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Are we becoming desensitized to Trump's outrageousness?

Aug 28, 2017

There’s an old saying that if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature one degree at a time, the frog won’t notice or hop out before it is cooked.

Scientists say this isn’t really true for frogs, but it may well be true, at least intellectually, for people.

Certainly, we can become desensitized to about any form of outrageousness.

Consider what we are living through now.

We have a President of the United States who says things almost every day that would have been unimaginable for any previous president. Not even Senator Joe McCarthy, the red-baiting demagogue of the early 1950s, ever said anything like this:

“Democrats have no ideas, no policy, no vision for the country other than total socialism and maybe frankly a step beyond socialism.”

Basically, that’s saying the Democratic Party is not only socialist, but flirting with communism.

That he said it at all is beyond appalling, and what’s nearly as remarkable is that it was not very stunning. Any comment like that by any previous president would have caused news bulletins and six-column newspaper headlines.

Today, we regard the President’s saying such things pretty much the way we would a three-year-old calling us a poo-poo head.

This comment, by the way, came towards the end of his 77-minute rant in Arizona five days ago, in the course of which he slimed both of that state’s Republican senators.

These aren’t normal times.

Probably the most eye-opening thing I read yesterday was a column in the Sunday Detroit Free Press by that paper’s recently retired editor and publisher, Paul Anger. I did not know Anger well, but he seemed the classic Gannett corporate executive, running the paper with the top-down management style that is a hallmark of the nation’s biggest newspaper corporation.

He was not seen as radical, wild or crazy. Under his leadership, the newspaper was usually editorially cautious, endorsing both Republicans and Democrats.

But here’s what he wrote in his former newspaper yesterday:

"If you still support Donald Trump, I cannot for the life of me understand it … he's vile. Unstable. He's proved it over and over and over ... 

There's no way to pretend that this guy is fit to be President of the United States ... here's the thing that should unite all parties and persuasions right now about Trump: He's un-American."

Several hundred words later, he concludes:

"We have a self-serving, unhinged, un-American president in the White House. I hope we can finally agree on that."

Well, all of America certainly doesn’t agree.

But I’m certain what passes for the political leadership of this nation does. They don’t, however, seem to have a clue as to what to do about it. We’ve never been here before, and this is not something our system is set up to deal with.

In Great Britain, it would be relatively simple. There would be a vote of confidence, and if the leader didn’t get sufficient support, the party in power would choose a new leader. We have no mechanism for that here.

So I frankly don’t have a clue what will happen.

I’m certain only about one thing. This won’t be a year any of us will easily forget.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.