The New Normalization

Coping with Crisis in Contemporary America

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld
39 min readOct 2, 2023

The unsettled mood of the United States today is defined by a linguistic paradox. An ostensibly benign word — “normalization” — is increasingly being used to express fears about the country’s direction. Throughout the mass media, journalists and other commentators have employed the term to articulate the concern that the aberrant has become commonplace. Recent news headlines make this anxiety abundantly clear: “As Mass Shootings Become Normalized, Hospital Staffs Prepare Their Staffs for the Worst”; “Normalizing Extreme Weather Dulls Warming Concerns”; “Antisemitic Celebrities Stoke Fears of Normalizing Hate.”[i]

As is shown by these and other news stories, the concept of normalization has gone viral in present-day American political discourse. In 2016, normalization was a contender for “word of the year” and it has become so ubiquitous that some commentators have coined meta-headlines, such as “The Normalization of ‘Normalize’ is a Sign of the New Normal.”[ii] Yet, while writers have taken note of the concept, they have not explained it in systematic fashion. They have neglected to trace the term’s history, explain its new prominence, identify its core features, and assess its larger significance.

Doing all these things is important, as the new discourse on normalization is arguably more than a linguistic fad. The term’s prominence suggests that we may have arrived at a new cultural moment. Ever since the end of the cold war in 1989–90, scholars and other observers have struggled to settle on a phrase that sums up the zeitgeist. Francis Fukuyama’s famous notion of the “End of History” failed to catch on by failing to come to pass. Samuel Huntington’s idea that the world was poised for a “Clash of Civilizations” proved too politically controversial to gain acceptance. And more recent phrases, like the “Age of Terror” and “Age of Disruption,” while pointing to the origins of today’s unsettled reality, have fallen short of fully explaining how people have responded to it.[iii]

Perhaps the concept of normalization can fill this taxonomical vacuum. Employing it may be able to help us grasp the unprecedented changes that are currently roiling the United States and other parts of the western world. Normalization encapsulates the growing sense of many people that the unimaginable is increasingly becoming possible, that what used to be on the margins is now becoming mainstream. Liberals have been especially vocal in voicing concerns to this effect, but conservatives have done so as well. The concerns of both groups are not entirely new, but the fact that they are expressing them in terms of “normalization” is a striking development that needs to be explained.

Defining Normalization

Normalization refers to the process through which something — a behavior, experience, or phenomenon — becomes seen as “normal.” The term thus designates a kind of transformation. That said, the end goal of this transformational process — the condition of “normality” — resists simple definition. On the one hand, normality is a descriptive concept that refers to things regarded as typical, ordinary, regular, common, average, or standard. On the other hand, normality is also a prescriptive concept that refers to the good, the natural, the healthy, and the legitimate. Normality describes not only what is, but what should be.[iv]

Normality, moreover, can be defined not only in positive, but also in negative, fashion, by being juxtaposed with traits that are directly opposed to it. These traits are usually subsumed under the overarching term, “abnormality.” The condition of abnormality can assume different forms in different areas of life. In the realm of social behavior, abnormality means deviance; in ethics, it means immorality; in the legal sphere, it means criminality; in language, it means hyperbole. These observations reveal that the normal and abnormal are mutually dependent terms that rely on one another for their respective meanings.

The supplementary definition of normality has important consequences for understanding the phenomenon of normalization. At the most basic level, normalization suggests a straightforward process in which the abnormal becomes normal. This would initially appear to be a welcome development. But things are not as simple as they seem. Because definitions of normality vary according to time and place, normalization is a relativistic concept. The terms “normal” and “abnormal” are subjective signifiers that reflect deep — and often very different — value judgments. The same “abnormal” condition that one group views negatively can be viewed by another group positively. In the antebellum United States, for instance, Northerners viewed slavery as a barbarous aberration, while Southerners regarded it as a normal way of life. In present-day America, religious conservatives view homosexuality as a deviant “choice,” while liberals view it as an inborn, natural disposition. Depending on how different groups define normality, in short, normalization can be regarded favorably or critically.

This is especially true today because of a new semantic development in the understanding of normalization. Traditionally, normalization was viewed as a positive process in which something that deviated from shared standards of normality was restored to that status. Today, the term has acquired a more negative meaning, one in which the abnormal deviation from traditional norms itself becomes the new norm. Whereas normalization was originally used as a term of aspiration by its supporters, today it is being used as a term of admonition by its opponents.

Historicizing the Term “Normalization”

The shifting discourse on normalization reflects the shifting understanding of normality itself. As a concept, normality has ancient origins. Etymologically, it derives from the Latin word, norma, which refers to a carpentry tool commonly used as a standard of measurement.[v] This origin helps explain why normality has traditionally been associated with the tasks of comparison, evaluation, and assessment. Despite these ancient origins, however, the term “normal” did not come into widespread use until the early 19th century. It first appeared in the 1820s in France, where it was used primarily in medical discourse — specifically in anatomy and physiology — to describe healthy internal organs or the absence of pathological conditions. A few decades later, in 1848, the term made its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary, a time when it began to acquire mathematical significance as a statistical concept denoting mid-range data, far from the extremes. Finally, normality came to be utilized in the fields of physical and criminal anthropology to classify variations in human body type and deviant behavior.[vi] Throughout the 19th century, in short, the idea of normality was defined in supplementary fashion in relation to its putatively abnormal “other.”

This definition of “normality” shaped the early meaning of “normalization.” When the latter term first emerged after the mid-19th century, it was used only sporadically and mostly in a technical sense. In the field of medicine, normalization referred to the use of surgical procedures to correct anomalous physical conditions.[vii] In the field of industry, it referred to practices of standardization, for example, the re-routing of irregular rivers in the Netherlands.[viii] In economic affairs, normalization was used to describe the resumption of regular business activity after temporary disruption, for instance in San Francisco following the earthquake of 1906.[ix] These uses were largely descriptive and referred to the delineation of objective conditions. Prior to the 20th century, normalization lacked any deeper cultural or historical significance.

After 1918, however, the idea of normalization underwent a dramatic change. The upheaval caused by World War I constituted an abnormal rupture in the ordinary lives of millions of people. Predictably enough, the resulting desire of Americans and Europeans to return to normal life lent the concept of normalization new social and political meaning. In the U. S., the concept attracted attention during the presidency of Warren G. Harding, who famously campaigned on a platform of “returning to normalcy” after the Great War. After 1921, American journalists sough to explain the increasing use of “normalization” in daily parlance. Some attributed it to Harding’s popularization of the ungrammatical term, “normalcy,” and the increasing “dictionarization” of standard English.[x] Others emphasized the term’s venerable roots in the Roman Empire.[xi] These etymological disagreements notwithstanding, normalization was consistently used in the years after 1918 as a positive, aspirational signifier denoting the return to order and stability.[xii]

The same was true of the term’s usage in interwar Europe. In Fascist Italy, normalization entered Italian political discourse when the liberal opponents of Benito Mussolini demanded a return to “normalization” (normalizzazione) — by which they meant constitutional rule — following the assassination of Socialist opposition leader, Giacomo Matteotti, in 1924.”[xiii] In interwar Spain, General Francisco Franco used normalization (normalización) to euphemistically describe the violent pacification of his Republican opponents at the conclusion the Spanish Civil War.”[xiv] German political Zionists pursued the normalization (normalisierung) of Jewish life by helping the Jewish people become more like other nations.[xv] In the decades that followed, the turbulent course of world events shifted normalization into the sphere of international relations. During the 1930s, the term was used to describe the effort of different European countries to “normalize” otherwise tense relations — for instance, Germany and Austria in 1936 or Poland and Lithuania in 1938.[xvi] During the cold war, the Soviets spoke of “normalization” in reasserting control over Hungary and Czechoslovakia following the revolts of 1956 and 1968; western diplomats used the term to describe the rapprochement between the U. S. and China (détente) in the early 1970s; and journalists employed the concept to describe the thaw in U. S.-Soviet relations after the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.[xvii] In short, prior to 1989, normalization semantically remained an aspirational ideal.

