Last night, somewhere deep in the broadcast wilderness where Brian Williams was exiled as penance, the former NBC Nightly News anchor who now resides in the 11 p.m. slot on MSNBC, valiantly attempted to describe what it means to “normalize” Donald Trump.
Williams explained that the normalization of Trump occurs when news anchors and other journalists discuss Trump so often that it makes the unequivocally abnormal president-elect seem normal. It was a nice try, but it failed to quantify the meaning of “normalizing” as it’s being presently employed.
Normalization is about how Trump is covered, and not necessarily how often.
For example, here’s how Trump news is being introduced on NBC News and elsewhere. This is an actual excerpt of news copy:
KRISTEN WELKER: But tonight, Democrats still pouncing on Trump’s pick of a chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a former head of Breitbart, with a following among the alt-right.
As illustrated here, Trump news is being delivered with the exact same level of ho-hum normalcy as less urgent political news. In this case, Welker dropped the outrage about Trump’s appointment of Bannon into the laps of the Democrats, making the controversy surrounding Bannon more of a partisan shovel-fight rather than a serious threat to the integrity of the republic. In other words, Bannon and his Breitbart minion are all about promoting white supremacy and neo-nazism, but the only indication of Bannon’s anti-Semitic, pro-fascist posture mentioned by Welker is the euphemism “alt-right,” which sounds like a Windows 10 keyboard shortcut rather than the chosen nickname for a vile hate group, the members of which have been caught on tape literally performing the Nazi sieg heil salute.
This is how Trump is normalized: by presenting abnormal and, in some cases, terrifying political news as if it’s politics-as-usual. There’s nothing normal about the Trump administration so far. Nothing. But sure enough, news about Trump’s $25 million settlement in the Trump University racketeering case, or news that Trump is abusing his influence as president-elect to land a sweet Trump Hotel deal in Buenos Aires, or news that Trump is appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general even though Sessions called the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation,” or news that Trump invoked Nixon by saying about his business dealings, “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest” — all of it’s been reported like the mundane actions of an ordinary off-the-shelf Republican administration pursuing a predictable policy agenda.
It’s not. Duh. Worse yet, while the press helps Trump by normalizing his frenetic incompetence and despotism, Trump is busily intimidating reporters, anchors, editors and executives — impugning their integrity and leaving them open to personal assault by Trump’s legion of trolls.
Regardless of the coverage, the Trump administration will continue to be a disaster. The magnitude and lifespan of the disaster will be determined by whether voters take for granted how terrible it’s going to be. If voters are spoon-fed Trump’s harrowing madness as if he’s just another politician doing politiciany things, we’re screwed. The political press and cable news have colossal roles to play here, either by normalizing Trump’s insanity, or by treating it the way it ought to be treated — by making Trump fear the press, and not the other way around.
It’ll never be possible, but it’d be amazingly helpful if every Trump-related news story began with the phrase, “What the fuck is this shit?!” Frankly, it’s the only way to truly underscore the treachery of the Trump administration — it’s the only way to highlight the breathtaking and deadly abnormalities infecting the forthcoming White House. But if the campaign was any indication, Trump will continue to be treated by the political press like a useful idiot. Good for ratings, but ultimately not much of a threat.
Nope, Trump won anyway, despite a million horribly disqualifying things that weren’t treated with the proper urgency, and he’s planning to lead accordingly. If the normalization continues the way it did pre-11/8, then we might as well give up and walk away from the American experiment.
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