Until the list of what is unacceptable is short enough to manage

The Economist takes a look at how Trump has been defining deviancy downwards.

HOW do people learn to accept what they once found unacceptable? In 1927 Frederic Thrasher published a “natural history” of 1,313 gangs in Chicago. Each of them lived by a set of unwritten rules that had come to make sense to gang members but were still repellent to everyone else. So it is with Donald Trump and many of his supporters. By normalising attitudes that, before he came along, were publicly taboo, Mr Trump has taken a knuckle-duster to American political culture.

Aka he’s moved the Overton window.

I do think that’s true, and it’s a huge part of why I (and many others) detest him so much. He’s doing terrible damage, every minute of every day, and it’s damage that won’t just slough off as soon as the election is over. We don’t need this. Nobody needs this. Nobody needs a mean, vulgar, ignorant, greedy bully of a man modeling shit behavior in front of howling mobs for months on end. Nobody needs a bad man getting all this adoring attention. It’s bad for us, the way chocolate is bad for dogs – it doesn’t just spoil our appetite for dinner, it poisons our whole system.

The recording of him boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”, long before he was a candidate, was unpleasant enough. More worrying still has been the insistence by many Trump supporters that his behaviour was normal.

Worrying but not the least bit surprising. After more than five years of being one of the targets of an organized group of Trump-like bullies, and of learning more about that whole culture or movement or whatever you want to call it – I can’t possibly be surprised at the fact that lots of people think Trump’s behavior is both normal and admirable.

Mercifully, America is not about to riot on November 9th. But the reasons have less to do with the state’s power to enforce the letter of the law than with the unwritten rules that American democracy thrives on. It is these that Mr Trump is trampling over—and which Americans need to defend.

If this seems exaggerated, consider what Mr Trump has introduced to political discourse this year: the idea that Muslims must be banned from entering the country; that a federal judge born of Mexican parents was unfit to preside over a case involving Mr Trump; that a reporter’s disability is ripe for mockery; that “crooked” Mrs Clinton must be watched lest she steal the election. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote that when many bad things happen at once, societies define deviancy down, until the list of what is unacceptable is short enough to be manageable. When parents wonder if a presidential debate is suitable for their children to watch, Mr Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border no longer seems quite so shocking.

That may be Trump’s one skill – performing so many outrages that he gets us to sideline some of them while we try to deal with the worst/most recent.

The list of what’s unacceptable is way too long.

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