Around this same time, however, normalization began to acquire negative connotations. In the sphere of international relations, the opponents of diplomatic rapprochement decried normalization as constituting an unprincipled surrender to rival political regimes, with hardline anticommunists condemning détente with the Soviets and hardline Arab nations refusing to normalize relations with Israel. In western intellectual life, leading theorists of postmodern thought, such as Michel Foucault, used the term normalization to historicize the emergence of modern forms of power that regularized control over human behavior through disciplinary systems of inducement and coercion.[xviii] Finally, in the realm of collective memory, West German conservatives, led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, sparked international controversy in the mid-1980s, when they attempted to “normalize” German national identity and were attacked by liberals for marginalizing the memory of the Holocaust.[xix]

The New Normalization

The main impetus for the shifting meaning of normalization, however, came after the turn of the millennium when the intensifying pace of change sparked a growing sense of crisis in the U. S. and other parts of the western world. In the realm of geopolitics, the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11, the U. S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Arab Spring, Syrian Civil War, and Arab refugee crisis shattered the relative predictability of the bipolar, cold war world by stoking western fears of Islamist terrorism and mass migration. Economically, the forces of globalization and technological innovation caused economic dislocation, which exploded in the financial crash of 2008. Politically, a massive challenge to the liberal order erupted from right-wing and left-wing populist groups, which respectively sought to revive the dormant ideologies of nationalism and socialism. Culturally, the backlash was amplified by the information revolution and the rise of a digitally-based social media universe, which provided ordinary individuals with an unprecedented platform to broadcast their views. Hovering in the background of all these changes, finally, were the increasingly undeniable reality of climate change and the unexpected eruption of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The significance of these events was marked by the increasing use of the phrase, “the new normal,” to describe them. Vice President Dick Cheney helped popularize the phrase after 9/11, when he ominously predicted that a “new normalcy” relating to security consciousness “will become permanent in American life.”[xx] A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 made the American business community realize that “precarity…is the new normal.”[xxi] Around the same time, the growing frequency of droughts, fires, floods and hurricanes was described as marking a “new normal” in the world’s climate.[xxii] The marketing of bulletproof backpacks for schoolchildren was widely lamented as a sign of the “new normal” in American education.[xxiii] And the adverse effects of rampant social media use on human cognition (inattention), readings habits (skimming), and personal interaction (trolling) were flagged as the “new normal” of daily life in 21st century America.[xxiv]

The decisive event that propelled the concept of normalization into American popular discourse, however, was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Prior to that point, many Americans perceived normalization as the product of powerful external forces that could be confronted by the political establishment. This hope faded, however, once the establishment came under Trump’s control and internally began to advance the process of normalization by undermining traditional norms.

Trump’s election and ensuing administration unleashed a torrent of news coverage employing the concept of normalization. According to the newspaper databases for The New York Times and Washington Post, between one-third and one-half of all references to the concept made since 1989 in the two papers have appeared in the past four years.[xxv] The new status of normalization was also noted by Merriam-Webster, which called attention to the word’s increasingly negative meaning.[xxvi] Indeed, by the end of the decade, the sense of rapid change was so great that the New York Times columnist Michiko Kakutani declared that “the 2010s were the end of normal” altogether.[xxvii]

Many commentators claimed that the increasing use of normalization was a “liberal mantra” that “originated from left-leaning sources.”[xxviii] These observers, however, failed to note that conservatives also employed normalization to signal their own concerns about present-day trends. Examining how liberals and conservatives have used the concept of normalization, in turn, sheds light on the reasons for its bipartisan popularity.

The Politics of Normalization

Liberals and conservatives have both employed the idea of normalization to address a range of concerns in present-day American life. Liberals have mostly focused on the norm-shattering presidency of Donald Trump. They have alleged that the president has sought to “normalize…the abnormal” in a range of areas, including policymaking, governance, ethics, rhetoric, leadership, and character.[xxix] Trump’s actions in all of these realms, liberals claim, have promoted the “normalization of deviance” and pose a “long-term danger to our republican form of government.”[xxx] Conservatives, meanwhile, have applied the idea of normalization to present-day social and cultural behavior, especially in the realms of sexuality, gender, and religion. They have claimed that new behaviors in these and other areas reflect an orchestrated campaign of liberal democrats “to subvert…American culture,” and promote the “normalization of sin.”[xxxi]

The bipartisan embrace of normalization reveals that it is a powerful concept for articulating discontent about the pace of change in American life. The concept has not only served rhetorical but also analytical purposes. Liberals as well as conservatives have employed the idea of normalization to explain both the accelerating emergence and growing acceptance of new behaviors in American life. By examining how both sides have described normalization, we can better grasp the component parts of the phenomenon, explain its discursive dimensions, and understand why it has become a ubiquitous cultural signifier.

Analyzing Normalization (I): Emergence

Both liberals and conservatives have sought to understand the forces that promote normalization. They agree that normalization is largely an intentional — and frequently political — process that is advanced through sophisticated rhetorical, symbolic, and psychological strategies. These include the strategies of redefinition, destigmatization, repetition, whitewashing, intimidation, gaslighting, and relativization.

The first way that deviant acts are normalized is through redefinition. Liberal commentators have invoked different theoretical explications of this process to explain the behavior Donald Trump. Some have cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s concept of “Defining Deviancy Down” (1993), which argued that societies often contend with increasing rates of deviant behavior by lowering their standards for defining abnormality.[xxxii] In 2017, the liberal commentator Albert Hunt invoked the concept in arguing that Trump had “so lowered our expectations that he is given effusive credit if he ever performs a routine function even adequately.”[xxxiii] Conservatives also used Moynihan’s concept, for instance, Rush Limbaugh, who lamented how liberals, in responding to “aberrant [sexual] behavior,” simply “give up [and]…say…it’s just normal now.”[xxxiv] Other observers explained the redefinition process by citing the concept of “the Overton Window of Political Possibilities.” According to this influential theory, the constant invocation of unthinkably radical ideas outside of traditional discourse expands the “window” of acceptance for those ideas and helps normalize them.[xxxv] As the “Never-Trump” writer David French noted, Trump did not merely “move the Overton Window, he smashed it, scattered the shards, and rolled over them with a steamroller.”[xxxvi] Writing from a socially conservative perspective, meanwhile, William Marshall attacked “leftist shot-callers” for “expand[ing] the Overton Window” in the effort to “normalize” all kinds of “bizarre social changes,” such as “abortion on demand” and the “Green New Deal.”[xxxvii] Still other observers discussed the normalization of Trump’s behavior with the ideas of “mov[ing]…the goalposts” or being “grad[ed]…on a curve.”[xxxviii]

