Kathleen Parker: The new normal that isn’t
WASHINGTON — Across much of media lately, the phrase “new normal” keeps cropping up to describe what is, in fact, not normal, as most sane adults have understood its meaning.
This is to say, the everyday machinations and human behaviors typical within a healthy, robust society have shifted gears and evolved, not in a good way, to accommodate new circumstances. Overwhelmed by natural and un-natural disasters — from California’s infernos to frequent mass shootings — we gradually habituate to extreme expressions of both Nature and man.
Incrementally, we become inured to the oddness of things.
It is undoubtedly helpful during such times to be a sociopath, who doesn’t feel much of anything beyond his or own immediate narcissistic needs. When, say, an entire town is incinerated, leaving dozens dead and hundreds missing, it is surely less horrifying if empathy is absent.
Or, when a foreign-born U.S. resident is tortured, murdered and chopped to pieces, not necessarily in that order, one can still capture 10 hours of REM without tangling the sheets of one’s rest. Ever disinclined to put his or her feet in someone else’s shoes — because his or her own are so much finer — nothing on the planet is his or her concern.
You realize, of course, 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 (absurd, weird, bonkers) reactions contribute to a larger lunacy that threatens to become commonplace and, therefore, also part of the new normal.
When reality is ignored or recharacterized in ways that defy logical thinking and mute rational rebuttal, then “new normal” becomes, drip by drip, just another category of current events. This (horrible, tragic, bizarre) thing happened and the president said this (loony, off-the-wall, obscene) thing.
Welp, welcome to the new normal, says the smiling commentator. We’ll be right back after this quick break.
When the fires swept through parts of California, Trump first blamed the forest managers, then intoned that fires wouldn’t happen if forest floors were raked. Right. Rakes. We need more rakes. Jobs, jobs, jobs!
When Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and contributor to The Washington Post, was killed in Turkey — at the behest (according to the CIA) of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — Trump flippantly observed that Khashoggi wasn’t even a U.S. citizen and, besides, it happened over there. What’s the big deal, other than the billions in arms sales?
The same day a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 mostly elderly worshipers and wounding several others, Trump regaled reporters and campaign rally attendees in Indiana and Illinois with calls for armed security at places of worship and death penalties for shooters.
“It’s presumed that this is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” he said. “And 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. So 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 reframe 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.