The Trouble With Normalization
There is a word that continues to bubble up to the surface. We hear it everyday on the news and radio and in conversations and we see it in blogs: Normalization.
Usually, right in front of or behind this nebulous word is a reference to as of this Friday, President Donald Trump.
I feel numb, but this election reminded me that America is doing exactly what America does. How our politics play out locally and on the national level, is a direct reflection of who we are at the time. I don’t agree with Trump supporters, but we were arrogant in thinking this segment of America did not exist or that they weren’t among our family and friends. And I guess that’s what made this whole situation even more painful and stressful. There were and still are a lot of assumptions about who the Trump voter was, and the world got it wrong. There is a diversity of reasons why they made the decision they made, way more complicated than just things like racism, sexism, homophobia. Aspirations to be rich and successful are American as apple pie. The sales pitch that Donald Trump was self made was appealing.
Even within our own lives, in our local communities, we’ve looked at businesspeople as the most successful, and in control of their own destinies. They are powerful, they are visible and we secretly wish we were them. They get to say and do what they want, because who will fire them? They are aligned with people who have power and make things happen. They have the best of everything. We want what they have and their success by any means necessary is real. It’s tangible. It’s sitting in the bank making more money with interest. Clearly, these people are smarter than us, they’ve figured it out. That was one of the reasons, I heard. And if Warren Buffett or Bill Gates ran, it may be a reason why I’d think of voting for them too.
Hillary didn’t help. Hillary Clinton was fruit of a poisonous tree and while folks are already stupidly propping up Cory Booker to literally be the “Next Obama” which he’s not, Hillary suffered from the same problem.
She’s not Barack Obama. Hillary had baggage. Hillary played just as well as the boys, if not better, but America doesn’t like those types of women. We bristle against them. We resist. The qualities, shortcomings and vices we expect in male leaders, we reject and condemn in female leaders. She was qualified, but there was a trust issue. Which makes Trump’s election even more difficult to swallow, but isn’t surprising. Rich, white and male is the formula for a president. Go back to basics if you’re ever stumped.
Let’s not get it twisted. And let’s not get high on our own supply. It wasn’t until the modern presidents in my lifetime, where you see that maybe folks grew up poor or working class, but they still wound up lawyers or successful business people before careers in politics. The majority of our longstanding leaders in this country over the history of this country do not come from humble beginnings. They are groomed for this. They are tied to business, they are tied to old money and power. It is the American way, we are used to this. It’s embedded in the American psyche as the fail safe.
I don’t make light of the situation we’re in. It’s serious. I get what people are saying when they use the word “normalization.” And no, we shouldn’t normalize hate, we shouldn’t normalize people treating women with disrespect, or bullying people of different religions or taunt them because of the color of their skin. But we’ve long normalized a culture where prior to his run for president, Donald Trump was a guest character, playing himself on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” we’ve normalized worrying about what the fuck every Kardiashian is doing every hour of the day. We’ve normalized being just like Donald Trump stunting online in comments sections and feeling good about ourselves when several people endorse us and agree with us and taking pleasure in destroying the credibility of anyone who dare challenge us.
Since the election, I haven’t said much, because I didn’t know what to say. I wondered what my words would have meant. I was caught up in being hurt that white kids I grew up with, who I thought liked me, grew up to say things online that made me want to throw things. Well, it’s not about them. All of the things that led them to see the world the way they see them weren’t going to be resolved by them just having positive interactions with me as a child or a teenager. It’s up to so many other things of their choosing to raise their consciousness, just as it is mine. To be offended and so deeply hurt was a very real thing for me, but it’s something I can’t control and it’s something I can’t police or force them to face, especially on Facebook.
The powerful moments have been among the bookclub I’m in, where the majority of participants are older, white liberal women, reading works of black authors. They ask tough questions, and I answer honestly. There are tears sometimes, and frustration however, there is no attack. There are moments where they say, “I just didn’t know.” And they realize just how separate their worlds have been from mine and it hurts everyone. It’s emotionally taxing.
We can be fickle, with the exception of 9/11, we can forget often in the name of moving forward. We don’t study and we bank on sliding in at the eleventh hour being graded on the curve and achieving success. Big success. We take things for granted. We take shorts. When we only turn out in large numbers to vote for president and expect the changes to come from he or she alone, we’ve taken the short cut. When we don’t know who our local legislators are, making the rules or changing the rules under our noses, we’ve taken the short cut with the expectation to win big.
America is by nature reactive. If England didn’t start feeling themselves, taking liberties and taking taxes while folks were out here trying to make it happen, if early Americans were simply comfortable and good with the status quo, we’d still be hailing the queen. It takes drastic shit for Americans to make drastic change.
This time drastic has arrived via Twitter and the ballot box and painted the town in orange.
Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I love the things we get right. I love how far we’ve come, but I hate that as a nation, we are the embodiment of the old black mother’s warning “a hard head makes a soft behind.”
As a nation, we are only 241 years old and in that time, we’ve managed to become a world power. We lead and the world listens, but in the grand scheme of the timeline of humanity, as a nation in terms of age and experience, we are also teenagers. Optimistic, determined, contrary, difficult, fickle and moody. One day we’re hip hop, one day we’re goth. That’s the only way I can logically look at the bigger picture and see how we’ve made the change from President Barack Obama, who represents pragmatic intellectuals, carefully choosing words and actions, to the complete opposite in Donald Trump. Self-centered, rich and reported to give speeches at less than a sixth grade level.
But here we are. And here comes that word. Normalization. Over and over, we hear people saying, we shouldn’t normalize Donald Trump or his ilk. But we already have. His election alone normalized him. Our rejection of facts has been normalized. Ugliness was pervasive throughout the entire election from the individual party primaries onward. Ugliness was normalized.
Even prior to the election, when Sandy Hook and all of the other acts of mass violence before and after it wasn’t enough to cause immediate, sweeping gun reform, we normalized apathy. We normalized having semi automatic weapons for hunting taking the second amendment literally, when at that time those types of weapons didn’t exist.
We normalized disrespect across parties when Representative Joe Wilson stood up during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union and yelled, “You lie.” And when republican leadership said day one they will do everything they can to block President Obama’s policies. And they kept their word, even when it was legislation they liked. We normalized police brutality when we kept watching black and brown men, women and children die at the hands of police when we actually argued with each other on Facebook that demanding reform for how police respond to daily, everyday interactions, was in fact anti-police.
All of the behavior we’re seeing that we are so outraged by, we’ve already implicitly accepted it. But like the kids who don’t study, but still expect an A, we are incredulous by all that we are witnessing.
I’m glad that people are marching, but what will we do when the marches are over? I’m glad that people are having conversations, but what will we do when the conversations are done?
America is still a place where the impossible happens everyday and where people united and unrelenting will find a way to win. Good finds a way. That is the true balance. However, as America continues to age and grow out of whatever phase we’re currently in, my prayer is we grow into our potential and keep growing. I hope we will mature to the point where our biggest goal will be simply the maintenance of democracy that is decent, fair and just– not having to keep rebuilding after we tear it apart and fight over who made the mess. It was us. It has always been us.