Another important component of normalization is destigmatization. As Kristance Harlow explained in 2016, removing the “barriers of shame” surrounding “a behavior or belief” helps “integrate [it]…into mainstream society.”[xxxix] Liberals have made use of both strategies in pursuing various causes. The group #ShoutYourAbortion, for instance, has sought to “normalize…[the] conversation” about ending unwanted pregnancies by “trying to Destigmatize Abortion,” while other groups have sought to destigmatize physical disabilities, mental illness, obesity, breastfeeding, menstruation, and sex work.[xl] In contrast to these prescriptive uses of destigmatization, liberals have applied a more critical version to Trump. In attacking the president’s corruption, John Piper declared that “a leader should not…destigmatize and normalize evils which, if spread, will bring discredit and ruin to our nation.”[xli] Conservatives, meanwhile, applied the concepts to their own causes. One website ranted that the American Psychiatric Association had put together a Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force to “reduce the…‘stigma’” of “consensual non-monogamy” and “normalize ‘polyamory’”[xlii] Religious groups condemned the “effort to destigmatize, if not normalize” same-sex attraction, incest, pedophilia, and BDSM culture.[xliii]

Another integral feature of normalization is repetition. Various commentators observed noted that the frequency of a behavior enhances its normalization. As James Harbeck noted, “repetition leads to acceptance; if we see something regularly, we come to view it as normal.[xliv] Liberals applied this logic to many aspects of Trump’s governing style. One anti-Trump critic sarcastically invoked the concept of “the Normalization Fairy,” who “transforms the abominable into the everyday, through the simple act of repetition.” while another critic attacked Trump’s penchant for lying, saying that the “sheer repetition of the same lie can eventually mark it as true in our heads…[and makes it] normalized.”[xlv] Conservatives made similar arguments. As Susan Stamper Brown argued, “Democrats understand their lies will eventually be considered ‘truth’ if they hammer away at it long enough….Their goal is to normalize abnormality.”[xlvi]

Normalization can also be advanced through whitewashing. Many liberals warned that extreme ideas and behaviors could be brought into the mainstream via subterfuge. Anne Applebaum accused “national conservative” intellectuals of “normalizing Trump” by “whitewashing” [his]…authoritarian nationalism” and making it “palatable to the wider public” by dressing it up in a sophisticated “intellectual framework.”[xlvii] Other critics noted that right-wing extremists were making themselves appear more moderate by referring to themselves euphemistically as belonging to the “Alt-Right,” a term that served to “normalize hatred.”[xlviii] When NPR began employing the term uncritically, liberal commentators accused the network of “normalizing…racism.”[xlix] Conservatives made similar points. After complaining that “crime-ridden San Francisco has introduced new sanitized language for criminals” by replacing the term “‘convicted felon’ [with]…‘justice-involved person,’” Rush Limbaugh concluded that “we’re having the language changed on us so that we cannot properly identify…the criminal element…they are attempting to normalize.”[l] Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that the television show, Sesame Street, had introducing an autistic muppet named Julia in order to “normalize autism” and distract attention from the disorder’s alleged origin in vaccines.[li]

Another component of normalization is the use of intimidation. According to various observers, the use of force can normalize deviant behavior by compelling silence towards it. Conservatives frequently claimed that liberals deliberately used “political correctness” to promote normalization. Discussing the topic of gay marriage, Aryeh Spero complained that anyone who objected to the practice was branded a “bigot” and warned that “what is radical…today will be…normalized tomorrow.”[lii] Rush Limbaugh made the same claim about transgender bathrooms, saying that “the left [is]…trying to normalize behavior that, for eons, has been considered to be anything but…by beating people down…as…racists.”[liii] Liberals also saw normalization as related to intimidation. One critic argued that Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail had spread a “climate of intimidation” and promoted the “normalization of sexual violence.”[liv] Another claimed that Trump had used “Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation” against Republicans in the effort to “normalize…the idea that all politicians are corrupt” and distract attention from his own misdeeds.[lv]

Normalization can also be advanced through gaslighting. Many journalists invoked this popular notion of malicious deception to describe Trump’s relentless effort to construct fictional versions of reality. Exemplified by his constant rants against the “fake news media,” Trump’s gaslighting tendencies were embodied by his claim that “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not happening.”[lvi] The Washington Post’s documentation of more than 12,000 lies during his administration was part of a pattern that, according to Stephanie Sarkis, was so “continually outrageous that it has been normalized.”[lvii] Other critics claimed that Trump was gaslighting the public when he disseminated rightwing memes while claiming to be unaware of their political symbolism.[lviii] Conservatives leveled the same attack against liberals. Rush Limbaugh accused liberal journalists of “gaslighting…the state of Indiana” when they claimed that the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was unpopular nationally, saying that liberals were trying “to make it look like they are…normal” and “everybody else is…abnormal.”[lix] Other conservatives claimed that the media was “engaging in a sophisticated game of gaslighting” by working overtime to “normalize transgenderism.”[lx]

Normalization can also be promoted, finally, through the act of relativization. This practice denies the exceptionality of aberrant behavior by identifying its existence elsewhere. In early 2017, liberal critics were appalled when Trump dismissed concerns about the human rights records of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un by shifting attention to the United States and saying “We got a lotta killers. What do you think, our country’s so innocent?”[lxi] Conservative commentators, meanwhile, used relativization to refute liberal charges that Trump was abnormal. Arguing that “Trump embodies every vice we have grown to expect in politicians, just to a sharpened degree,” Robert Tracinski noted that those who scream normalization “want to evade the fact that dishonesty, pandering, ambition, and vanity are built into the DNA of…[all] politicians.”[lxii] Jonah Goldberg relativized the responsibility of GOP voters for Trump’s election when he contended that liberals had pioneered normalization by failing to hold President Bill Clinton accountable for his tawdry behavior in the 1990s.[lxiii] Finally, Chandler Hanson blamed liberal “moral relativism” for the spread of aberrant social behavior, lamenting the fact that “sexual promiscuity, abortion, [and] graphic violence…have become normalized and acceptable.”[lxiv]

Analyzing Normalization (II): Acceptance

Liberal and conservative commentators have also shown that normalization spreads through popular acceptance. They have shown that people adjust to the exceptional for a variety of psychological, sociological, and political reasons, including adaptation, desensitization, self-defense, self-delusion, forgetting, exhaustion, capitulation, and legitimation.

Accepting the exceptional as normal is, first of all, an act of adaptation. While adaptation is a natural response of human beings to new circumstances, liberals like Tom Toles found it distressing “how adaptable people are” after seeing how quickly they adjusted to “the specter of Donald Trump moving into the central position of American power.”[lxv] Carlos Maza warned that people were becoming “too acclimated to Trump’s norm-breaking and erratic behavior.”[lxvi] And Yascha Mounk noted that while people had not “stopped finding Trump bizarre,” they had “just gotten used to him,” which was alarming given the “fact that the president of the United States is deeply abnormal.”[lxvii] Conservatives made similar claims about other issues. Catholic activists attacked liberals for seeking “to normalize…gay sexuality” by arguing that “gay attraction is…a cultivated habit” that is “strengthened by habituation.”[lxviii] Conservatives accused liberals of overlooking the “connection between the…disintegration of…[the] family and the Sexual Revolution,” claiming they had “become so acclimated to it” that it “strikes [them]… as normal.”[lxix]

Accepting normalization is also a function of desensitization. Many liberal commentators saw this as one of the main effects of Trump’s “restless onslaught” against democratic norms, which, according to Jared Yates Sexton, “takes a toll as each new development…desensitizes the country and ultimately makes possible future trespasses.”[lxx] “The unprecedented scope…of Trump’s conflicts [of interest],” Wendy Kaminer argued, “effectively normalizes them,” so much so, that “if one source of conflict…constitutes a scandal, a thousand…constitute business as usual.”[lxxi] The result, Matt Lewis noted, is that “the public is too overwhelmed to process the Trump overload” and views it as “normal…because it is.”[lxxii] Conservatives made similar points about other issues. In 2017, one critic warned against passively accepting the State of Washington Supreme Court’s decision against a Christian florist who refused to do a flower arragement for a same sex couple’s wedding, “because that is how a culture becomes desensitized and…how the abnormal becomes normalized.”[lxxiii] Another claimed that the media and “Hollywood” had “desensitized America to the [erosion of traditional] norms.”[lxxiv]

