THE DANGEROUS NORMALIZATION OF DONALD TRUMP

[This article first appeared at billmoyers.com on January 5, 2017]

There’s a way to keep our short attention spans and Trump’s norm-shattering behavior from damaging the republic: “Expose and Oppose.”

The Dangerous Normalization of Donald Trump

[W]hatever is going to happen is really here now — if only one could see it.”
— H.G. WELLS, 1916

Americans are living through the dangerous effort to normalize the abnormal candidate who won the presidency with a record popular vote deficit of nearly 3 million ballots. Donald Trump has about the same popular support as losing candidates Michael Dukakis (1988) and John Kerry (2004). But that won’t slow him down.

As with many insecure leaders, he’ll attempt to govern as if he had a mandate for sweeping change. He doesn’t. Any mandate resides with the opposition.

The first step in his path toward a destination that only he knows is normalizing him. He’ll succeed and, in the process, subject the republic to incalculable damage only if others let it happen or, even worse, assist him. This column is the first in a series outlining a way to prevent that calamity. I call the strategy “Expose and Oppose.”

Nationwide Attention Deficit Disorder

When leaders fail to respect the underlying behavioral norms of a democratically elected government, its days become numbered. Donald Trump has already shattered some of the most important norms. How quickly many Americans seem to have forgotten his stunning deviations:

— Using crude language to foment ethnic, racial and religious divisions under the guise of discarding political correctness;

— Eliminating reasoned discourse about competing policies and replacing it with name-calling that branded opponents and diverted attention from his inability to offer a coherent set of ideas;

— Bragging about his sexual predation and misogyny;

— Attacking journalists and anyone else who criticized him, thereby transforming them into defenseless targets;

— Embracing dictators who rule America’s dangerous adversaries;

— Becoming a purveyor of “fake news”;

— Refusing to release complete medical records necessary to assess the health of any presidential candidate;

— Stonewalling requests for personal tax returns that would permit voters to evaluate the financial implications of his past, present and future actions; and, most importantly:

— Lowering the bar for assessing his conduct far below that applied to anyone who ever sought the country’s highest office.

As each outrageous act surpassed its predecessor, Trump fatigue settled on the land. People became acclimated to his antics. Grading him on a curve — “Not bad for Trump” — was the only way he could pass the course. As the election neared, he submitted lower and lower scores.

Trump’s reward for such unprecedented bad behavior was a tenuous Electoral College win — he placed 46th out of 58 elections. Now for the punchline: Trump’s presidency is an inflection point in the great American experiment of self-government.

Shattering Post-Election Norms

Trump’s campaign misconduct pales in comparison to more serious norm-busting behavior since the election. Even before taking the oath of office, the president-elect has brought greater instability to the United States and the world order.

— The “one-president-at-a-time” rule whereby a president-elect allows the incumbent to finish his term without interference until Inauguration Day — an honored tradition since the founding of the republic. Trumped!

— The long-standing “one China” policy. Trumped!

— Fifty years of bipartisan nuclear arms reduction efforts. Trumped!

— Divesting business and investment holdings to avoid conflicts of interest that undermine the integrity of the presidency. Trumped!

America At a Crossroads

What norms Trump will jettison after entering office? Imagine the worst, but the most important ones probably are beyond anyone’s contemplation. There’s not a moment to lose.

For those resisting Trump, the challenge is enormous. Complementing his vile messages was the three-headed hydra of disorientation, distraction and dissembling — hallmarks of his candidacy. The election was never about competing substantive policies, but its outcome provided the positive reinforcement necessary for Trump and his minions to continue pursuit of their strategy toward ends that only he and they know.

Since Nov. 8, he has doubled down. The first 100 days of his presidency will be worse. Much worse. Watch them carefully.

A frustrated majority who never wanted a President Trump now say, “I feel helpless. What can I do?”

Help is on the way, but it won’t be an easy or quick fight. The winning strategy will test a people whose attention span is short and whose need for instant gratification is profound. Only an organized, systematic effort can combat the chaos that President Trump is already inflicting from Trump Tower.

Justice Louis Brandeis was right: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But sometimes sunlight is only a good start. A potent antibiotic is necessary to eradicate the most severe infections.

8 thoughts on “THE DANGEROUS NORMALIZATION OF DONALD TRUMP

      • Of course not. With the help of Putin, he garnered 3 million fewer votes than his rival! (They got an assist from James Comey’s terrible error in judgment.)

        On a more serious note, I refuse to believe that most Trump supporters embrace the character traits that Trump revealed during the campaign. Nor can they like the judgment he’s demonstrated since the election. They chose what they believed was a less worse of two bad choices. I get it. But I think those voters underestimated the damage that Trump could do. Based on their Sunday morning interviews, Senators McCain and Graham seem to be developing similar concerns.

  1. The Republican Party has paved the way for Trump for decades – since the presidency of Ronald Reagan – by denigrating the very idea of a federal government responsible for the common good, and through their obstructionism. While I agree with your conclusion that Trump’s election – and Trump’s unprecedented narcissism, hatefulness, corruption and disregard for essential American values puts this country at a crossroads, I think you underestimate the ignorance, hate, and disregard for fellow citizens that defines Trump supporters. Did you watch those people at every single Trump campaign rally? Anyone who is black or brown, gay or lesbian, Muslim, and any self-respecting woman understands that Trump’s shamelessly exploited the ignorance & bigotry of a significant segment of the American electorate, and he garnered enough of their votes to win the electoral college with a stunning assist from Putin and James Comey.

    • I make no apology for Trump supporters generally, but I think the issue is more complicated than demonizing all of them. After all, he got 63 million votes. (And, yes, Clinton got 3 million more.) But people embraced him for different reasons. Some of his supporters’ worst motivations — but by no means all of them — were on display at his rallies. On that we agree. And it may be impossible ever to win many of them over.

      However, other Trump supporters — include Republican members of Congress — were always uncomfortable with him. They chose him as what they believed was the lesser of two evils. As they increasingly doubt the wisdom of their selection, they might embrace the now-urgent challenge: keeping Trump from destroying the norms that are central to America’s democracy.

    • Sherrie Yeager, Just a note to anyone not watching: The hate and vitriol continue on all social media in what looks like record numbers and is coming from both sides. There is very little discussion of issues and most issues are subjected to replies of amazing underlying and overt anger. Most people are just venting and only venting to like-minded people. Most know who and what Trump is by now. It’s time for action. Steven Harper’s “good offices” need to be taken advantageously. I hope he and others EXPEDITE the process of educating and expanding the “resistance.”

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