Assessing American ‘Normalcy’ in the Age of Trump

January 16, 2020 Updated: January 20, 2020
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Commentary

In Canada and the United Kingdom there is no shortage of skeptical opinion about Donald Trump’s America.

A year-end opinion column in the Globe and Mail provided a reminder that we are living in an odd time in which the lot of ordinary Americans is better than ever but is constantly presented as never having been worse.

Headlined by a graphic image of an angry Donald Trump superimposed on a red flag, the Globe piece supported this curious habit with the dark prophesy that: “In the 2020s, abnormal will remain the new normal.”

The columnist, Tom Fletcher, a former British Ambassador to Lebanon and principle elect of his alma mater, Hertford College, Oxford, wrote in a way remarkably in sync with the permanent state employees who testified at the inquiry leading to the U.S. president’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Fletcher began by asserting that “sensible diplomats don’t make predictions.” But he went on to freely prognosticate about the coming decade. “The 2020s” he said, “will be no less erratic than the period since the (hopefully temporary) 2016 resignation of America as the most influential driving force for liberty in history.”

In a breathtaking anti-trump diatribe, Fletcher contended that we are living through a particularly “abnormal” period in history clearly brought on by the election of a disruptive American president.

He suggested that if Trump remains in the White House, “abnormal will remain the new normal.” In his view, the president’s re-election would “extend the vacancy for leader of the free world, cripple efforts to slow the climate crisis and delight the growing club of autocrats and despots who have profited.”

Fletcher also predicted that world affairs would be reduced to division, distraction, hatred, intolerance, craziness, tyranny, lies, chest thumping, and damage control. For a man concerned about the decline of diplomacy, the former ambassador was anything but diplomatic.

Examining the Origins of Our Division

Should the sources of American division and civic intolerance be so thoroughly attributed to the Trump campaign and the president’s razor-edge personal demeanour?

Another U.K. scholar might beg to differ with Fletcher’s contentions. In his recent book “The Madness of Crowds,” British author Douglas Murray sets out to explain why post-modern societies are so filled with conflict. But he doesn’t lay blame at the feet of Donald Trump or any other particular politician.

Murray examines some of the most divisive issues in the present century: sexuality, gender, technology, and race. He clearly demonstrates that divisive culture wars were playing out in schools, universities, homes, and workplaces years before Trump ever considered running for president.

Readers may recall that it was Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton who exposed the existing rift in American society when, during the 2015 election campaign, she described Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” From that point on, ordinary Americans better understood the degree to which their own elites held them in contempt.

Murray contends that we are living in a postmodern era in which traditional, religious, and cultural narratives have already collapsed. In their place, narrow sets of interests seek to weaponize identity and crusade against imagined enemies. Mutual intolerance is accelerated by powerful new forms of social and news media.

Post-modern intellectuals reject the ideal of national unity in favour of tribal identities and global politics. Most academics no longer view society as a complex system of trust and traditions that developed over the centuries. They view everything through the prism of contemporary power relationships and “intersectionality.” This distorts rather than clarifies what should be considered as normal or abnormal.

Harding’s Appeal for ‘Normalcy’ Belittled

One hundred years ago, on the eve of the 1920s, middle America was seeking a return to what former president Warren Harding called “normalcy.”

Harding said: “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

Like Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” Harding’s appeal for normalcy was belittled and maligned by progressive journalists. But he won the election of 1920 with 60.3 percent of the popular vote.

A Troubling Form of Vengefulness

Journalism is sometimes practiced in a very retributive mood. One consequence appears to be the normalization of a troubling form of vengefulness which has, over past decades, seeped into our everyday life and language.

In that part of the world formed by a Judeo-Christian culture, this unforgiving manner might be regarded as spiritually abnormal. But it didn’t begin with Donald Trump. Nor will it end if the secular left succeeds in bringing down America’s president.

All of us know clever people with well-stocked minds and free-ranging intellects who speak well and influence crowds. But they seldom convince all of us because they clearly lack the virtue of good judgement.

With so many middle-class, working Americans enjoying the benefits of the Trump economy, it is unlikely that sensible people will be inclined to vote against their own pocketbooks. One can’t help thinking that this is really what Tom Fletcher is unhappy about.

William Brooks is a writer and educator based in Montreal. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.