Normalization also spreads for reasons of self-defense. In 2016, The Baltimore Sun opined that “many are attempting to normalize Trump’s behavior as a coping mechanism…to get through the day.”[lxxv] After describing how Trump’s antics desensitized people, Jared Yates Sexton explained that “developing a callus is much easier than continually suffering a raw wound.”[lxxvi] Psychologist John Gartner noted that because “there is only so much stress that a person can endure before they actually start having a physical or mental breakdown,” the normalization of Trump was “a function of simple self-protection.”[lxxvii] It further explained the growing popularity of the phrase, “the new normal,” which Kathleen Parker diagnosed as an instance of “medicating ourselves with verbal contortions” against the abnormality of the Trump administration. For their part, conservatives also saw normalization as a serving a self-protective function. Railing against the “normalization of sexual confusion,” Steve Jordahl rejected using the phrase, “gender confirmation surgery,” to describe a “sex-change operation” as a “maladaptive coping mechanism to deal with underlying hurts.”[lxxviii]

People further embrace normalization for reasons of self-delusion. Immediately after Trump’s election, David Remnick was mystified that “Washington is going about its business talking about who’s going to get what jobs…You would think that Mitt Romney had won. It’s a hallucination.”[lxxix] Seth Myers wrote that “many in the media are doing everything they can to delude themselves…that this is a normal situation — that Trump’s behavior…don’t pose a unique threat to American…norms.”[lxxx] Other critics said this ignorance explained some of the early trust in the new president. When Bill Gates stated in 2017 that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by promoting “leadership through innovation,” one critic said that the Microsoft founder had “slipped into fog of self-delusion.”[lxxxi] Conservatives took a similar stance. Urging his readers to recognize how “the abnormal has been normalized” in present-day America, one writer at the website, Red State, declared that “Christians need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in…is somehow friendly to our faith.”[lxxxii] Another responded to news that a transgender man had become pregnant by saying that “we’re supposed to just take this as the new normal,” but in reality, “we are [falling victim to]…a mass conspiracy in self-delusion.”[lxxxiii]

The process of normalization also entails forgetting. Bill Moyers flagged the “dangerous normalization of Donald Trump” by highlighting “how quickly many Americans seem to have forgotten his stunning deviations” from accepted political and ethical practices.[lxxxiv] Kathleen Parker warned that giving in to normalizing trends brought with it the risk that “over time we forget what normal was.”[lxxxv] Other critics decried this response as a surrender to a deliberate policy of forced amnesia. As Henry Giroux argued, Trump’s normalization of “doublespeak” resembled “Orwell’s machinery of organized forgetting,” which sought to “empty language of…meaning,…ethics, [and] justice.”[lxxxvi] Conservative critics echoed these comments. In attacking the “normalization of pedophelia,” Rush Limbaugh declared that “it just absolutely amazed me that we live in this age where people have forgotten what happened with Sodom and Gomorrah.”[lxxxvii]

Normalization can also spread when the people lose their ability to resist it due to exhaustion. Fred Hiatt explained the normalization of life under Trump as partly “due to …fatigue…because it’s almost impossible to maintain outrage when the outrages are so incessant.”[lxxxviii] Steven Harper noted that “as each outrageous act [of the President] surpassed its predecessor, Trump fatigue settled on the land.”[lxxxix] Lee Drutman went further and referred to an entire condition known as “Trump Fatigue Syndrome.”[xc] Some critics were alert to the possibility that fatigue might lead people to ignore Trump entirely, which the Los Angeles Times editorial board warned against, writing “if we ignore him, we normalize his reckless behavior, and that’s even worse.”[xci] Conservatives made similar claims. In attacking the “Normalizing [of] Homosexual behavior,” Southern Baptist leader, Albert Mohler, claimed that Methodist ministers were redefining “holiness” in ways that ran counter to church teachings because they were simply too “tired of the battle” against liberal efforts to alter “the definition of marriage.”[xcii]

Other commentators saw normalization as a form of capitulation. In 2018, conservative Never-Trumper Charlie Sykes condemned “the capitulation [to] and the normalization of his behavior” among Republicans who “traded…principle for pragmatism…and…fell into line.”[xciii] Stephanie Sarkis accused Republicans of being “complicit in constructing Trump’s alternate reality” because of a deep “fear of retribution.”[xciv] Twitter users endorsed this viewpoint with the slogan, “Trump normalization = capitulation.”[xcv] Conservatives also linked normalization to capitulation. Some Christian conservatives asserted that “the normalization of lying, abortion,…and other sins…is the fault of a sleeping, passive American church that refuses to preach uncomfortable black-and-white truth.”[xcvi] Libertarian journalist Megan McArdle, meanwhile, said that Republicans had “normalized the Left’s violence” by not protesting Antifa provocations on college campuses.[xcvii]

Finally, other critics saw normalization as a form of legitimation. After Trump’s electoral triumph in 2016, Ajay Chaudhary said that “every liberal commentator…must understand that even the slightest inch given to Trump helps legitimize and normalize…him.”[xcviii] Matthew Brewer alleged that media coverage of the Alt-Right not only promoted “the normalization [of their] bigoted opinions” but also served to “legitimize…them.”[xcix] Other critics claimed that “Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric helped normalize and legitimize the kind of white supremacist hate” that inspired the 2019 mass shooting of Latinos in El Paso, Texas.”[c] Conservatives also saw normalization as linked to legitimation. After Trump’s electoral triumph in 2016, Jonah Goldberg asserted that “elections are inherently normalizing” by virtue of vesting the winning candidate with power.[ci] Television Evangelist Pat Robertson, meanwhile, warned that “every society [that] has…embraced,…normalized,… [and] legitimized [homosexuality]…has gone down in flames.”[cii]

Resisting Normalization

While many Americans have yielded to the phenomenon of normalization, others have actively opposed it. Both liberals and conservatives have tried to contend with its effects by employing strategies of resistance, including mobilizing, withdrawing, historicizing, and affirming.

The concept of normalization is an effective rallying cry for political mobilization. Already in 2016, Hillary Clinton pledged that her campaign was “not going to let Donald Trump try to normalize himself” as part of her effort to win support for her candidacy. After Trump’s victory, New York Representative Jerry Nadler (D) incorporated an “anti-normalization” platform into his agenda and pledged to “resist any action that would normalize the [Trump] Administration.”[ciii] Websites like and Twitter hashtags, such as #NeverNormalize, urged people to “stay outraged.”[civ] Emily Dreyfuss explained the galvanizing effect of normalization, noting that it “send[s] up a flare to others…to push back against a presidency that…feels anything but normal.”[cv] Conservatives have also recognized the mobilizing potential of normalization. One religious activist urged devout Christians to “fight [the] “normalization” of homosexuality” by harassing members of the LGBTQ community online.[cvi] Rightwing activist Laura Loomer interrupted a performance of Julius Caesar in Central Park by running onstage and screaming, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right!!”[cvii]

At the other end of the spectrum from mobilization is withdrawal. Some critics pointed to the dangers of activism and advised taking a more moderate stance. Recognizing that it was “easy to let constant outrage turn to exhaustion,” Lee Drutman warned that many people might be tempted to “just…accept what’s happening as normal.” But “if that happens,” he noted, “Trump wins.” In order to combat what he called “Trump fatigue Syndrome,” Drutman argued that it was important to “consume media mindfully, and…take time off now and then.”[cviii] Similarly, Jack Shafter advised people to start ignoring Trump’s tweets, since they were meant to “divert and deflect attention from news that threatens him,” arguing that doing so would help downgrade his importance.[cix] Conservatives recommended a similar course of action. In attempting to contend with the fact that “porn[ography has become] normalized in our society,” one conservative blogger advised that “unplugging from porn will help you become…the author of your own sexuality, not an imitation of something that isn’t even real.”[cx]

