When Normal Is No Longer an Option

Pretty much everything that could be said about Sarah Huckabee Sanders getting booted from a restaurant because she works for Donald Trump has probably already been said. But Chris Hayes suggests that there is a deeper pattern at work here.

Kevin Drum reminded us that this is nothing new. During the Civil Rights Movement, protests were met with massive resistance and brutality by white people, even as they became obsessed with the idea that black people might overreact.

But this whole conversation sheds light on some questions that have been lying under the surface for many of us. Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of the restaurant that asked Sanders to leave, explained her decision by saying that “this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.” It is that “moment” that David Roberts was addressing in his tweetstorm.

What should the rest of us do? The ~25% of Americans who believe & want horrible, illiberal shit (“deplorables,” you might call them) have taken over the GOP. They are driving it toward fascism as fast as the system will allow them. What’s the right response?

For years, lefties have been warning about this devolution of the GOP, going back to Reagan. They have bene dismissed as crazy partisan hippies, condemned as “uncivil,” told they are part of the problem, because being mad about illiberalism is just like illiberalism. The question has always been, where do you draw the line? At what point in the GOP’s devolution do we say: OK, that’s too far. We’re no longer in Normal Politics.

We’re in a crisis situation, on the verge of losing our democracy. Where is the line? The most insidious thing about the descent into illiberalism is that it is incremental. There’s no dramatic moment, no Rubicon. Every step seems bad, but only a little worse than the previous step. Smart autocrats are careful not to provide that moment. As this slide into illiberalism has continued, the mainstream DC establishment, including the sorts of Very Serious People that write major newspaper editorials, have *helped prevent that moment*. They have normalized, normalized, normalized, greasing the skids.

Michelle Goldberg picked up on the fact that we’re in a moment of crisis.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy…

…millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies. The civility police might point out that many conservatives hated Obama just as much, but that only demonstrates the limits of content-neutral analysis. The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.

Adam Gopnick identifies the dangers of normalization by asking the question, “who gets a seat at the table?”

On the issue of Sanders being expelled from a restaurant, mixed emotions are the only ones a rational person can have. On the one hand, one of the ritual functions of restaurants is to make a common place for commonplace civilization to proceed. They build social capital from their openness to all kinds…

On the other hand, the Trump Administration is not a normal Presidential Administration. This is the essential and easily fudged fact of our historical moment. The Trump Administration is—in ways that are specific to incipient tyrannies—all about an assault on civility. To the degree that Trump has any ideology at all, it’s a hatred of civility—a belief that the normal decencies painfully evolved over centuries are signs of weakness which occlude the natural order of domination and submission. It’s why Trump admires dictators. Theirs are his values; that’s his feast. And, to end the normal discourse of democracy, the Trump Administration must make lies respectable—lying not tactically but all the time about everything, in a way that does not just degrade but destroys exactly the common table of democratic debate.

That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s chosen role in life—to further those lies, treat lies as truth, and make lies acceptable. This is not just a question of protesting a particular policy; in the end there are no policies, only the infantile impulses of a man veering from one urge to another. The great threat to American democracy isn’t “policy” but the pretense of normalcy. That’s the danger, for with the lies come the appeasement of tyranny, the admiration of tyranny, and, as now seems increasingly likely, the secret alliance with tyranny. That’s what makes the Trump Administration intolerable, and, inasmuch as it is intolerable, public shaming and shunning of those who take part in it seems just.

That really gets to the heart of things. If the purveyors of “civility” want all of us to react to what is happening by standing within the lines of normalcy, they are essentially advocating for the normalization of Donald Trump’s assault on our democracy. That is the way of appeasement in this crisis.

Simply put, normal is no longer an option. Other than getting involved with candidates you support and voting, finding a new path is something that each of us must grapple with individually. But a man who knows a thing or two about what it means to step outside of normal says that we need to learn the lesson Rosa Parks and Dr. King taught him. It’s time to get into trouble…good trouble.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.