After Barack Obama was elected, it seemed that America had a new normalcy, one that some described as “post-racial.” For any who took that too seriously, Mitch McConnell popped their balloon when in October, 2010 he said that his main goal was to make Obama a one-term president. Couple that with the rise of the Tea Party which began right after Obama’s election and the new normal included increased levels of racial discord. But despite all the unreasonable criticism that Obama endured, he maintained his level of civility throughout his administration. While his legislative and foreign affairs accomplishments may have been limited, he established a norm of dignity, respect, thoughtfulness and tolerance the likes of which we had not seen since John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
And then Trump. No need to list the thousands of lies and the multitude of indignities. Suffice it to say, we have a new normalcy characterized in large part by discord and anger.
In the past few days, we have seen some liberals begin to follow Trump, the pied piper of the low road. First it was the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, VA; then California Congresswoman Maxine Waters who said,
“The American people have put up with this president long enough. What more do we need to see? What more lies do we need to hear?” Waters shouted at a rally in Los Angeles on Saturday. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them!”
Changing the tone and the demeanor of the Trump years will be one challenge, but another will be how to return to normalcy in all areas of policy. The problem is that there is not just one definition of normalcy. One year ago, Trump was saber-rattling against North Korea as no president had ever done before. Now Trump is best buddies with the authoritarian leader of North Korea. We may live in blissful ignorance about the real American-North Korean relationship so long as Trump is in the White House, but eventually there will be someone new and that will lead to a new normalcy.
The problem with the word ‘normalcy’ is that it implies that there is only one standard. But if you ask leading American politicians, including the many who may run for president in 2020, there is a multitude of normalcies that could characterize our relationship with Kim Jong Un and his compatriots.
If our post-Trump president is someone like George W. Bush, we will have a policy that will be characterized by a combination of intellectual laziness and bullying. If we elect someone like Barack Obama, our policies will be thoughtful, but also tentative.
It would be a different kind of normalcy with someone like Dwight Eisenhower. The country might be reassured by a genuine military “hero” who steers with a steady hand. On the other hand, a Teddy Roosevelt-type figure might be an adventurist who would try to use an intellectual basis for “American exceptionalism.”
The point is that all Americans will need to take a number and get in line to try to define the “normalcy du jour” post Trump. There will be a lot of shoving and jostling in the line. It’s not clear whether taking the high ground of the low road will be preferable in winning the day.
But if progressives have principles that guide them both in policy and behavior, we must keep our eyes on the prize and make wise decisions. The Democratic candidate for president in 2020 will have to be someone with clear vision and the ability to articulate. Our first goal is to find someone we can respect and who can win, and then for us to help him or her raise the bar. It’s been down too low for too long.