Other critics argued that normalization could be resisted by historicizing it. In order to instill a sense of hope among liberals, Terry Newell urged them to recognize that Trump’s abnormal behavior was “not without precedent,” for previous presidents had also broken norms: “John Adams…enacted the Sedition Act to jail opponents,…Thomas Jefferson…tried to impeach a Supreme Court justice, [and]…Richard Nixon lied to the American people on repeated occasions.” More importantly, Newell added, “None of this behavior…was accepted as normal or survived more sober judgment. The Sedition Act was repealed, Jefferson’s effort failed, Harding’s Administration was forever tainted, Nixon was forced from office.”[cxi] A similar point was made by Matt Lewis, who after pointing to precedents for Trump’s allegedly abnormal behavior in the administrations of Andrew Jackson, William Howard Taft, and Harry Truman, concluded, “This IS Normal. American Politics Have Always Been Terrible.”[cxii]

Finally, the opponents of the new normalization have combated the erosion of traditional norms by reaffirming them. Some groups counseled a vigilant stance of norm monitoring, with one group, “Norms Watch,” committing itself to “Tracking Team Trump’s Breaching of Democratic Traditions.”[cxiii] Liberal critics also urged themselves to practice what they preached, with Michael Luo imploring Democrats to make sure that in pursuing the impeachment of Trump, their inquiry remained “anomalous” and did not become “normalized in the politics of the future” by being used as a partisan weapon.[cxiv] Brendan Nyhan argued that “restor[ing]…norms” needed to be embraced by both parties, otherwise it would be “terrible…for…democracy.”[cxv] Conservatives also sought to uphold traditional norms. In proposing legislative bills, such as the “Defense of Marriage Act” and “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” conservatives said they sought to validate the importance of “transcendent moral norms and timeless truths.”[cxvi]

Dismissing Normalization

Despite all the handwringing about normalization by people on the left and right, some skeptical observers have cast doubt on the phenomenon. Conservatives openly rejected liberal claims that Trump was promoting a dangerous form of normalization. In late November of 2016, Fox News claimed: “What those who decry…normalization…are really saying is Trump is not a legitimate president, and doesn’t deserve to be treated as such.[cxvii] Other conservatives dismissed the normalization discourse as a sign of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” with one warning that when “a TDS victim…[says] we mustn’t “normalize” Trump, [w]hat they’re really saying is that normal means of dealing with him aren’t enough. Which raises the question: If he’s another Hitler…then why is assassination out of the question?”[cxviii] Megan McArdle, meanwhile, cited the mass media’s “deep contempt” for Trump to conclude that “[he] as not been normalized by anyone.” If anything, she insisted, the refusal of liberals to normalize Trump “has instead normalized…pervasive anxiety [and]…mass hysteria.”[cxix]

Liberal commentators also dismissed the reality of normalization. Federico Finchelstein wrote that “abnormalizing Trump normalizes the rest of the American landscape, as if Trump were a parenthetical aside in an unblemished history of pluralism, equality and respect for minorities.”[cxx] Corey Robin agreed, noting that the things people saw as “abnormal” about Trump had deep roots in “the whole apparatus of [American] conservatism.”[cxxi] As he put it, “[the] fear of normalization misstates the problem…. It’s never the immediate present, no matter how bad, that gets normalized — it’s the not-so-distant past.” Pointing out that once-maligned presidents, such as Richard Nixon, were being reassessed more positively in light of Trump, Robin concluded “every…rejection of the now requires a normalization of the then.”[cxxii] Other critics accused the opponents of normalization for failing to realize that “normality is inherently conservative” and for neglecting to pursue progressive political change. As Stephen Wertheim put it, Americans “should forget whether [Trump] is normal and fight for what is right.”[cxxiii]

How New? Why Now? Normalization as Cultural Pessimism

While the surging interest in normalization is unprecedented, it is questionable whether the phenomenon is really new. Because normalization is response to rapid change, it is likely that earlier generations also experienced it. When Giovanni Boccaccio documented the arrival of the Black Plague in 14th century Florence by reporting that the corpses in the city’s streets were so numerous that the survivors no longer “honored [the dead] with tears, candles or mourners…[but showed them] no more concern than dead goats,” he was describing how desensitization and adaptation advance normalization.[cxxiv] When French nobles on the eve of the French Revolution reacted to the swift radicalization of the French masses by lamenting “that opinions, which a short while ago would have appeared most reprehensible, today seem reasonable and just,” they were describing the process of redefinition.[cxxv] These examples of normalization avant la lettre suggest the phenomenon is hardly new.

Indeed, it may simply be the latest incarnation of the larger phenomenon known as “cultural pessimism.”[cxxvi] Since the dawn of modernity, people throughout the western world have coped with rapid change by lamenting the transformation of social, political, and cultural norms. Keenly aware of the growing gap between trusted traditions and new practices, they have despaired about the present and the gazed with anxiety towards the future. The difference between these critics and today’s opponents of normalization may simply be that the former expressed their anxiety in different terms. Starting in the 18th century, many Western thinkers used the term “crisis” to describe their awareness of impending change. Thinkers as diverse as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke saw crisis as tied to the phenomenon of “revolution,” the former with anticipation, the latter with dread.[cxxvii] In their usage, “crisis” was a synonym for the spread of “abnormal” conditions, a rough equivalent of the new definition of “normalization” today.[cxxviii] “Crisis” was not the only term used to describe rapid change. Around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, western thinkers also bemoaned cultural “decadence” (Jacob Burkhardt and Friedrich Nietzsche), social “degeneration” (Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau), and civilizational “decline” (Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee).[cxxix] In using such concepts, these and other western thinkers essentially coined new words to describe the divergence from shared standards of normality. None of these writers, however, prescriptively viewed — or explicitly invoked — “normalization” as a solution to the era’s problems. The new normalization may thus be genuinely new. Further research is needed to verify the absence of the concept of normalization from the western literature on cultural pessimism. But if it proves to be the case that the concept of normalization represents a new way of describing an old fear, the question becomes, why now?

Scholars of Historical Sociolinguistics have shown that new words reflect the existence of new needs and emerge when existing words fail to explain new conditions. This is especially true in eras of rapid change.[cxxx] Strictly speaking, “normalization” is not a new word, but its spread in recent years certainly says something about our present cultural mood. Indeed, the term’s popularity suggests that our present form of cultural pessimism may be bleaker than earlier versions. Comparatively speaking, earlier forms of cultural pessimism retained an element of hope. Consider the word “crisis,” whose meaning as a “moment of judgment” (in relation to a legal decision) or a “turning point” (in relation to an illness), suggests that the outcome could still go either way. The same is true of the words, “decadence,” “degeneration,” and “decline.” While they all indicate that norms are eroding, they imply that the process of transformation is impending or underway, rather than finished. It can thus still be arrested or overcome by a Nietzschean “transvaluation of values.” Talk of “normalization,” by contrast, conveys a more pessimistic view of the present. It suggests that the problem has advanced to a more critical — perhaps even terminal — stage. Indeed, the spread of the phrase, the “new normal,” indicates that the abnormal has become accepted once and for all.

