After wrongly predicting the election, political pundits are returning to TV talkshows to explain what will happen under a Trump presidency. But these predictions aren’t like TV anchors predicting the weather; these forecasts have a profound impact on the public reception to the Trump administration and the future course of US politics.
The danger is that by normalizing Trump—a candidate distinguished by an embrace of political violence and open appeals to ethnic nationalism who boasted of getting away with sexual assaults—these commentators will make racist and sexist bullying an acceptable way to run for public office.
The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle told Al Sharpton on MSNBC (11/13/16): “This is a guy who will say anything on the campaign trail, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll start out like that.” Her reasoning as to why Trump won’t be as vile and dangerous as he promised:
I think he starts out knowing he’s got people watching him, and knowing that people are nervous, and until he has a reason to clash with folks, I think he’s going to try to moderate a little bit.
When Sharpton asked Michael Steele, an MSNBC political analyst and former Republican national chair, what happens if Trump bans Muslims and deports millions of people, Steele responded by explaining:
Well, first off, I don’t think that’s going to happen…. Exit polls showed that, you know, his supporters never took that seriously. The press took it literally. They never took it seriously. And I don’t think that’s going to be part of the agenda.
Apparently people who voted for Trump thought he was kidding, so not to worry.
In the worst-case scenario—that Trump actually meant what he promised to do on the campaign trail multiple times—that still isn’t a problem, Steele assured us:
But I’ll go with that. If that’s the type of legislation that comes out of the West Wing, and presented to the Congress, yes, there are going to be some really strong thought lines drawn there, and some pushback.
In fact, the opposite of all this horror might happen; Trump may transform into Bernie Sanders. Steele went on to say: “I really believe, Reverend, that you’re going to see Donald Trump govern as a pragmatic populist.”
Sharpton’s guests aren’t the only ones who expect Trump will be another run-of-the-mill president. On CNN (11/13/16), political reporter Eugene Scott also looked forward to a normal presidency. Scott’s reasoning as to why Trump will behave nicely:
I think he has to realize that he’s serving multiple demographics and he has to find a way to compromise. And that’s what Reince Priebus is going to help him do.
Priebus, it should be remembered, is a long-time advocate of voter suppression as a tool for Republican electoral success (Urban Milwaukee, 11/14/16). MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (Hardball, 2/24/16) once observed that Priebus’ “No. 1 goal is to keep blacks from voting.” In the event that this aide can’t control Trump, CNN correspondent Chris Frates stated:
But House Speaker Paul Ryan told early to Jake Tapper today that neither lawmakers nor Trump are planning to create that deportation force. He says that they’re focused more on border security, Fred.
You know, Paul Ryan—the GOP leader who wants to privatize Social Security, end guaranteed Medicare, eliminate health insurance for low-income children and sell off federal land for revenue (Grist, 10/28/15). He’s got your back, undocumented immigrants!
Trump gave his first extended post-election TV interview to CBS‘s 60 Minutes (11/13/16), and to return the favor correspondent Lesley Stahl did what she could to legitimize his presidency. She introduced the segment:
What we discovered in Mr. Trump’s first television interview as president-elect was that some of his signature issues at the heart of his campaign were not meant to be taken literally, but as opening bids for negotiation.
She asked Trump mostly softball questions, like “Are people going to be surprised about how you conduct yourself as president?” and “Are you in any way intimidated, scared about this enormous burden, the gravity of what you’re taking on?” before bringing on Trump’s wife Melania (“What kind of a first lady do you think she’s going to be?”) and his adult children (“Don, did you discover something about your father that you didn’t know before?”).
When CBS’s John Dickerson (Face the Nation, 11/13/16) brought up Trump’s association of “alt-right” neo-supremacists, guest Newt Gingrich responded:
This is crazy. Donald Trump is a mainstream conservative who wants to profoundly take on the left. The left is infuriated that anybody would challenge the legitimacy of their moral superiority. And so the left goes hysterical.
Dickerson didn’t ask what makes Trump a mainstream conservative, instead inquiring about what would happen to Trump’s Twitter account.
NBC’s Meet the Press (11/13/16) did more than most to challenge the normalization of Trump. When Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told host Chuck Todd that this election was a “mandate” for Trump, Todd pushed back, asking how you could have a mandate while losing the popular vote. When Conway answered by observing how many people live in states like California and New York, Todd noted that these states are “all part of America.”
Todd brought on Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D.-Minn.), both of whom highlighted the hatred Trump has promoted. When Booker was asked if he had a message for those who had taken to the streets against Trump, he answered, “God bless the protesters.” Asked if the Clinton brand was “tainted,” Ellison shifted the focus to Trump, explaining that he
has hurt workers in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Florida, multiple bankruptcies, never showed his taxes. I don’t know any good thing this guy has ever done…. He actually lost the popular vote.
Unlike some talk show hosts, Todd occasionally challenged statements and provided context for facts put forward by guests. Basic as such journalistic acts may seem, this resistance to the normalization of Trump’s racism and sexism is critical to avoid the subsequent normalization of Trump’s proposed policies, including gutting the Paris Climate Deal, creating a registry to monitor Muslims and deporting millions of undocumented people.