Opinion

Michael A. Cohen

The debasing of America

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Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent posed in front of Hillary Clinton’s official portrait at the White House.

Four days ago, the president of the United States tweeted this: “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!’’

In nonbizarro America — or the 241 years before Donald Trump took the oath of office — such a presidential statement, raising questions about Americans exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, would be considered downright scandalous.

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But in Trump’s America, such political transgressions, which strike at the nation’s most basic political norms and traditions, are daily occurrences.

No longer, it seems, are we scandalized by blatant examples of White House lying. Yesterday, it was revealed that when the president said last week that a naval armada was heading to North Korea to deter that country from conducting a nuclear test, it wasn’t true. Instead, the New York Times reported, the ships were actually heading in the opposite direction.

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Of course that didn’t stop White House press secretary Sean Spicer from insisting there was an “armada going toward the [Korean] peninsula. That’s a fact.” Actually, it was a lie.

This was not one of your garden variety White House lies to which we’ve become accustomed to over the past three months; it’s one that has raised questions about America’s credibility among Asian allies that the United States is treaty-bound to defend. Yet, it’ll likely be a day or two before this story is overtaken by yet more tales of White House fibbing.

Indeed, a couple of months ago, before Trump took office, there were growing alarms about how Trump would handle the myriad conflicts of interest with his business empire. Trump said he would disentangle himself from his business dealings. Of course, he didn’t and the daily drumbeat of corruption that has resulted barely registers.

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Earlier this week, we found out that the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who is an unpaid White House staffer, received three trademarks from the Chinese government for her businesses there, on the same day she had dinner with China’s president, Xi Jinping.

Such brazen conflicts of interest that allow Trump and her family to profit from having their father as president would be national scandals in any other White House. But in Trump’s America, it’s a one-day story — like all the other one-day stories about the way the Trump family is using their father’s political rise to feather their own nest and his.

Last Friday, the White House announced it intended to keep its visitor logs secret, which would leave the American people in the dark about who is visiting the White House to lobby for their pet causes. Not that it necessarily matters, since Trump has ostentatiously stocked his administration with corporate lobbyists. Many of them are even receiving secret waivers allowing them to bypass ethic rules that in any other administration would prevent them from joining agencies that only a few months ago they were trying to influence.

In normal times such behavior might lead to congressional inquiries, perhaps even investigations. But GOP-controlled Capitol Hill’s response to these ethical lapses — crickets.

Then there are the day-to-day events that once upon a time would have sparked days of outrage. Imagine if any other occupant of the White House had dinner with a man who had called the nation’s first black president a “subhuman mongrel,” or the first female presidential candidate an expletive and then let that man, Ted Nugent, pose with Kid Rock and Sarah Palin in front of a portrait of her. You can’t imagine it, because before Trump became president it never would have happened.

Lying, corruption, ethical transgressions, and turning the White House into a welcoming place for racists, bigots, and misogynists has become the new normal — and we’re all inured to it.

In fairness, there are only so many hours in the day to register the proper level of revulsion as Trump, his cronies, and his enablers chip away at the fundamental ethical, moral, and political standards that used to define this country. But every day that it happens is a day that sends us backwards as a nation. Rather than bending the arc of history toward justice, it’s just being bent. America may survive President Trump, but it will take more than four (or eight) years to survive the way Donald Trump has fundamentally debased America.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.
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