It is easy to be seduced into complacency, overlooking the drift in social norms to the point where what was once outrageous or unseemly has become acceptable or even passes completely without notice.
As I reflect on last week’s post, I am reminded how quickly things change. I referred back to a previous post on September 28, which posed the question, Will We Be Okay? I concluded, “in response to controversy erupting over President Trump’s handling of four [Special Ops personnel] killed in Niger, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, along with other leaders like Sen. John McCain, former President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, in separate presentations, reminded us of what dignified public service is like. My response now, as then: yes, we will be okay.”
But as events unfolded, General Kelly’s role became less dignified public servant and more cruel White House antagonist, attacking Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for defending her friend, Myeshia Johnson, mother of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four slain soldiers in Niger. Kelly then went on to invent a story critical of the Congresswoman at an FBI building dedication ceremony in 2015 to add to “evidence” that she is a serial grandstander. His charge was later proven untrue.
This incident exposes the profound lack of civility in our public discourse. It also illustrates how truth-telling is often rendered as an afterthought, subservient to political points or economic gain. As Trump himself would say, “sad.”
Another word might be applied to this week’s events: ironic. Staunch progressive that I may be, I still found myself cheering for two of the Senate’s most conservative members, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who called out the President, not on policy matters (they agree with him on most things), but on the principles reflected in character, empathy and human dignity. In announcing that he will not run again, Senator Flake’s comments on the Senate floor were particularly compelling:
“It is time for our complicity and accommodation of the unacceptable to end. In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order — that phrase being the new normal…None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that it is just the way things are now.
“Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe and palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy…When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do…we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.”
Senator Flake correctly identifies the great threat of normalization. Think about what until recently passed for being wildly insensitive, improper, inaccurate or simply inept and how these monikers no longer apply to our official policy, discourse or deeds. One of the scariest things to contemplate is how this trend has become so commonplace that we often miss it completely, numb to the crudeness of our current communication.