Defining Trump's Deviancy Down
In 1993, the late New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan published his famous paper, titled "Defining Deviancy Down." Lamenting the rising rates of crime, homelessness, and family breakdown among other American pathologies, the social scientist and member of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations warned, "We have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the 'normal' level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard." Whether due to the best of intentions, sheer opportunism or a gradual process of normalization, Americans and their institutions had come to "mainstream" behaviors once viewed as far beyond the pale of the acceptable.
More than two decades later, it appears the United States is far along in the process of defining down the deviancy of Donald Trump. Now, a man whose naked racism, cynical xenophobia, rapid-fire dissembling, shady business practices, staggering public policy ignorance, and dangerously nonsensical proposals would have once disqualified him from serious consideration as a major party nominee has a very real chance to become the 45th president of the United States.
Recent headlines tell the tale. During the past week alone, CNN reporter Dana Bash declared that the "onus" is on Hillary Clinton in the upcoming presidential debates as "the expectations are higher for her because she's a seasoned politician." Echoing Meet the Press host Chuck Todd's abdication of his journalistic duties during the passage of Obamacare, Fox News host and upcoming debate moderator Chris Wallace announced that fact-checking the candidates is "not my job." (In Wednesday's "Commander-in-Chief" Forum, NBC's Matt Lauer proved his point.) While former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien fretted that the Donald's campaign had "normalized" white supremacy on air and in the national discourse, his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway claimed that "Mr. Trump deserves credit" for his ersatz outreach to those he calls "the blacks." To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is benefitting from the low expectations of soft bigotry.
But that's not all. As Paul Krugman, Daniel Drezner, Brian Beutler and Paul Waldman among others protested, "Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?" After all, a cascade of stories from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the AP, and ABC News raising doubts about the Clinton Foundation, Hillary's emails and her ethics at the State Department produced, as Drezner summed it up, "nothingburgers." While the asymmetric coverage of Clinton is now in its third decade, Waldman pointed out, "Trump is still being let off the hook."
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