Progressives have found a rallying cry in their opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency. Whether in the New York Times, on the John Oliver Show, or in protests in the nations’ streets, they are insisting that Trump is “not normal.” News media and elected officials not considered critical enough of Trump are criticized for normalizing him and his ideas. Suddenly progressives, of all people, are deeply concerned about our culture’s long-held norms and traditions.
The irony in all of this is crystal clear. These are the same people who over the past few years have insisted that five-year-old boys becoming five-year-old girls is normal. They tell us that a guaranteed basic income and running for president as a Socialist is normal. Forcing Catholic hospitals to offer birth control, undocumented immigrants voting in our elections, and abolishing the police: normal, normal, and normal.
In Donald Trump, with his admittedly dangerous, devil-may-care attitude, progressives have stumbled upon the value of conserving norms and traditions. A president just doesn’t say these awful things about his opponents and the media. A president doesn’t tweet attacks at enemies late at night. A President doesn’t put a controversial figure like Steve Bannon a few doors down from the Oval Office.
But here’s the thing: it’s too late. We are way past that now. The Left let its freak flag fly. We all saw it. No normal is the new normal and there is no clear way back from that.
How We Lost Our Cultural Norms
Cultural norms are self-imposed limitations on speech and actions, meant to preserve peace and order in a society. It is like a stream with banks that allow our public discourse to flow responsibly. When that stream is broadened and deepened, dangerous ideas flow in from both sides.
When Vox defends political violence in the form of riots, it opens space for those on the Right who peddle the idea that we are in a race war. When Salon runs articlesabout how right-wingers who attack a writer defending pedophilia are the real monsters, those on the right feel less constrained in how they push back.
Progressives have consistently shown an utter lack of respect for black conservatives like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell, whose politics fail to match up with their skin tone. Sarah Palin and her family were met with extreme rudeness and frankly, sexism, because she is a conservative with a uterus.
Conservatives Tired Of Celebrity Bullies Turned To Trump
Conservatives have watched the Rosie O’Donnells of the world pillory and castigate people who don’t think like they do. They had no celebrity to fight back in their name. Then they did. It shouldn’t be surprising that early in his campaign it was the pot shots at O’Donnell that gave us the first glimpse of how his rhetoric, which once would have been disqualifying, just isn’t anymore.
So when Meryl Streep tells us how her heart was broken by Trump making fun of a disabled reporter, many on the right shrug their shoulders and say, “Hey, this is your game, he just knows how to play it.” And they do not accept that the progressive chutes and ladders of power and privilege mean they have to play by different rules.
Trump Didn’t Create Our Culture Of Rudeness
Recently, a statement from Think Progress editor Ned Resnikoff emerged. Days after Trump’s election, he found himself fearful because a white plumber with a Southern accent was in his home. He wrote, “I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that might change the interaction we were having in my own home.” He went on to say that the encounter left him “rattled for some time…”
Let’s be clear. Resnikoff was indulging in the same kind of irrational racial bias that gets black kids shot in America. He turned an individual human being into a cultural stereotype because he feels uneasy about changes happening around him in America. Is that normal? And while it may be part of why Trump won, these kinds of attitudes were not created by Trump. Rather, Trump thrived in a culture that now accepts that rudeness, judgment, and condemnation of those with the wrong political views is justified.
Donald Trump is an uncivil, rude bully. But he didn’t change these rules. He simply used this new normal to his advantage.
Conservatives, Don’t Use the Tactics of the Left
Amidst the schadenfreude of Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the rebuke of progressive predictions of a new age dominated by their chosen, sometimes bizarre, new mores, we need to be careful. Perhaps Clinton’s most effective ad against Trump was the one in which children watched his uncouth statements on television. I say this as a dad who has to explain to my son why the President-elect is calling people rude names, when I teach him that is wrong.
A big part of what conservatives are meant to conserve is decency, decorum, and respect. We should oppose shouting expletives at those we disagree with. We should oppose public shaming and boycotts. We should oppose cruel mockery as a legitimate means to achieve our ends.
Those on the alt-right and their apologists tell us that we must use the Left’s tactics to defeat them. This is wrong. It’s wrong because there is no distinction between tactics and politics, you cannot defeat something by becoming it.
We Can’t Let Fear And Frustration Dominate Our Discourse
What many on all sides are feeling these days is that we are locked in an ugly struggle with no way out. Those who believe in biology and not a sliding scale of gender are tired of being called bigots. Those who oppose abortion are tired of being called sexists. Those who do not accept their privilege and guilt are tired of being called racists.
On the Left, a terrible fear is emerging, that the outsized and ugly rhetoric that has been their calling card is about to be used against them; and that their concerns about fairness and equality are going to be set back by Trump and his band of deplorables.
It is difficult not to despair of the current state of our political discourse. The President-elect has taken up the “us vs. them” attitude used for so long by the Left. He has embraced their abandonment of cultural norms and thrown it back in their face. On both sides people are digging in. It seems likely that our near political future will consist of snipes on Twitter between the President and Hollywood celebrities.
Don’t Let Donald Trump Be Your Role Model
But Donald Trump will merely be our president. He doesn’t have to be a role model. Progressive purveyors of racial discord will make noise and get clicks, but we don’t have to follow them, or engage in their tactics. No, things are not normal. They have not been for some time. Maybe they never were.
In the current hailstorm of animosity, there are a few safe havens. Kindness is one, along with respect and belief in the essential dignity of all people. Like all of the most important things in life, these do not emanate from the government. They are a gift of nature and Divine Providence. Sometimes the people are called upon to be better than their leaders; this is one of those times.
David Marcus is a senior contributor to the Federalist and the Artistic Director of Blue Box World, a Brooklyn based theater project. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.