Donald Trump may or may not be our next president. But he has already changed America.
The mainstream narrative is that Trump has either duped his supporters or exposed their darker nature. The rest of America, unswayed by Trump’s charms, can still rescue the nation.
But Trump’s impact has touched most everyone in a subtler but important way.
Trump has shifted something even more significant than our policy views. He has changed what Americans even have time to notice.
What used to be boorish is now mundane. What used to be incendiary is now commonplace. What used to be inflammatory is now normal.
Trump has made America numb.
Take, for example, the case of Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News who was ousted last week amid accusations of sexual harassment.
The allegations against Ailes first surfaced in early July when Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News anchor who was fired by Ailes in June, filed a lawsuit against Ailes. Carlson alleges she was fired after repeatedly rejecting Ailes’ lewd sexual advances. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,”Ailes told Carlson, according to the suit.
Days later, without any special knowledge of the facts, Trump was in the press calling Carlson a liar. “I think they are unfounded just based on what I’ve read,” Trump told the Washington Examiner.
In the meantime, Fox News’ corporate parent, 21st Century Fox, launched an independent investigation. The investigation reportedly uncovered not only Ailes’ sexual harassment of Carlson but also numerous other women, including primetime star Megyn Kelly who said “she received repeated, unwanted advances from Mr. Ailes.” The New York Times reported that ten women have stepped forward to report sexual harassment and it appears the number has continued to grow.
Terrifying: sources say that so far > 25 Fox News women have come forward to Paul, Weiss investigators to talk about being sexual harassed
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) July 24, 2016
So how did Trump, who effectively called Carlson a liar for making the initial accusation, respond?
In an interview with Meet The Press, Trump lavished praise on Ailes and attacked the women accusing him of sexual harassment.
[H]e’s been a friend of mine for a long time, and I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them. And even recently, and when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him.
And now all of a sudden they’re saying these horrible things about him. It’s very sad. Because he’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person. And by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he’s done. So I feel very badly. But a lot of people are thinking he’s going to run my campaign.
As the evidence of sexual harassment against mounted, Trump’s defense of Ailes intensified. Trump on the one hand is still suggesting that Carlson and the (many) other women are liars. But he’s adding an even more insidious element.
For Trump, whether or not Ailes sexually harassed women who worked for him hardly matters. Trump seems to believe that, since Ailes “helped” these women, he was entitled to harass them. The problem was not Ailes’ conduct but the fact that the women he targeted were ungrateful.
— Kirsten Powers (@KirstenPowers) July 24, 2016
It is shocking argument for anyone to make in 2016, much less a presidential candidate for a major political party.
But what’s most disturbing is not that Trump said it. After all, he’s made a series of sexist and retrograde remarks throughout the campaign.
He used similarly sexist tactics to defend his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, from accusations that he assaulted a reporter. Despite witnesses’ accounts and video footage, Trump asserted that Michelle Fields was making the assault up and blamed her for invading his personal space.
The Republican nominee has also normalized sexist attacks on women — especially focused on their appearance.
In September, Trump attacked the physical appearance of his one female primary opponent, Carly Fiorina, who was then enjoying a boomlet in the polls. “Look at that face,” Trump said, “Would anyone vote for that?”
The month before he began a series of sexist attacks on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (allegedly one of the victims of Ailes’ harassment) for asking him a tough questions about his history of sexism. Trump tweeted that she was a “bimbo,” suggested she was menstruating and called for a boycott of her show.
More recently he attributed almost all of Hillary Clinton’s success to her playing the “woman card,” saying that if she were a man “I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.”
This time, we barely noticed.
In dozens of articles written about Trump’s interview on Meet The Press, most didn’t even mention his comments about Ailes. Those that did mentioned it only in passing.
On Sunday, Josh Greenman, an opinion writer for the New York Daily News, made a list of incendiary things that Trump has said in the last few days. His comments about Ailes didn’t even make the list.
In case you blinked after the convention, in the last three days, Trump has: pic.twitter.com/ftynxncmcV
— Josh Greenman (@joshgreenman) July 24, 2016
Pummeled by a torrent of tweets and daily interviews, Trump has altered our sense of morality. Conduct that previously would constitute a cataclysmic event — a presidential candidate defending and justifying sexual harassment — does not even register.
He has successfully created cultural space to argue that women should be grateful to be treated as sexual objects in the workplace.
Trump may be our next president or his 2016 campaign may fade into history.
The impact on our moral culture, however, has been more immediate. And it might also leave a lasting effect.