There’s a term in psychology for the way we’re seeing the Trump Administration operate when it comes to addressing...well, everything with the public, really. It’s called systematic desensitization, and it used to help people get past phobias. It goes like this: if you’re deathly afraid of spiders, a therapist will show you pictures of spiders until you’re comfortable looking at them, then show you videos of them moving to get you comfortable with that. Once you’re good with those, they may show you a live spider in a tank, and maybe even have you handle one—a step-by-step removal of your fear by normalizing what you’re afraid of, or sensitive to. You don’t have to lay down in a ball pit filled with them, necessarily, or carry one around as a pet in order to graduate. Unless you want to. The process stops just before that. It’s been used successfully to help many people overcome their anxiety and their irrational fears of all kinds of things.
It can also be used to raise peoples’ threshold for irrational bullshit.
This is exactly how the Trump Administration has stepped the US—and the world—down into an ever-winding spiral of greater and greater scandals, criminal acts, and deliberate lies. Every next outrageous revelation makes the previous one seem tolerable in comparison. They’ve done it so much by now, I’m convinced they can’t identify how legal or moral or true the things they say are anymore. And it isn’t because they believe their own cries of “fake news” or “alternative facts,” obviously.
It’s because they have crimes to commit, dammit, and they don’t need us meddling citizens recognizing it all for what it is.
It’s exactly this impact reduction that started on Campaign Day One and led right up to Trump’s admission this week about Our Meeting with Russians ’16. On Twitter, of course.
Because Twitter is where truth goes to die.
For the president, anyway.
If we put it into terms of systematic desensitization, it looks a little like this: Trump and his enablers climbed down the ladder from “I didn’t do anything wrong!” to “YOU did the thing you’re accusing me of,” to “Yeah, I did SOMETHING, but it wasn’t quite that bad,” to “Okay, I did that exact thing—it’s not illegal, but I’d still expect the Democrats to the prosecuted for doing the same thing.”
Next up: “It’s illegal, I knew it, I’m going to do it again and then some, and it’ll all be fine, for me not you, because I’ve numbed you all to the horror of it now, and Congress is too scared to do anything about it. #2020.”
It isn’t coincidence; it’s a descent into So What-ism that feels like a Coen brothers movie, but without the restraint (still waiting on the John Goodman cameo). They think eventually we won’t be shocked about anything, because then we’d have to be shocked about everything.
Well, we should be.
Donald Trump isn’t a smart man. He’s a blunt-fisted crybaby who only cares about himself and how his presidency can benefit him. That doesn’t mean he’s not canny, though, or shrewd enough to know that if you expose people to enough bullshit, eventually the shock factor will wear off. And by the time he accidentally-on-purpose admitted that his meeting with Russian lawyers wasn’t about adoptions but about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the most identifiable enemy of America ever, he thought we’d be too numb to rage at what will surely be his next totally unsurprising admission: that Russia DID help him win the election, and that’s perfectly fine, because he wasn’t going to win on his own.
And winning is everything to this man.
So this post is a call to action, really, to lower our bullshit threshold so we stay angry enough to keep watching, keep listening, and keep thinking. There might seem to be an endless list of things to be outraged about these days, but having a falsely-elected criminal as president is one to stay outraged about forever. Or at least until we can use the ballot box to oust him and his cronies, and put real adults back in the White House and Congress.
So stay outraged, folks. And stay sensitized. Even if it tires you out.
November is only two and a half months away.