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 in-house 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.”
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.
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.)
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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 Republican 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.”
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 president 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 okay. 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 have only 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.
— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.