BIDLACK | Donald Trump and the new normal of dishonor

Author: Hal Bidlack - May 15, 2018 - Updated: May 15, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Some important things in Washington are double plus un-good. You may recall that term from your high school English class, when you were forced to read George Orwell’s classic cautionary tale 1984. In that book, a new and “more efficient” language was developed by the all-powerful government to make things easier to control. Something really bad? Well, double plus un-good, to be sure. In Orwell’s hellish future, all kinds of governmental actions were now normal. Lies, when told boldly enough, became truth, and questioning the leadership of the nation was a “thought crime” and deeply unpatriotic. Truly double plus un-good.

Back when I was dutifully reading 1984, way back in the mid-1970s, Orwell was seen as a timely warning – from the depths of the Cold War – that normalizing what had always been seen as bad behavior was a step toward totalitarianism, and it was, well, double plus un-good. Happily, the actual year 1984 came and went with little more than a few articles in newspapers and magazines. Ronald Reagan was president and I was an Air Force Captain, sitting nuclear alert with the ICBM force up in Cheyenne.

Which brings us to our current president and his ongoing requirement that he and his staff alter history, including his own statements, to make himself appear (at least to his base) to be a powerful and manly leader. And it is this normalization of deceit, this standardizing of fabrications, that is both deeply troubling and morally outrageous.

Let’s look at the record, shall we? The Washington Post published a story on the first anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration, documenting 2140 false or misleading claims made by Mr. Trump during just his first year in office, a record for any administration from either party, by far. But you may be thinking, the Washington Post is part of that vast and horrible liberal media, and we can’t trust a single thing they say. After all, Mr. Trump has often called reporters dishonest, “bad people,” and has called for rethinking the First Amendment. So, let’s only use Mr. Trump’s own words, just to be safe.

On March 19, 2012, Mr. Trump tweeted “Why does Barak Obama always have to rely on teleprompters?” Not a big deal, truly, but indicative of normalization, as now when Mr. Trump uses teleprompters, mechanically turning from left prompter to right prompter every few seconds, his staff praises him for staying on message. Not a big deal, but a bit of 1984 normalizing.

Let’s hit the links, shall we? Mr. Trump tweeted, not once, but twenty-seven times that Mr. Obama was playing too much golf. He further stated before cameras, at a number of campaign rallies, that he himself would not have time to play any golf at all. But now, it’s normal for President Trump to play a lot of golf, and he has done so with enthusiasm, playing at least twice as much golf as Obama, and likely much more, as he often hides rounds played at his own courses from the White House activity logs. Again, not the most important of issues, but the normalizing of his lies about golf are consistent with an overall pattern of dishonestly about being dishonest as normal behavior.

Did you notice it’s been over a year since Mr. Trump sat down with a reporter other than one from Fox News or a similarly right-leaning (to say it mildly) journalist? Traditionally, sitting presidents regularly did East Room full-up press conferences at least every few months. But a president avoiding doing press conferences is now just, well, normal.

We tolerate normalization at our peril. When we allow national leaders to say and act in vile manners and accept an explanation that it’s just locker room talk, we diminish ourselves as well as our nation. When Democrat Eric Schneiderman was accused of abhorrent behavior toward women, he was out of office within a day. Democrat Al Franken resigned from the Senate. But the current White House staffer who joked about John McCain not mattering because he’s dying, not only still hasa job, but the entire communications staff was reprimanded for leakingthat despicable statement to the press.

When behavior you would never tolerate from your child becomes normal and acceptable in a president, we have entered a dangerous and loathsome world. When standards of honorable behavior become fungible and a matter of popular whim rather than core beliefs of what is right and wrong, we endanger our future. When we normalize abhorrence, we are looking at a future that is truly double plus un-good.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.