Ever since he assumed residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, progressives have insisted there is a great danger in normalizing Donald Trump. The argument goes that he is so immoral and dangerous that coverage of him must always place him in this context. This, in large part, is why so many conservatives were flummoxed by some of our nation’s biggest news outlets’ fawning coverage of Kim Yo-Jong, the sister of Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, during the winter Olympics.
The New York Times told us that with a winning smile she had diplomatically outflanked U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. CNN gushed over her stealing the show with her North Korean charm offensive, and told us that North Korea was “winning the Olympics, not because of sports.” This coverage, which a cynic might imagine is meant to make President Trump and his approach to North Korea look bad, can also be credibly accused of normalizing one of the most brutal dictatorships on the planet.
So what does “normalizing” mean? Why is so much of the media concerned with not normalizing Trump, and why do they seem so much less concerned about normalizing a nation that tortured and killed an American for stealing a banner, holds public executions with school children invited, and runs gulags that would get an approving nod from Joseph Stalin?
What Is and Isn’t Normal?
There is much about the 45th president that isn’t normal. He had no previous political experience, made statements about race that many had once thought disqualifying, has been accused of sexual harassment and defending abusers, and is under investigation for colluding with Russia in his election.
At the risk of being accused of what-about-ism, it’s hard not to wonder: Had his opponent won election in 2016, would there have been warnings about not normalizing Hillary Clinton? After all, Clinton was accused of mishandling classified material, some of which wound up on the laptop of a sex offender. Clinton threw the women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct under the bus. Clinton remains accused of trading influence over U.S. policies for donations to her family foundation by foreign actors hostile to the United States. Yet it is difficult to imagine The New York Times and CNN insisting that her presidency constantly be dealt with under the cloud of these abnormalities.
Indeed, what is normal in the context of Trump seems to have less to do with behavior that threatens the country and more to do with behavior that offends progressive sensibilities. Perhaps in tone and temperament Clinton was more typical of politicians; perhaps Trump’s eccentricities need to be dealt with front and center. But if that is true, if these outlets must always cover Trump with an eye towards his shortcomings and the potential danger he represents, how do we explain their fawning coverage of North Korea?
Trump Is Always Worse
Lost in the perfectly reasonable outrage over celebrating a family member of a regime that treats its citizens’ lives like pocket lint, there is a real story here. North Korea clearly is engaged in a charm offensive, and Kim Yo-Jong is the first regime family member to visit the South in more than half a century. Now, none of this is an excuse for media outlets to crown her the belle of the ball and pronounce the propaganda a success, but it is a story to cover.
Trump’s saber rattling and Twitter teasing of “Rocket Man” clearly has affected relations between North and South Korea. Some argue that this has been bad, driving a wedge between the United States and an ally, providing the North an opportunity. Others say that Trump’s aggressive posture is bringing North Korea to the table in a way that will ultimately benefit the world by reducing its nuclear threat.
It will be some time before anyone can say with any degree of certainty which of these positions is more accurate. But that has not stopped many in the mainstream media from declaring diplomatic victory for the communist regime. This is because the foremost rule governing much of our media’s coverage is that Trump is always wrong, and he is always worse.
Giving credit to intemperate tweets for pushing diplomacy forward is always met with complaints of Trump’s abnormal approach. Fine. But how, then, is the charming sister from the barbaric rogue state not equally lambasted for the abnormal terror her government heaps on its people?
Banish the Concept of Normalizing
Last year the same New York Times that coddled the “North Korean Ivanka” ran a feature about a white supremacist who, while an awful person, has likely not been complicit in the murder of tens of thousands of people. The backlash from the Left was swift and severe. The Times was normalizing Nazis! How dare they run a story about him without at every turn addressing his hideous ideology? Many of those leftists are nowhere to be found in criticizing the Gray Lady for normalizing North Korea.
The answer here might be a parade of parentheticals after every sentence, in every story, giving context regarding the bad deeds of every subject. But I doubt it. Instead, the answer is to explain important stories in as accurate and true a way as possible. When a journalist or outlet worries about “normalizing” Trump, they are really saying Trump is so bad that he must not be treated in the same manner they treat other politicians. Fear of normalizing trumps fairness and objectivity.
That this fairness and objectivity can be extended to the leaders of a murder machine of a nation that threatens the entire world, but not to the president of the United States, is shocking. If major news outlets think that North Korean diplomatic efforts at the Olympics were a success, and that they ran circles around a hapless Trump administration, that’s fine. Put it on the front page. But don’t then turn around and say the Trump administration must not be normalized.
It’s 2018. I can order my brother in rural Oregon a pizza with an app on my phone, there is a red convertible orbiting the earth, 14-year-olds can access an array of pornographic material that would make Caligula blush, and if I tell you my pronouns, you are compelled to use them. None of this is normal. We lost normal a long time ago, and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be back then.
It’s time to stop worrying about normalizing Trump. It’s time to stop giving the president less benefit of the doubt than we give to murderers. Just report what happened, and let us work out whether it’s normal or not.