In offering this bleak analysis of the present, the idea of normalization also serves a rhetorical and political function. First, the concept serves as a rallying cry that can bring together people who oppose it. Although normalization today undeniably expresses a sense of despair, those who employ the term do not mean to foster a sense of resignation but hope to accentuate the urgency of their cause. The function of the term normalization is not merely to describe reality, but to shape peoples’ perception of it. By raising fears of normalization, its opponents hope that people will stay sufficiently “outraged” to reverse and defeat it. The concept of normalization also enjoys great political utility. Because it is an all-encompassing term that can describe a wide range of phenomena, it can appeal to groups across the political spectrum. The fact that both liberals and conservatives have employed the concept confirms that it is politically ecumenical.

That said, the question remains whether the normalization discourse is overly alarmist. To a degree, it offers only a partial perspective on present-day change, one that focuses exclusively on its negative aspects, while ignoring its positive features. While many critics have pessimistically focused on the phenomenon of “defining deviancy down,” others have optimistically called attention to the phenomenon of “defining deviancy up.” While the former refers to people’s tendencies to lower their standards of acceptable behavior, the latter describes people raising their standards. There is now a growing intolerance of behavior that used to be accepted as “normal,” whether child abuse, sexual harassment, police brutality, corporal punishment, or public smoking.[cxxxi] Liberals have promoted these changes, believing that holding people to higher standards of behavior benefits all individuals by providing them with new protections. As Andrew Karmen has noted, the fact that “harmful behavior by people in positions of responsibility…is not tolerated like it used to be” reflects how “the balance of power is shifting in a more egalitarian direction.”[cxxxii] For liberals, this shift represents a positive form of normalization in the sense of boosting support for sensitivity, empathy, and solidarity.

Yet while this positive form of normalization might seem to offset the more negative version, it too has its opponents. For some time, conservatives have condemned “defining deviancy up” as giving rise to a culture of oversensitivity. In the early 1990s, Charles Krauthammer sought to explain the soaring rate of child abuse, date rape, and other social ills by claiming they did not reflect a spike in frequency, but “an epidemic of over-reporting” rooted in hyper-vigilance. Krauthammer blamed liberals for the phenomenon, saying that for them, “it was not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant.”[cxxxiii] Conservatives continue to make similar arguments today. As Ilana Redstone Akresh recently argued, the problem with treating “the most minor infractions….as if they are serious offenses” is that it “narrow[s]…the spectrum of permissible views on a number of already sensitive topics,” such as racism and misogyny, and actually does “little to actually address racial or other forms of inequality in a meaningful way.”[cxxxiv] Given these criticisms, normalization is far from being viewed with unanimity.

Conclusion: The Future of Normalization

It is too early to know how new normalization will evolve going forward. For one thing, it is unclear how widespread the phenomenon is at the global level. While the discourse has been pronounced in the United States, more research is needed before we can determine the extent to which fears of normalization exist elsewhere. The more it is confirmed, however, the more it emerges as a defining force in the present.

As far as the United States is concerned, the discourse on normalization will be shaped by future political developments. At its core, the discourse reflects the ongoing power struggle to shape the country’s social, political, and cultural norms. The United States today remains a divided country — divided by geography, class, race, gender, religion, education, politics, and culture. These divisions are the main cause of the debate over normalization. As Americans continue to struggle with rapid change and debate whether new behaviors are acceptable, they will continue to argue over whether they should raise or lower their standards for measuring normality and deviance. This being the case, the concept of normalization is sure to be with us so long as disagreement persists about the behaviors in question. As long as Americans disagree about the acceptability of divisive social, cultural, political, and even environmental issues — about whether or not it is acceptable for gays to marry, for marijuana to be legal, for guns to be freely accessible, for elected officials to openly flout the law, for fires, floods, and other extreme weather to be viewed with equanimity — the debate about normalization will continue.

One day, however, the debate on normalization will cease. The daily news headlines will no longer feature anxious declarations about the shift in values and the rise of the “new normal.” At this point, one of two things will have happened: the behaviors that were once viewed as threatening will have become accepted or they will have been rejected. Thereafter, there will be no more need for the concept of normalization, as the resolution of the debate it originally sparked will have rendered its continued existence moot. Normalization is thus a concept defined by built-in obsolescence. It is extremely useful in periods of transition to describe the process of change while it is still underway. But once the “new normal” has been established as the status quo — once it has become reality itself — the concept of normalization loses its purpose. It can then safely disappear.

It does not disappear for good, however. Because modernity is defined by constant change, the emergence of new realities will surely spark renewed debate about whether people are ready to accept them. Once this transpires, talk of normalization will inevitably return. In the end, normalization is a cyclical phenomenon that rises and falls along with historical events. By recognizing this fact — by understanding that it is normal for talk of normalization to fluctuate along with changing times — we can better chart its future course.

[i] Shira Tarlo, “As Mass Shootings Become Normalized, Hospital Staffs Prepare Their Staffs for the Worst,” Salon, August 11, 2019. Kristen Pope, “Normalizing Extreme Weather Dulls Warming Concerns,” Yale Climate Connections, April 17, 2019;

Michael Kunzelman, “Antisemitic Celebrities Stoke Fears if Normalizing Hate,” AP Wire, December 3, 2022.

[ii] Charley Locke, “How Dumpster Fire Became 2016’s Word of the Year,” Wired, January 10. 2017; Emily Dreyfuss, “The Normalization of ‘Normalize’ is a Sign of the New Normal,” Wired, November 23, 2016.

[iii] Strobe Talbott, The Age of Terror: America and the World After September 11th (New York, 2009); Gary A. Officer, “The Age of Disruption,” Huffpost, March 22, 2016.

[iv] Peter Cryle and Elizabeth Stephens, Normality: A Critical Geneaology (Chicago, 2017), pp. 1–23; Adam V. Horwitz, What’s Normal? Reconciling Biology and Culture (Oxford, 2016). Adam Bear and Joshua Knobe, “The Normalization Trap,” The New York Times, January 28, 2017.

[v] Horwtiz, pp. 1–4.

[vi] Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (New York, 1997), chapter 4.

[vii] See C. W. Hufeland, Enchiridion Medicum: Or, Manual of the Practice of Medicine, (New York, 1842), p. 29/

[viii] “Did the German Emperor Do Any Political Business in Holland?” The Pall Mall Gazette (London), July 6, 1891, p. 2.

[ix] “Counting Frisco’s Loss,” The Baltimore Sun, May 1, 1906, p. 1.

[x] John Hubert Greusel, “Thanks to President Harding,” Detroit Free Press, December 17, 1922, p. 90.

[xi] “About Normalcy,” The Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), February 13, 1921, p. 55.

[xii] See, for example, “World Is Back Near Normalcy,” Pratt Daily Tribune, October 30, 1922, p. 1.

[xiii] “A Flurry in Italy,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), October 22, 1924, p. 6. Chiara Ferrari, The Rhetoric of Violence and Sacrifice in Fascist Italy: Mussolini, Gadda, Vittorini (Toronto, 2013), p. 13.

[xiv] “Normalization of Spain,” The Tribune (Coshocton, Ohio) June 14, 1939.

[xv] L. Weinberg, “Umschichtung,” Volk und Land, January 30, 1919, p. 155.

[xvi] “Berlin, Vienna Bury Hatchet, Nazis Report,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 11, 1936, p. 3; “Polish-Lithuanian Dispute Stirs Europe Anew,” Ithaca Journal, March 18, 1938, p. 1.

[xvii] Sarah Meiklejohn Perry, ed., Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe (New Haven, 1984), p. 109; “US and China Edging Closer to Formal Diplomatic Relations,” The Boston Globe, November 14, 1973, p. 20; “The Next Superpower Summit,” The New York Times, May 27, 1988, p. E3.

