Ever since the election that shook up the world, one refrain in columns, commentaries, and social media posts has been incessant: “Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, we cannot allow him to be normalized.” It’s a defiant, noble stance, but it overlooks a very crucial point: Had racism, bigotry, and sexism not been normalized for centuries, Trump would not be weeks away from becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Make no mistake: Trump’s election is as disastrous as an Old Testament plague. His election has sparked anger and anxiety, driving thousands nationwide into the streets in protest. Between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. last Wednesday, when Trump’s victory was inevitable, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recorded a 250 percent spike in calls. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, has logged more than 200 reports of harassment and intimidation since Election Day.
Yet for all his unrepentant xenophobia and misogyny, Trump invented none of the social afflictions that propelled him to the White House. All he needed to do was bellow them out loud on the largest possible stage, and tap into the toxicity of a nation that has long been too tolerant of intolerance.
On Twitter someone posted, “A Trump bumper sticker is the modern equivalent to the Confederate Flag.” No — the Confederate flag is still the Confederate flag, its stars and bars a prominent design on several state flags. On bumper stickers, T-shirts, or flagpoles, it remains a signpost for bigotry. Somehow, a symbol of treason is embraced as a proud emblem of heritage and — with rare exceptions, such as after the murders of nine African-American churchgoers, allegedly by an avowed white supremacist — it is generally ignored.
This is also the case as too many people have come to accept unarmed people of color getting killed by cops — and then those same cops being acquitted, if they are ever indicted at all. There was little national coverage on the recent mistrial of former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing, who killed unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose in July 2015. In the same vein, few seem to be paying attention to the ongoing trial of Michael Slager, the former North Charleston, S.C., officer charged with murder in the shooting death of unarmed Walter Scott, in April 2015.
We are so accustomed to these atrocities, after the initial shock, they cease to register. Normalization of the abhorrent is an American malady.
Now, facing a Trump presidency and his proposed cabinet of deplorables — including Steve Bannon, a white nationalist whom Trump has chosen as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor — people are railing against treating him as just another president-elect. Where was this uproar when Bannon, executive chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News Network and troll king of the so-called “alt-right,” was named as Trump’s campaign chairman in August?
Media coverage, which generally satisfied no one during the campaign, is again being criticized for playing too nice with Trump. On his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver asked, “How did we get here?” Those seeking answers in last week’s election results are missing the point. We got here by accommodating bigots and misogynists, and turning away instead of pushing back. The press alone can’t normalize Trump. That fault also falls on a society that routinely accepts prejudices that may now metastasize into dangerous, divisive policies.
Every time racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism went unchecked, a path was paved for the catastrophe we now face. There is no Trump effect; there are only the same old animosities calcified into a national nightmare. No one has to normalize Trump; we long ago normalized the hatreds exploited in his campaign. And if millions in this country weren’t already compliant, Trump would not be our next president.