If 2016 was the year of political earthquakes – Brexit, Trump’s rise to power, continuously rising tension surrounding police brutality – 2017 is the year of hyper-normalization and apathy toward a tumultuous state of affairs. A time that began with much of the population vowing to ‘resist’ the products of last year has turned into one that either ignores or fully embraces them.
At this year’s Emmy awards, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was promoted from one of the administration’s many dunces to media darling. In what seemed like an attempt to transform Spicer’s image from Melissa McCarthy’s satirical depiction of him to lovable as that, Spicer rode his podium onto the stage. He exclaimed the crowd would “be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world.”
It is as if the world had forgotten Spicer’s role as the mouthpiece of an Orwellian administration that blatantly disregards facts and deems journalistic integrity as the enemy, as exemplified by President Trump’s Aug. 22 speech in Phoenix, Arizona which was full of falsehoods that largely went unchallenged.
According to Factcheck.org, Trump not only cherry-picked excerpts from his past statements about the violence in Charlottesville in an attempt to glaze over his blame of “both sides,” but also falsely expressed that CNN’s ratings are going down as a result of their White House coverage. On the contrary, CNN’s ratings continue to rise. Sadly, his claims have begun to be shrugged off as typical “Trumpisms” instead of falsities dangerous to democracy.
Trump’s worst tendencies mirror that of his most fervent supporters: members of the so-called alt-right. According to the Associated Press, the “alt-right” is “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism, or, more simply, a white nationalist movement.”
The media’s normalization of the “alt-right” is something this country has already started to pay for. The groups tragic success in Charlottesville is largely due to the media’s inaction and disregard toward these “trendy” neo-Nazis. In November, Mother Jones released an expose on Richard Spencer titled “Meet the dapper white nationalist who wins even if Trump loses.” Others followed by deeming the “alt-right” a harmless group of hipsters with nice haircuts, irresponsibly overlooking their fascistic tendencies.
Most tragically, as a country we seem to have reached a point of desensitization toward police brutality. While activists and citizens of St. Louis protested the acquittal of the police officer who murdered Anthony Lamar Smith, the rest of the country was generally unresponsive. While the dangers of police brutality have always been unfortunately common for people of color, we are now in danger of knowingly normalizing the inaction that follows these tragedies. It is no longer a question of being ignorant toward the issues that black and brown America face, but of being aware and still not caring.
The perpetrators behind this hyper-normalization are journalists such as ourselves. Professionals in our field have been wildly irresponsible in framing people like Sean Spicer as humorous victims, Richard Spencer as an appealing anomaly and failing to challenge Trump’s fictitious claims as well as ignoring issues faced by vulnerable Americans. If we are to continue calling ourselves “the fourth estate,” then we need to stop running public relations campaigns for people we are meant to hold accountable.