[xviii] See “Normalization” in Leonard Lawlor and John Nale, eds., The Cambridge Foucault Lexicon (Cambridge, UK, 2014), 315–21. Cryle and Stephens, pp. 7–8.

[xix] Stefan Berger, The Search for Normality: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Germany Since 1800 (New York, 1997).

[xx] “Cheney Returns With Warning on ‘New Way of Life,’” The Telegraph, October 27, 2001.

[xxi] Heather Havrilesky, “Every Job Became a Hustle,” New York Magazine, August 19, 2018.

[xxii] “Scientists: Extreme Weather Is the New Normal Thanks to Climate Change,” Daily Beast, July 27, 2018.

[xxiii] Jessica Campisi and Gianluca Mezzofiore, “A Middle School Gave Graduates a Gift It Hopes They Never Have To Use — Ballistic Shields,” CNN, June 7, 2018.

[xxiv] Mariana Plata, “Is Social Media Making Us Ruder?” Psychology Today, February 26, 2018.

[xxv] According to the Nexis Uni Database, 44% of the total number of mentions of “normalization” in the New York Times between January 1, 1989 and January 1, 2020 appeared between January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2020. (The total number in the last four years was 2,261 hits out of a total number of 5079). For the Washington Post, the figures were 32% (1,073 hits in the last four years out of a total number of 3,353 since 1989). Nexis Uni Database, accessed January 14, 2020.

[xxvi] “The New ‘Normalize,’” Merriam-Webster, November 16, 2016.

[xxvii] Michiko Kakutani, “The 2010’s Were the End of Normal,” The New York Times, December 12, 2019.

[xxviii] Dreyfuss, “The Normalization of ‘Normalize’ is a Sign of the New Normal.”

Jonah Goldberg, “Who ‘Normalized’ Trump? Liberal Pundits,” National Review, November 16, 2016.

[xxix] Gabriel Schoenfeld, “Election Results Did Not Repudiate Trump,” USA Today, November 8, 2018.

[xxx] Terry Newell, “The Trump Administration and the Normalization Of Deviance,” Huffpost, April 13, 2017.

[xxxi] Gerald Harris, “The Normalization of Sin,” The Christian Index, January 12, 2017.

[xxxii] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Defining Deviancy Down,” The American Scholar, Vol. 62, №1 (Winter 1993), pp. 17–30.

[xxxiii] Albert Hunt, “The Danger of ‘’Defining Deviancy Down in the Age of Trump,” The Denver Post, May 15, 2017.

[xxxiv]“The Lawlessness of the Regime,” The Rush Limbaugh Show June 21, 2010.

[xxxv] Derek Robertson, “How an Obscure Conservative Theory Became the Trump Era’s Go-To Nerd Phrase.” Politico, February 25, 2018;

[xxxvi] David French, “For Good and Ill,” The National Review, December 8, 2015.

[xxxvii] William Marshall, “How the Left Tricks People,” The Federalist, February 22, 2019.

[xxxviii] Cliff Kurtzman, “The Dangers of Normalization and the Failures of the American Press,” The Domino Principle, December 14, 2018.

[xxxix] Kristance Harlow, “How Stigma Punishes Victims,” Intersectional Feminist Media, December 30, 2016.

[xl] Kristin Yoonsoo Kim, #ShoutYourAbortion is Out Here Trying to Destigmatize Abortion,” Complex, September 22, 2015.

[xli] John Piper, “How to Live Under an Unqualified President,” DesiringGod, January 20, 2017.

[xlii] Martin Barillas, “Psychologists form new task force to normalize ‘polyamory,” LifesiteNews, July 10, 2019.

[xliii] E. Calvin Beisner, “A Matter of the Heart: Change from the Inside-Out, The Aquila Report, June 7, 2018; Patrice Lee Onwuka, “Shame on Cosmo for Normalizing Incest — Again,” Independent Women’s Forum, November 2, 2017. Brooke Says, “They Want To Normalize Pedophilia; Stop the Madness America!” America Out Loud, January 16, 2019. Rod Dreher, “The Sacred Mission to Destroy Normality,” The American Conservative, June 24, 2019.

[xliv] James Harbeck, “What Does Normalize Even Mean?” The Week, November 22, 2016.

[xlv] “‘Chuck Todd and the Normalization Fairy,’” The Daily Kos, June 24, 2019; Maria Konnikova, “Trump’s Lies vs. Your Brain,” Politico, January/February, 2017.

[xlvi] Susan Stamper Brown, “Don’t Fall for Trump’s Lies,” Winston-Salem Journal, May 15, 2017.

[xlvii] Anne Applebaum, “Conservative Intellectuals are at a Turning Point,” The Washington Post, July 19, 2019.

[xlviii] Jessica Brown, “The Powerful Way that ‘Normalization’ Shapes Our World.”

[xlix] Kali Holloway, “Normalizing The Abnormal: NPR Begins Its Whitewashing Of Breitbart’s Racism,” The National Memo, September 17, 2016.

[l] Limbaugh, “In Latest Bid to Control Speech.”

[li] Julia Belluz, “I Talked To Alex Jones Fans About Climate Change and Vaccines. Their Views May Surprise You,” Vox, April 20, 2017.

[lii] Rabbi Aryeh Spiro, “Political Correctness: A Tool of Liberal Coercion — A Most Un-American Development,” CBS News, January 13, 2017.

[liii]Rush Limbaugh, “My Brother Is Right About the Transgender Bathroom Debate,” The Rush Limbaugh Show, May 18, 2016.

[liv] Matthew Filner, “Donald Trump and Rape Culture,” Public Seminar, October 19, 2016.

[lv] Amanda Marcotte, “Numb To Corruption,” Salon, February 20, 2019

[lvi] “Donald Trump: ‘What You’re Seeing And What You’re Reading Is Not What’s Happening,’” BBCNews, July 25, 2018.

[lvii] Stephanie Sarkis, “Donald Trump Is a Classic Gaslighter,” USA Today, October 3, 2018.

[lviii] Tess Owen, “Trump Retweeted a Video,” Vice, August 29, 2019.

[lix] Rush Limbaugh, Is the Media Gaslighting Conservatives?” The Rush Limbaugh Show, October 30, 2018.

[lx] Jonathon Van Maren, “A Calculated Media Campaign Is Gaslighting the World On Transgenderism,” Life Site News, August 6, 2019.

[lxi] Jim Axelrod, “Garry Kasparov criticizes Trump’s “moral relativism” regarding Russia,” CBS News, February 20, 2017.

[lxii] Robert Tracinski, “What if You Can’t Normalize Donald Trump — Because He’s Already Normal?” The Federalist. December 1, 2017.

[lxiii] Goldberg, “Who ‘Normalized’ Trump?”

[lxiv] Chandler Hanson, “Moral Absolutism in a Changing Society,” BYU Wheatley Institution, February 21, 2018.

[lxv] J. R. Thorpe, “How Our Brains Normalize Trump,” Bustle, March 9, 2017. Tom Toles, “The ‘Normalization’ of Donald Trump is Already Complete,” Washington Post, December 20, 2016.

[lxvi] Carlos Maza, “How Trump Makes Extreme Things Look Normal,” Vox, December 21, 2017.

[lxvii] Yascha Mounk, “Normalizing the Abnormal,” Slate, January 17, 2018.

[lxviii] “Gay Sexuality is Not Something Immutable,” Catholicism Pure and Simple, August 1, 2015.


[lxx] Jared Yates Sexton, “Stop Normalizing Trump’s Dangerous Behaviour,” Globe and Mail, September 19, 2017.

[lxxi] Wendy Kaminer, “Donald Trump and the Normalization of What Isn’t Normal at All,” WBUR Cognoscenti, January 7 2017.

