There’s been a great deal written both during the campaign and since the election about the dangers of “normalizing” Donald Trump. When people talk about normalizing, I think they mean legitimizing – speaking of Donald Trump as though he were a perfectly usual candidate or President-Elect, speaking of his ideas and statements as though they’re reasonable alternatives to “normal” political discourse in the US, and thus legitimate. It also means downplaying or disregarding things that don’t fit the “normal” narrative.
Of course Donald Trump is not a perfectly usual President-Elect. Of course some of his ideas are shockingly abnormal. Of course some of his statements during the campaign are completely beyond the pale in terms of decency or past US political campaigns. Of course he is a racist and a bigot, or is at least willing to lie down with those who are. The mainstream media – after mostly ignoring these things until late in the campaign – has to some extent awakened to this. The Republican party, intent on using Trump to advance its own agenda, has not. To different degrees, both the media and the Republican party are still engaged in normalizing Trump.
Then there’s Stephen Bannon, now chief strategist on Trump’s team, formerly chairman of Breitbart News. The Breitbart site, which does not qualify as “news”, is a web site that is part of the “alt-right”, for which read neo-fascist right. It traffics in white nationalism, homophobia, anti-feminism, anti-Semitism, and fictitious news. Call it what it is: Der Stürmer for modern America. Take a look at the Breitbart site if you never have, or look at a list of some of its greatest hits here. Call Bannon what he is, too: crypto-fascist, Josef Goebbels-lite.
And yet, Bannon is being normalized too. When NPR interviewed him November 17, they allowed him to soft-pedal his alt-right positions and connections. When Paul Ryan was asked about Bannon on November 13, he said he had “no concerns” about his presence on Trump’s staff. And a few media people, whistling in the dark, have said that although Breitbart is pretty bad, Steve Bannon might not really be like that, we can’t tell yet. Uh huh.
On the other hand, a couple of bright spots exist relative to Bannon. There are at least three petitions circulating demanding his removal, one from MoveOn, one from change.org, and one from the SPLC. And as of this writing, 169 senators, all Democrats, have told Trump they want Bannon removed. With the press and the Republicans so keen to normalize, it’s not clear that any of these efforts will result in his removal. But perhaps there is hope.