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Normalizing Trump

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Good essay by Lili Loofbourow on how Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s assured lying functioned for Trump:

So that’s the reality-distorting rhetoric of Sanders, and why the headline on a Margaret Sullivan retrospective calls her the “Queen of Gaslighting.” But the secret to Sanders’ success wasn’t just to sanitize the president’s every impulse as commonsensical and justified; it was to woodenly fail to register any acknowledgement at all of his excesses. Even Sean Spicer stammered and sweat. By treating his inflammatory remarks and actions as utterly commonplace, Sanders modeled to the public how to metabolize the outrageous as if it were normal. This was a performance, of course: Sanders’ impassivity was selective, and she was adept at acting like it was the media’s reaction that was strange.

Sanders didn’t just defend the president from the effects of his own statements; she offered herself as a kind of prosaic presence whose function it was to act like anything Trump did, no matter how shocking, was no big deal. She exemplified the stolid approval Trump wanted for everything from family separations to tax cuts for the rich. As her tenure ends, we can now see how much her reliance on reassuring phrases like “make a determination”—and unblinkingly calling lies differences of opinion and hush payments not worth discussing—provided a kind of muted laugh track to the terrible show being forced upon America. Rather than laugh at unfunny jokes, she loyally normalized despicable conduct.

Sanders didn’t just defend the president from the effects of his own statements; she offered herself as a kind of prosaic presence whose function it was to act like anything Trump did, no matter how shocking, was no big deal. She exemplified the stolid approval Trump wanted for everything from family separations to tax cuts for the rich. As her tenure ends, we can now see how much her reliance on reassuring phrases like “make a determination”—and unblinkingly calling lies differences of opinion and hush payments not worth discussing—provided a kind of muted laugh track to the terrible show being forced upon America. Rather than laugh at unfunny jokes, she loyally normalized despicable conduct.

Ari Fleischer, the second Bush administration’s most accomplished serial liar, always seemed like a weasel; he implicitly communicated that he was in on the joke. Sanders’s ability to retain an even keel while doing a job that almost never permits saying anything true as well as requiring an immense about of denying the obvious is almost spooky.

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