WASHINGTON – Across much of media lately, the phrase “new normal” keeps cropping up to describe what is, in fact, not normal.
This is to say, the everyday behaviors typical within a healthy society have shifted gears and evolved, not in a good way, to accommodate new circumstances. Overwhelmed by natural and unnatural disasters – from California’s infernos to frequent mass shootings – we gradually habituate to extremes of both nature and man.
It is undoubtedly helpful during such times to be a sociopath. When, say, an entire town is incinerated, it is surely less horrifying if empathy is absent.
Or, when a foreign-born U.S. resident is chopped to pieces, one can still capture 10 hours of REM. Ever disinclined to put his or her feet in someone else’s shoes, nothing on the planet is his or her concern.
You realize, that I’m using “her” as a mandatory attendant to the gender-neutral theory that both sexes are equally susceptible to toxic narcissism, as perhaps they are. I’m crossing all the T’s, in other words, to avoid saying Donald Trump. But, then, you knew that.
Speaking of the devil, this isn’t to blame the president for the occurrences described but rather to suggest that his dubious reactions contribute to a larger lunacy that threatens to become part of the new normal.
When reality is ignored or re-characterized in ways that defy logical thinking, “new normal” becomes just another category of current events. This horrible thing happened and the president said this off-the-wall thing.
When Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and contributor to The Washington Post, was killed in Turkey, Trump flippantly observed that Khashoggi wasn’t even a U.S. citizen and, besides, it happened over there.
The same day a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 mostly elderly worshipers and wounding several others, Trump regaled rally attendees with calls for armed security at places of worship and death penalties for shooters.
“So this is a case where if they had an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them, maybe nobody would have been killed except for him.,” he said. S”o it’s a very, very difficult situation.”
Yes, it is. To his credit, Trump recognized the shooting as anti-Semitic, yet he is reluctant to distance himself from the neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups that support him. The blame, meanwhile, seems to shift from the shooter to the Someone Else, who should have had a gun. Armed guards at every door may become our future, but Woulda, Coulda and Shoulda are unwelcome guests at a funeral.
Anyone with an ounce of empathy knows this, but Trump doesn’t seem to possess an iota. Whereas previous modern presidents have shed tears and found the right words to comfort the grieving – because they felt it – this president makes a pretend show of dry sorrow, then hops his plane to another campaign rally, where admirers will feed the gaping maw of his rapacious ego.
Simply put, the man is not normal – and we should resist the inclination to re-frame long-accepted standards by adding cute prefixes to distract ourselves from encroaching chaos.
Categorizing, which is an expression of obsessive compulsive disorder, effectively applies an illusory sealant to our anxieties. But medicating ourselves with verbal contortions poses an Orwellian risk: Over time, we forget what normal was.
Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture for The Washington Post.