Norm Schnorm

“You’re never going to be normal, are you?”

Those are the very words my father spoke to me as I was heading out to Seattle back in 1985. As I recall, they were in response to his question, “What are you going to do out there?” And my answer, “I don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

I didn't know "normal" was something to strive for, Dad. I thought but didn't say.

Given our present circumstances, however, “normal,” has become a state of being devoutly to be wished for in our leaders, particularly in our president. Pundit after pundit decries the lack of norms followed by the Trump administration and, most egregiously, Trump himself, as if following the norms would fix everything. However, I want to remind readers that Trump isn’t a terrible president because he deviates from the “norms.” He’s a terrible president because he’s a terrible person. I have no idea what his problem is. All I know is that, in nearly every single instance in which he could provide positive leadership of any kind whatsoever, he not only provides just the opposite – he seems to have no idea that he’s going the wrong direction for the country.

James Joyner, in this piece from Outside the Beltway last year, isn't worried about norms. Norms aren't laws. However:

One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop. That’s the problem. The norms are just the orange rubber cones he knocked over when he drove out of his lane and headed for the crowded sidewalk.

So, as I asked myself all those years ago, is “normal” something we should be striving for in the first place? What would we be thinking now if Trump had been psychologically capable of “following the norms”? As Alex Kingsbury argues in this recent piece for the NYT, “normal” is what helped to get us here in the first place.

Normal America gave white-collar criminals parking tickets, while sending SWAT teams after drug dealers because it viewed one type of criminal as a far greater threat to the republic. Now is not the time to return to what was normal. It’s a time to learn from past misjudgments.

Yes, it would be nice to have a president who behaved himself in public. Who was able to speak in full, cogent sentences. To look properly sorrowful at mass shootings and forest fires. We would likely forgive a lot and not ask too many questions of a president who disowned Nazis and got along with Canada.

So maybe we’re lucky that we have a president who cannot even give the “norms” a passing glance. His behavior makes us look more sharply at him, at those of us who voted for him, at a layer of our national consciousness that we usually prefer to ignore. Trump’s flouting of the norms has made us long for a new “normal.” Whatever that is. Even I could probably strive for that.