Unlikely Lessons from President Trump

This man is not what normal looks like.

Okay. We get it now. Donald Trump is not normal. It would have been better to have gotten it a year ago, but we didn’t. It’s hard to believe we missed it. The man has an appetite for attention so insatiable his credo might as well be The unpublicized life is not worth living. Everything’s covered, from his latest acquisition to the destruction he leaves in his wake like a trail of toxic breadcrumbs: the bankruptcies, the fraud investigations, the allegations of sexual assault — they’re all there. The problem was that we saw Donald Trump more as a joke than a true nightmare. The man was, after all, an idiot. The thought of him being the President was unthinkable…and we did not think about it. As strategy, I don’t recommend this. It doesn’t prepare you well for the day the unthinkable happens.

It was a crazy year, a crazy campaign. Sex, lies, videotape…in other words, American politics. Right? That must have been what we thought, because we went along with it as if the man was just…another man. Another ignorant, xenophobic, crotch-grabbing man. It’s not that people were accusing him of being 100% normal — there was too much dirt on him for that and all he only had to open his mouth to lay waste to the claim. Still, he was accepted. He was given a pass, as if the underlying assumption in all of our minds was that the Republican nominee for President had, almost by definition, to be normal enough. Normal enough?

What is ‘normal’ anyway? People call it a lot of things: bullshit; a social construct designed to promote conformity; the way that things are ‘supposed to be’. There’s not one agreed-upon definition, and I’m not proposing there should be, or that if there was I could give it to you. I just want to clarify what I mean by the term. I’m not suggesting my definition applies in other situations.

I look at ‘normal’ less as an idea than as the category that encompasses all of the things we recognize and accept as constant or recurring elements of our lives. Like soap. And supermarket clerks. And breathing. The basics. ‘Normal’ situations are the ones we’re are used to. Having dinner in a restaurant. Getting stuck in traffic. ‘Normal ‘people are the people who behave, more or less, the same way we do. They don’t eat staplers. They don’t crap in the fireplace. And they don’t brag about grabbing pussies.

Admittedly, what we consider to be normal changes over time. Not so long ago people owned slaves and women weren’t allowed to vote…and both were considered normal. Change happens, most of the time gradually. But not always. Recently in the political arena, many Americans’ concept of normal underwent a major, not-particularly-attractive face-lift practically overnight when a pussy-grabbing man became the country’s 45th President.

It shocked the hell out of a lot of us. We had no idea it was possible. What we have learned since then is that we had no idea about a lot of things. We had no idea how many people disagreed with us, not just about who should be our 45th President, but about what being an American meant. We had no idea that millions of our fellow Americans felt so oppressed and so betrayed by our government that they would (and did) vote for an outsider, any outsider, just because he was one…that for them, the particulars has ceased to be relevant — qualifications, facts, sexual assault charges — none of that mattered. The America they wanted was one that was different from the one that had. In their minds, different and better had become the same thing.

We really didn’t see it coming. It’s not that we weren’t looking. It’s that we weren’t looking far enough. The people we talked to were, for the most part, just like us. Their opinions and values were like ours. We knew there were people who were different than we were (and being good liberals, we would likely have told you that their opinions were as valid as ours, whether or not we believed it), but we seldom, if ever, talked to any of them. What we know now is that the story of what America is and should be is not just one story.

And now…we have a shit-covered Cheeto in the White House. Like it or not, Donald Trump is our 45th President. What are we to make of him now? Does being President automatically make a man acceptable? Has what we call normal been distorted to the point that it includes the likes of Mr. Trump?

I don’t think so. Whether or not a person is ‘normal’ is not determined by his rank or his net worth, it is determined by how he behaves, and Mr. Trump is behaving the way he always has. In the past, when a rule has gotten in his way he has not hesitated to break it. Many of his deeds have been less than honorable and some have qualified as out-and-out crimes, yet except for a few fines, he’s never been punished for anything he’s done. That same behavior — which would likely have landed a poorer man in prison — has now netted him the highest office in the land. If you were Mr. Trump, what would that teach you?

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Donald Trump, January, 2017

Clearly the man thinks he can get away with anything. Why wouldn’t he think so ? He has never been held accountable for anything he’s done. It’s up to us to change that.

When he made a speech a few weeks back, many people said they were impressed by how ‘presidential’ Mr. Trump seemed. By all accounts it was a good performance. The set and the costumes were so realistic you could almost forget the whole thing was a charade.

If being ‘presidential’ means getting through a speech without smearing some Mexicans or insulting Arnold Schwartznegger or making false claims about the size of his inaugural crowd or his genitals…then I suppose I can see how a person might think he was more presidential than he had been. But I don’t think that that’s what being presidential is. I think is that we’re setting the bar too low. Way too low — so low that it’s not a bar at all, it’s just another sign that our brains are so muddled by dismay and misinformation that we think a sneering, vacuous orange-haired molester seems like a ‘real president’ because he manages to talk for an entire hour without any floridly psychotic outbursts. It seems to me that those things are not the same at all.

Not too long ago in a Time interview Mr. Trump told a reporter, “I guess I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m President, and you’re not.”

Mr. Trump, you’ve got it all wrong. Where you are is not the measure of who you are or of how you are doing. It is only people who can, and will, measure that. Powerful as you may be now, you are not the final arbiter of what is good and what is bad, nor of what is false and what is true. Morality is not relative. It’s a slippery slope without much traction, and when it slides, it does not slide up. Mr. President, you are losing ground, but America will not go down with you because we will not let it. Your attempt to make America the Land of the Rich has moved millions of us to action like never before. We have come together again and again to march, to plan, to protest, and to fight for change. WE understand that opportunity is not about personal wealth, but about possibility and equality and community. You have inspired us to fight for that. And we do not intend to stop. Normal or not, this is America now. And it belongs to all of us.