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When outrage becomes the new normal in the age of Trump

As Donald Trump arrives at his first year in office, the author takes a look at how initial feelings of shock have been subdued into complacency

By David Wilson


Years ago, an elderly farmer, a friend of my father’s, moved out of the house he had lived in all his life. When my dad asked him how he liked his new place, he responded, “Well, I guess you can get used to hanging.”

In other words, he hated it. But as long as he didn’t think about it too much, he’d probably come around to the idea of living there.

People are like that. Dwelling on negatives can be crippling. So we try to put them out of mind and carry on. But that doesn’t make them any less negative.

My dad’s farmer friend came to mind as I considered Donald Trump’s first year as president of the United States. It’s basically been outrage piled upon outrage — a year that has tarnished the office he occupies, poured salt on social wounds and made the planet a more dangerous place. Yet I sense that the incredulity that attended Trump’s first several months in office is giving way to a kind of resignation. We’re getting used to hanging.

To mark the anniversary of Trump’s election, writer David Macfarlane and photographer Nigel Dickson teamed up last summer to profile the county in northern Alabama that had one of the highest proportions of Trump voters of any county in the United States. Out of curiosity, I checked back on major events in the Trump presidency during the 11 days they were on the road. Here’s what I found:

• July 26: Trump announces on Twitter that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Later in the day, he tweet-shames Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for voting against a motion to open debate on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

• July 27: The New Yorker magazine reports on a profanity-laced tirade by the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.

• July 28: A bill to repeal key elements of Obamacare is defeated in the Senate. Reince Priebus is squeezed out as White House chief of staff after just six months in the job. In a speech to police officers, Trump appears to condone roughing up suspects.

• July 31: Priebus’s successor, Gen. John F. Kelly, fires Scaramucci.

• Aug. 1: The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources for civil rights cases to investigations of affirmative action discrimination against white college applicants.

• Aug. 2: Trump backs legislation to limit legal immigration into the United States.

• Aug. 3: The Washington Post publishes transcripts of Trump’s toxic phone calls last January with the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister.

Threats of “fire and fury” against North Korea, Trump’s infamous “many sides” comment on the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Va., and the ouster of strategist Steve Bannon would soon follow. The antics come so quickly in the Trump circus that one incident blurs into the next. Some think that’s the way Trump has planned it, but I suspect it’s more a case of mean-spirited, ego-driven incompetence.

Expect more mayhem as the president begins his second year in office. What was unthinkable before Trump will seem par for the course, and that’s scary. Trump is a danger to his country and the world, but perhaps an even bigger danger is becoming indifferent to his offences — shrugging them off as Trump being Trump.

Next November, Americans will vote in midterm elections. It will be a test of Trump’s strength among the kind of people Macfarlane and Dickson encountered last summer. But it will also be a test for Americans sickened by the man. I pray they will name outrage for what it is and seize the opportunity to Make America Normal Again. 


This story originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of The Observer as part of the regular column "Observations." 

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