During the election, it was, at times, too easy to look past Donald Trump's various and confusing gaffes with a nonchalant shrug, because he'd "never win anyway." Remember that time, just 22 days ago, when dealing with the potential damage Trump posed to the nation and world meant nothing more than smiling at his assured defeat? Yeah, me neither. And with his latest threat to change the First Amendment, there is no reason to believe the campaign promise from many of his surrogates, that "Candidate Trump" would somehow transform into "President Trump." So for the duration of his presidency, it will be crucial to fight against normalization of his divisive actions.
It's important to note two points here. First, younger voters will have their perception of the presidency shaped by Donald Trump. Sure, they've learned about Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, et al. And yes, they've lived some years with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. But I can't say I recall much from my childhood years of the first President Bush, and most of what I remember about President Clinton features Monica Lewinsky. So for the 18 to 25 crowd, Trump will be their model of what is accepted public behavior from the POTUS. That has lasting consequences for the type of candidate they will tolerate going forward.
And secondly, if Trump is allowed to redefine (read: lower) the standards for presidential behavior, older voters may remain forever open to populists and demagogues, rather than experienced professionals and leaders with discretion. Here are just five of the ways Trump is already doing just that, and more reason why we shouldn't normalize his behavior:
1. Trump Threatens To Change The First Amendment
On Nov. 28, Trump tweeted his thoughts on flag burning. He said it should be made illegal, and those involved should not only be sentenced to jail time, but perhaps also stripped of their citizenship. That kind of hyperbole and nonsense is well beneath the standard for any President-elect, but barring the unlikely event of Trump breaking up with Twitter, expect more of such gaslighting from him over the next four years.
This isn't the first time Trump has taken aim at the Bill of the Rights. Back in the primary, Trump promised to "open up" libel laws to make it easier for him to sue news organizations who were "unfair." In Trump speak, that means outlets and/or reporters who ran negative stories on him. Of course, the principle behind freedom of the press is that thorough, adversarial journalism is essential to functioning democracy. Of all the Trumpian abnormalities, perhaps none is more dangerous than his suggestion that the media is wholesale corrupt, and he alone can be trusted. It's an authoritarian move, and one that would never be tolerated from Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, etc. Don't normalize this.
2. Trump Claims Rampant Voter Fraud With Absolutely No Proof
There was a time when presidents did not publicly engage in regular conspiracy theorizing. With Trump, that time is over. Throughout the primary and general election, Trump would use his now infamous "many people are saying" cover to introduce utter nonsense into "serious" political discussion, from suggesting that Obama sympathized with ISIS to implying that Vince Foster's death was not really a suicide. And on Nov. 27, Trump spewed out the baseless idea that he'd lost the popular vote because millions of illegal votes had been cast against him.
Many of his die-hard fans will take him at his word and now accept as reality that it is actually possible to commit voter fraud to the tune of millions. That smears our entire system of democracy. Collective faith and trust in the fairness of elections is imperative for the government to function. To call that into question, with no evidence is abhorrent and indefensible.
What's more, for Trump skeptics and even downright adversaries, Trump tweeting with the intention to provoke controversy is a major problem. One, it distracts from other, more worthy stories. And two, the regularity of his Twitter compulsion (claim voter fraud Monday, take aim at the First Amendment Tuesday) means that with each ensuing tweet of asininity, we will all become more and more desensitized and accepting of it. Don't normalize this.
3. Apparently, Japanese Internment Camps Are "Precedent" For A Muslim Registry
Not even in nightmares could I imagine writing that sentence in the year 2016, but it's Trump's reality now, so I just did. On Nov. 16, Trump supporter Carl Higbie appeared on Megyn Kelly's Fox News show, and literally referenced the illegal detention of innocent Japanese civilians during WWII as "precedent" for creating a national registry of Muslims. I cannot recall any public figure ever justifying that mass crime, much less using it as a defense for a future one.
Higbie was the spokesperson for the Trump-supporting Great America PAC. And while he doesn't speak for Trump himself, none of this would be a topic of discussion if the President-elect had not suggested a national registry for Muslims. "There's something going on," said then-candidate Trump, and proceeded to blithely imply that profiling citizens based on their religion would be an OK solution. Don't normalize this.
4. Trump Hires Steve Bannon As Chief Strategist
Rumors have been circulating that Bannon is upset that he's perceived as racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic. I guess if those labels bothered him so much, maybe he shouldn't have proudly trumpeted Breitbart as the "platform" for the "alt-right," a group full of white supremacists, sexists, and anti-Semites. Moreover, it's not a usual day in the 21st century to have a man so vocally attached to bigotry be hired as Chief Strategist to the incoming president.
Just eight years ago, Van Jones was forced to resign from Obama's administration for being affiliated with the 9/11 truther conspiracy and his apparent support of the controversial convict, Mumia Abu Jamal. Now we have a President-elect who has suggested 9/11 was an inside job, and who puts Bannon – a man who gave his website over to white supremacists – in charge of White House strategy. Don't normalize this.
5. Trump Normalizes & Excuses Sexism
Stipulating that sexism is never going away completely, the election of Donald Trump means that millions of American voters did not see his sexist ways as disqualifying. And while the leaked video from NBC, recording him saying he could grab women "by the p*ssy," garnered the most media attention, that was by no means the only sexist remark to surface. In fact, during the campaign itself, Trump insinuated that Carly Fiorina simply could not be president because of "that face." He implied Megyn Kelly's period was the reason she asked him tough questions. In April 2015, Trump retweeted the following: "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?"
Merriam-Webster's defines sexism as "prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women" and "behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex." I can think of no president in modern history who has done more to demonstrate and create "behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes" of women. Don't normalize this.
It will be a difficult task not only to keep up with all the inevitable Trump controversies, but also to be ever mindful of their abnormality. But that is everyone's job now, to preserve the memory of an accountable, sane, and adult presidency for future elections. Be vigilant. Don't normalize any of what Trump tries to change.