To normalize or not to normalize. That is the choice Donald Trump has presented from the day he declared his White House candidacy to each moment of his transition process as president-elect.
All the institutional machinery of the office is kicking in, conferring legitimacy on an incendiary novice who has brought into his administration a white nationalist sympathizer and a retired general who led chants of “lock her up” at the Republican convention. Trump himself is still tweeting insults — at protestors, the press, now even the Broadway cast of Hamilton.
Trump clearly doesn’t give a rip about international norms and treaties (Sen. John McCain has already warned him to back off on resuming torture) or about conflicts of interest. He is already using his new job to drum up business with associates from India (Ivanka and Donald Jr., who will be running the family business, were there too), and to encourage foreign officials to stay at his new Washington, D.C. hotel. He had Ivanka sit in on a meeting with the prime minister of Japan. NBC’s Andrea Mitchellreported that his team wanted clearance for his son-in-law — a newspaper publisher — to attend intelligence briefings on dire threats facing the U.S. (The Trump camp denied that.)
So it will be a daily struggle to resist normalization, but my vote is we should never allow it to happen. Personnel, policy and especially ethics demand it.
David: The press, including me, spent much of the election trying not to “normalize” Trump. He was a uniquely awful candidate, from his blatantly fraudulent “Trump University,” to his promiscuous approach to litigation, to his serial bankruptcies. But the voters have spoken. They normalized him. Any time we spend on this, is time spent fighting to delegitimize our democratic republic.
Only Trump’s actions can undermine his standing, not anything we might say. And so far his appointments are not far off the mark.
He’s appointed retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as his national security advisor, a position for which he is eminently qualified despite his big mouth. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s appointee for attorney general, is another guy who is well-qualified, but said some stupid things three decades ago. They both have Trump beat in that they have appropriate experience for their jobs and they have said far fewer offensive things than Trump, including never admitting to sexual assault with a camera running. Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, who was a corporate CEO after time as an Army Officer and Harvard Law, sounds like the kind of person a normal Republican president would nominate, not to mention that in the Republican primaries, he backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most normal of candidates.
Grading Trump on a curve, I’d say he has exceeded expectations.
Jill: Why should we grade Trump on a curve? That’s been the problem all along. The key measure ought to be how conservatives and the media would treat Hillary Clintonin a parallel circumstance — and in fact how they did treat her.
Trump called her “Crooked Hillary.” And yet, he’s the one that settled the Trump University fraud lawsuit for $25 million and is entangled in more than 70 other pending lawsuits. Say what you will about Clinton, she’s never been sued for cheating students out of their life savings.
Flynn, the prospective national security advisor who yelled “lock her up” about Clinton, was paid to attend a dinner sponsored by a Russian-run propaganda outlet, and sat next to Vladimir Putin. Imagine if top Clinton aide Huma Abedin had done that.
Setting the bar this low gives “normalizing” a bad name.
David: The Clinton family and their various enablers are big reasons Trump is president. Where did Republican voters get the idea that appalling sexual behavior outside of marriage is just fine if it advances your partisan goals? Where did Republican voters get the idea that gazillion dollar conflicts of interest while serving in high office are peachy if your side is doing it? Where did Republican voters get the idea that repeating blatant lies is good politics? The Clintons have some explaining to do. Casting Hillary as a victim lets her off too easily.
And so far, I am hopeful that Republican senators and congressmen are going to be less susceptible to the temptation to defend all of Trump’s foolishness long after the point that it gets absurd. As you mentioned, McCain is already warning Trump of his red lines. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is signaling opposition to some of Trump’s potential nominees and the conservative press is stocked with right-wingers who will refuse to defend Trump when he goes off the deep end.
But for any of that to work, everybody has to back off Trump and let him get his administration started. If we’re always at DefCon 1 — over every nominee, over every meeting, over every tweet, the vast bulk of the country is just going to tune us out. The fact is that President Trump is the new normal for the next four years.
Jill: That is a very scary thought, especially if Trump doesn’t get the hell off Twitter. Believe me, I understand his addiction — I love it way too much myself. But thisHamilton dust-up, far from the most important thing that’s happened since Election Day, is such a perfect example of how hard Trump makes it to back off.
Condemning the cast in repeated tweets, demanding an apology for a super-polite request to “work on behalf of all of us,” when he himself hasn’t apologized for the painful things he has said about prisoners of war, Gold Star families and many others — it’s hypocritical but, alas, typical. It also confirms that Trump isn’t quite up to speed on the Constitution (free speech rights, remember?) and has some odd priorities (insult tweets during a presidential transition? Really?)
Pence’s response — he wasn’t offended, Trump will be president of “all the people” — was far more appropriate for a national leader. So maybe we have learned something: That in this partnership Trump will forever be the bad cop, the enfant terrible, the headline-maker.
Maybe he will get bored and pull a “Sarah Palin” in a year. In the meantime, it’s comforting to think about the political pendulum. If past is prologue, we are looking at a 2020 winner who is a young, experienced, level-headed Democrat.
David: When it comes to anything “Trumpian,” never say never, but I think dreaming of impeachment or hoping Trump quits or imagining the perfect Democrat to replace him in 2021 is a distraction. People need to get past the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and get used to the fact that Trump will be president for four years. And eight isn’t out of the question.
I am actually more optimistic about his prospects almost two weeks after the election than I was before. Trump is putting in place qualified people who echo his plain talk and support the policies he promised in his campaign. That’s the best anyone can realistically hope for.