoned racism — they found it not to be disqualifying. Let me make this very clear: if they do not stand up now against this wave of racist and sexist violence, then they stand behind it. Trump supporters can no longer enjoy the luxury of innocent bystander status.

I hope and pray that the pressures of the Presidency transform Donald J. Trump into a serious man, capable of fulfilling the duties and respecting the traditions and constraints of the office. But I do not expect or assume this will happen. Until he proves himself to be up to the task, I will continue to presume that he is a danger to the republic. You should do the same.

Donald Trump told us what kind of man he was. Every gatekeeper of any sort measured his worth and found him wanting. He was elected anyway, because he received several million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, but they were the right votes from the right citizens in the right states. And now he has unfettered power.

If you believed he was unfit before, please do not assume he is fit now simply because we need him to be.

*Personally, I find the swastikas painted on the side of high schools more offensive. I suppose they’d say that’s just a matter of taste.

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