Pat Moynihan, the great politician-intellectual, warned about the dangers of “defining deviancy down,” in which worse and worse behavior comes to be accepted as the norm.
The late New York senator’s essay, almost a quarter century ago, was about crime and family structure. Today it applies to the Trump presidency: the danger that chronic lying, ignorance of history and policy, petty invective, racial demagoguery and personal greed fall within the realm of the norm.
If President Donald Trump gives a speech that is reasonably coherent or takes a sensible action, suddenly even some critics treat it as a momentous occurrence. But wait a moment. That’s actually what presidents are supposed to do.
When he commits one of his especially egregious acts, the news media world too often fall into one flawed approach or another. Either they downshift into partisan mode — in which those who constantly attack him continue to do so, and those who critique his critics continue their barrage — or they pursue a misbegotten mission for “balance.”
The sudden firing of the FBI director, James Comey, last week gave us a perfect example.