A New Normal
Watching the movie, “Downfall,” a depiction of Hitler’s last days in the bunker in Berlin, one of the most chilling things for me was how normal Hitler appeared, aside from his delusional ramblings about non-existent German armies, of course. He played with his dog, ate dinner with his mistress, and generally lived what seemed like an ordinary middle-class life—except that it was being lived in a bunker under a doomed city, a doom for which he himself was solely responsible.
It gave me a cold, sick sensation to see depictions of Berliners walking along the bomb-cratered streets, barely looking up as explosions rocked the ground around them. It was a sobering reminder of the horrors humans are capable of adapting to and regarding as normal. This is good for survival, but it allows unspeakable things to become tolerable with regular exposure.
What I find most terrifying about Trump is not his lack of judgment, his lies, or his intelligence-free rants, as disturbing as they are. It is his complete nonchalance, his utter trivialization of the most fundamental concerns of American government. And his unwavering conviction that “we, the People” share his indifference.
“With a tweet, tweet here/ And a tweet, tweet there,”--demolishing free speech, freedom of religion, environmental protections, and civil rights as he went along (and that was just the first week!)--Trump strolled blithely into office and instantly created a new normal, completely ignoring the existence of the Constitution, decades of carefully established precedent, all the evidence, the truth, and common sense. We weren’t even supposed to notice. And the frightening thing is that it seemed like nobody DID!
We have had “virtual reality war” for decades now—“surgical strikes” — grey blurs on remote monitors, apparently devoid of the devastation, blood and carnage of “real war.”
But Trump has invented Virtual Reality Government, the ultimate Reality TV. Watch those thumbs, folks! What’s he going to tweet next? If it’s a lie, great — more entertaining! Watch the rabbit disappear! Just don’t watch the hand behind his back (Putin, Sessions, Tillerson, Donald, Jr.?)—that’s the real trick!
With his soundbite slogans--"Build a Wall," “Drain the Swamp," he has reduced multifaceted complex legal and governmental issues to the level of third grade memes. He has succeeded in preempting national discourse and setting the terms of the debate. And those in power have let him.
How did that happen?
I wondered how he would react to Charlottesville — his first tragedy on US soil. I thought mere political expediency would require him to say what any rational, self-interested American politician HAS to say, "Nazis are bad!!" But he couldn’t even manage a script prepared for him by a devastating World War and decades of vigilance.
When I heard his infamous “many sides” statement, I could not help contrasting it with the moving, powerful “sermon” President Obama delivered at the funeral service for the victims of the Charleston AME Church shootings. “Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.”
Whatever you believe about Obama’s politics or his decisions as President, that speech represented American leadership at its finest. Condemning the hatred that caused the heinous crime, but responding with love and forgiveness, drawing people together in their resolve to prevent this kind of tragedy.
Granted, Mr. Trump is clearly not capable of that level of eloquence or of wisdom, but we should be able to expect, as we always have been able to in the past, that the President will at least take this horrific event seriously. We should be able to expect that there are some things too fundamental to basic humanity to be reduced to 140 characters.
The only ray of hope in the midst of this horror is that voices are arising...finally...among his hitherto sycophantic party members, saying the things that must be said, the things he can’t bring himself to say with any remote semblance of sincerity. Apparently credible claims of treason weren’t enough—it took the death of a courageous young woman to start to awaken people in power — to allow them their first real glimpse of just where he is leading us. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” said the wisest man who ever lived, “but the end thereof are the ways of death.”