Normalising is a phrase we’re hearing a lot at the moment, in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Election last Tuesday. We’ve seen it in reference to the man himself, with commentators excusing the often disgraceful rhetoric he employed during his campaign, and reassuring us that he didn’t really mean most of it. As if we’re expected to say “oh, that’s ok then”.
We’ve seen it in relation to the appointments Trump has made (or is rumoured to be planning to make) to his inner circle. To recap, apart from Mike Pence as Veep, so far we have Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff. Priebus, after Trump’s “Grab ‘em by the pussy” video surfaced, said “Nothing has changed in regard with our relationship. We are in full coordination with the Trump campaign. We have a great relationship with them. And we are going to continue to work together to make sure he wins in November.”
Priebus is seen by many commentators as basically a “yes man” who will not challenge Trump. He won’t keep him in line, which if we’re honest, we all think he needs. Stephen Bannon is to be DJT’s “chief strategist”. Bannon is the former CEO of Breitbart News, the flagship of the so called “Alt-Right” movement. So, we have a Chief of Staff who is a nodding dig, and a chief strategist who is (at best) an ultra-conservative, and at worst a fascist. His ex-wife accused him of anti-Semitism (among other things) during their divorce. If you’d like to know more about the Bannon-Britebart connection, have a read of this: http://time.com/4569895/donald-trump-stephen-bannon-alt-right/
Bannon’s appointment has been normalised by the US media – here’s the New York Times’ take:
We’ve also seen Rudy Giuliani widely tipped to become Attorney General. He’s an advocate of water-boarding, and once said “freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do”.
Perhaps the most worrying element of “normalising” is how readily people seem to accept it. I’ve spoken to countless people in the last week who have seemed almost amused at Trump’s backtracking over issues like the Mexican Wall (which will soon be a picket fence, it seems). The reaction is not one of surprise, and somehow it feels like people are shrugging and saying “oh Donald….we knew you’d do this! Classic Trump!”
This is not good enough, surely? Many of the things Trump said during the campaign could be seen as incitement to racial hatred, excusing sexual assault and legitimising hate. He’s not some drunk uncle at a party who’s “a bit racist” but to be dismissed as harmless. In 2 months time he gets the keys to the White House. The nuclear codes.
We see a similar reaction over here in the UK. Arguably the most visible commentator is Katie Hopkins. Just yesterday she referred to London’s Mayor, a British born Muslim, as “the Mayor of Londonistan”.
Hopkins, though, has a huge number of social media followers (664k on Twitter), has a regular radio show, and is regularly invited to speak on TV, most notably of late on CNN and (controversially) Ireland’s Late Late Show. Her entire “brand” relies on saying the supposedly unsayable. It seems that her sole currency is in being controversial, begging the question of whether or not she believes everything she says, or is simply making sure she stays visible. Yet, over time, her opinions become seen as less controversial – it’s just Hopkins being Hopkins. Forget the obvious bigotry. Excuse the fact that some people may actually take her opinion as gospel without doing their own research. Why fact check when so many people retweet her? Surely she must have a point?
On Sunday morning, Remembrance Sunday, BBC One’s weekly political magazine The Andrew Marr Show, included an interview with Marine Le Pen. This brought cries of derision from almost all angels. Le Pen is the far right candidate for the forthcoming French presidential elections. Many felt that giving Le Pen airtime on Remembrance Day was wholly inappropriate. I tend to agree that the timing was a little crass, but would have had less of a problem if the interview was more robustly done , more challenging. Marr has defended the interview and its timing with sound logic.
However, the interview felt weak. I can’t imaging that other journalists would have let Le Pen off quite so lightly – Jeremy Paxman, James O’Brien or Masjid Nawaaz, would surely have challenged her more? Yes the BBC has a duty to be impartial, but not to be a soft touch. By allowing Le Pen to attempt to distance herself from what many see as her repugnant politics, to bask in some sort of notional reflected glory of Trump’s win or Brexit, normalises the shit out of her.
This week has seen the trial of Thomas Mair, accused of murdering Jo Cox MP. Despite his obvious links to far right movements and ideology, despite being heard shouting “Britain First” repeatedly as he committed the act, Jo’s death has not been handled in the same way by our mainstream media as the death of soldier Lee Rigby, killed by radicalised Muslims. Why? My belief is that it doesn’t serve the agenda. Lee Rigby’s death was horrific, and shocking. But no less so than Jo Cox’s. Both were perpetrated by people who held extreme beliefs, both were brutal, both shocking. But Mair was immediately portrayed as a loner with mental health issues in the media. This despite the fact that there was no suggestion that his history of mental illness caused him to research Jo’s itinerary, to search out far right material online, or to actually commit the crime. Despite the fact that he’d been known to associate with far right groups.
My point is this – we’ve normalised Trump. We’ve normalised Hopkins. We’ve normalised Thomas Mair. Why? What purpose does it serve? When you look at these three people, Trump, Hopkins and Mair have a common thread that links them.
Call it intolerance, call it right wing ideology, call it hate. Call it whatever you like, but don’t call it normal. I call it unacceptable. I call it scary.
I for one will not accept these opinions as normal. I will continue to challenge them. Because the alternative is potentially terrifying.