[lxxii] Matt Lewis, “We Have Finally Normalized Trumpism,” The Daily Beast, February 26, 2019.

[lxxiii] Michael L. Brown, “It’s Absolutely Outrageous for the Government to Force Christians to Violate Their Faith,” Ask Dr. Brown, February 20, 2017.

[lxxiv] Noah Millman, “Who Normalized the Word ‘Normalize?’” The American Conservative, November 30, 2016.

[lxxv] Mitch Ceasar, “The 2016 Election: A Democrat’s Lament,” The Baltimore Sun, December 13, 2016.

[lxxvi] “Stop Normalizing Trump’s Dangerous Behavior,” Globe and Mail, September 19, 2017.

[lxxvii] “Psychologist John Gartner: “Two Years Ago I Compared Trump To Hitler,” Salon, June 21, 2019.

[lxxviii] Steve Jordahl, “Regardless of the Label, It’s Still Not Healthy,” One News Now, March 1, 2016.

[lxxix] Walter Einekel, “New Yorker Editor Slams Attempts to ‘Normalize’ Trump,” Daily Kos, November 15, 2016.

[lxxx] Mac McCann, “Seth Myers Goes Off on Trump,” Complex, November 16, 2016.

[lxxxi] Henry Giroux, “Normalizing Donald Trump’s Authoritarianism is Not an Option,” Truth Dig, January 23, 2017.

[lxxxii] Erick Erickson, “God Will Demand an Accounting,” Red State, August 23, 2013.

[lxxxiii] Albert Mohler, “What Exactly is a Pregnant Man?” June 20, 2018.

[lxxxiv] Harper, “The Dangerous Normalization of Donald Trump

[lxxxv] Parker, “The New Normal Isn’t Normal At All.”

[lxxxvi] Henry Giroux, “Trump’s America,” Monthly Review, May 1, 2017.

[lxxxvii] Rush Limbaugh, “Don’t Pooh-Pooh The Left’s Push to Normalize Pedophilia,” The Rush Limbaugh Show, January 7, 2013.

[lxxxviii] Fred Hiatt, “Don’t Get Complacent,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2017.

[lxxxix] Harper, “The Dangerous Normalization of Donald Trump.”

[xc] Lee Drutman, “How to Combat Trump Fatigue Syndrome,” Vox, March 7, 2017.

[xci] Paul Rosenberg, “Escaping Trump’s Twitter Trap,” Random Lengths News, August 8, 2019.

[xcii] Albert Mohler, “Once the Outlier in Mainline Protestantism’s Leftward Shift,” Albert, May 10, 2018.

[xciii] “Charlie Sykes on ‘How the Right Lost its Mind,” January 5, 2018. ; Younge, “Despite All the Warnings, We are Normalizing Donald Trump.”

[xciv] Stephanie Sarkis, “Donald Trump is a Classic Gaslighter,” USA Today, October 3, 2018.


[xcvi] Harris, “The Normalization of Sin.”

[xcvii] Megan McArdle, “We Didn’t Normalize Trump,” Bloomberg Opinion, September 18, 2017.

[xcviii] Ajay Singh Chaudhary, “What a Proper Response to Trump’s Fascism Demands,” Quartz, November 17 2016.

[xcix] Matthew Brewer, “Truth, Relativism, and the News Media,” Fordham Political Review, November 29, 2016.

[c] Greg Panetta, “None of the 8 Still-Hospitalized Survivors of the El Paso Shooting Wanted to Meet with Trump,” Business Insider, August 8, 2019.

[ci] Jonah Goldberg, “Who ‘Normalized’ Trump?”

[cii] “Pat Robertson,” Gwern, no date.

[ciii] Jerry Nadler, “How We Resist Trump and his Extreme Agenda,” Congressman Jerry Nadler, no date.

[civ] Masha Gessen, “Autocracy: Rule for Suvival,” The New York Review of Books, November 10, 2016.

[cv] Dreyfuss, “The Normalization of ‘Normalize.’”

[cvi] “How Can Ordinary Adult Christians Fight Gay-Transgender Advance in the USA?” Jesus the Radical, May 28, 2016.

[cvii] Jane Coaston, “Alex Jones Is Sitting Front Row For Facebook and Twitter’s Senate Hearing,” Vox, September 5, 2018.

[cviii] Drutman, “How to Combat Trump Fatigue Syndrome.”

[cix] Jack Shaer, “I’ve Normalized Trump,” Politico, October 12, 2017.

[cx] “50 Reasons to Add Quitting Porn to you 2019 New Year’s Resolutions,” Freedom Begins Here, December 29, 2018.

[cxi] Newell, “The Trump Administration and the Normalization of Deviance,”

[cxii] Matt Lewis, “This *Is* Normal: American Politics Have Always Been Terrible,” HuffPost, July 23, 2017.

[cxiii] Katerina Wright, “Norms Watch,” Just Security, January 13, 2017.

[cxiv] Michael Luo, “How Trump Could Further Erode Democracy,” The New Yorker, September 30, 2019.

[cxv] Mitch Wertlieb and Liam Elder-Connors, “Dartmouth Prof. on Donald Trump’s 100 Days,” VPR, April 28, 2017.

[cxvi] Ryan T. Anderson, “The Continuing Threat to Religious Liberty,” The Heritage Foundation, August 4, 2017.

[cxvii] Howard Kurtz, “Some in the Media Dig In Against ‘Normalizing’ Donald Trump,” Fox News, November 21, 2016.

[cxviii] Justin Raimondom “Do You Suffer From Trump Derangement Syndrome?” Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2016.

[cxix] McArdle, “We Didn’t Normalize Trump.”

[cxx] Federico Finchelstein, “President Trump Isn’t Crazy,” The Washington Post, January 17, 2018.

[cxxi] “Why Is This Happening? Tracking the Conservative Movement with Corey Robin,” NBC News, May 15, 2018.

[cxxii] Matthew Ygleisas, “Donald Trump, the Resistance, and the Limits of Normcore Politics,” Vox, July 3, 2018; Corey Robin, “Forget About it,” Harpers, April 2018.

[cxxiii] Stephen Wertheim, “Forget Whether Trump is Normal,” The Washington Post, June 6, 2018.

[cxxiv] Cited in David Herlihy, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West (Cambridge, MA, 1997), p. 61.

[cxxv] Keith Baker, The Old Regime and the French Revolution (Chicago, 1987), p. 152

[cxxvi] Oliver Bennett, Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World (Edinburgh, 2001).

[cxxvii] Reinhart Koselleck and Michaela W. Richter, “Crisis,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 67, №2, Apr., 2006, pp. 357–400.

[cxxviii] See R. J. Holton, “The Idea of Crisis in Modern Society,” The British Journal of Sociology, Nr. 4,, December 1987, p. 506.

[cxxix] Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (New York, 1997).

[cxxx] Richard E. Wood, “A Voluntary Non-Ethnic, Non-Territorial Speech Community,” in:

William Mackey, Jacob Ornstein, eds., Sociolinguistic Studies in Language Contact: Methods and Cases (The Hague, 1979), p. 441.

[cxxxi] Andrew Karmen, “Defining Deviancy Down,” Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(5) (1994), pp. 99–112.

[cxxxii] Ibid, p. 109.

[cxxxiii] Charles Krauthammer, “Defining Deviancy Up,” The Baltimore Sun, November 26, 1993.

[cxxxiv] Ilana Redstone Akresh, “The Dangers of Defining Deviancy Up,” Quillette, January 24, 2019.



Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is President of the Center for Jewish History in New York City and Professor of History at Fairfield University