Another view Com­plaints about Trump’s ‘nor­mal­iza­tion’ hyp­o­crit­i­cal

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view Jonah Gold­berg is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

The war on nor­mal­iza­tion has be­gun.

“The me­dia is start­ing to nor­mal­ize Don­ald Trump, and it should make you very scared,” pro­claims a head­line at Sa­lon. HBO’s haughty in­house mocker, John Oliver, says, “Op­ti­mism is nice if you can swing it, but you’ve got to be care­ful, be­cause it can feed into the nor­mal­iza­tion of Don­ald Trump — and he’s not nor­mal.”

There is scads more of this stuff, but I have two points to make, so let’s keep mov­ing.

The first point is not par­tic­u­larly new, but it’s im­por­tant to the hand­ful of us with the sa­cred right to say, “I told you so.”

Or put another way: Where the hell were you peo­ple be­fore? Through­out the pri­maries, Trump’s con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents com­plained bit­terly that the main­stream me­dia was nor­mal­iz­ing Trump.

No one lis­tened, for three rea­sons. Trump was good for rat­ings (and got bil­lions worth of free me­dia as a re­sult). CBS hon­cho Les Moonves said that Trump’s suc­cess “may not be good for Amer­ica, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Sec­ond, the main­stream me­dia and nu­mer­ous lib­eral pun­dits loved Trump’s im­pact on the GOP for the same rea­son bored teenagers like to throw lit matches into dump­sters: Garbage fires are fun to watch.

The third rea­son is closely re­lated to the sec­ond: The me­dia thought Trump was more likely lose to Hil­lary Clin­ton. (And so did the Clin­ton cam­paign it­self, as we learned from Wik­iLeaks).

In Fe­bru­ary, Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York Magazine and the au­thor of a forth­com­ing book ex­plain­ing how su­per-ter­rific Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency was, wrote a piece ti­tled “Why lib­er­als should sup­port a Trump Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.” He listed three rea­sons: Trump would lose, Trump would wreak havoc on the GOP, and Trump would be bet­ter than the other Repub­li­cans can­di­dates.

“If he does win,” Chait wrote, “a Trump pres­i­dency would prob­a­bly wind up do­ing less harm to the coun­try than a Marco Ru­bio or a (Ted) Cruz pres­i­dency. It might even, pos­si­bly, do some good.”

The day af­ter the elec­tion, Chait de­clared on Twit­ter “This is the worst thing that has hap­pened in my life.” OK, then. Shortly af­ter the elec­tion, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece ti­tled “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter,” liken­ing some 60 mil­lion Amer­i­cans to a racist lynch mob. Last year, Bouie penned an ar­ti­cle with the head­line “Don­ald Trump is ac­tu­ally a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can.”

Of course, Chait and Bouie are not alone. Pro­gres­sive fig­ures such as Paul Krug­man, Matt Ygle­sias, Robert Borosage, Amanda Mar­cotte and Bill Ma­her all said dur­ing the pri­maries that Trump was less scary than, say, Ru­bio or Cruz. (See War­ren Henry’s ex­cel­lent sur­vey in The Fed­er­al­ist for de­tails.)

Isn’t it aw­fully late to be de­cry­ing the nor­mal­iza­tion of Trump when you were an early adopter of nor­mal­iza­tion be­cause you thought the hor­ri­ble Demo­cratic nom­i­nee would have an eas­ier time beat­ing him?

That brings me to my sec­ond point: the nor­mal­iza­tion of the Clin­tons. Lib­er­als may have thought the Trump cam­paign’s ex­ploita­tion of the women Bill Clin­ton al­legedly (and in some cases ad­mit­tedly) sex­u­ally mis­treated was tawdry and beyond the pale. Fair enough. But you know why such tac­tics worked? Be­cause Bill Clin­ton was tawdry and beyond the pale — but lib­er­als not only nor­mal­ized him, they li­on­ized him and de­mo­nized his crit­ics.

You may ob­ject to Trump’s al­legedly shady busi­ness prac­tices — I cer­tainly do. But I ob­jected to the Clin­tons’ schemes as well. When the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion fi­nally started to be­come an is­sue in the cam­paign, James Carville in­sisted that “some­body’s go­ing to hell” for dar­ing to ques­tion the Olympian good­ness of Clin­ton Inc. That en­cap­su­lates how the Clin­tons re­sponded to all of their crit­ics: great moral su­pe­ri­or­ity com­bined with base in­tim­i­da­tion.

Lib­er­als knew when Bill Clin­ton ran for presi­daent in 1992 that he was a tawdry, cor­ner-cut­ting cad (and that Hil­lary Clin­ton was a con­spir­a­to­rial schemer). But he was on their side, so it was OK. Be­sides, once elected, he de­served the ben­e­fit of the doubt — even though he won a smaller share of the pop­u­lar vote than Trump did — be­cause you only have one pres­i­dent at a time, and in a democ­racy, elec­tions are in­her­ently nor­mal­iz­ing.

Maybe Trump de­serves sim­i­lar treat­ment?

I’m not try­ing to start a point­less de­bate about who is more ab­nor­mal (though I’d ar­gue that Trump would win that con­test). But it’s worth point­ing out that when you spend a long time bend­ing po­lit­i­cal norms for par­ti­san rea­sons, those norms even­tu­ally break. And this is what you get.

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