Back in the 1950s, the US, having just survived a horrific war, settled down and chose a general as President. The theme was order and prosperity. The small world that Life in the Boomer Lane inhabited consisted of school, family and friends. The first two were orderly and predictable. School, above all, was a place of order.
Enter Joseph Diamond, a boy who was about six inches taller than anyone else in the class, and obviously much older. From the vantage point that LBL has now, she realizes that Joseph Diamond was a candidate for special ed, in an era when special ed didn’t exist. Joseph sat in his seat each day and stared blankly at the teacher. Nobody knew what he was thinking, and nobody cared to know.
One day, the teacher said something that Joseph didn’t like (LBL can no longer recall what that would have been). Joseph quietly stood up and pulled his shoes and socks off. He held the socks for a moment, then threw them in the direction of the teacher. LBL also can’t recall if the socks even hit their mark. Most likely, they didn’t. But that didn’t matter.
To say that the class was shocked was an understatement. In a world in which teachers were treated with respect, even teachers not liked, Joseph Diamond set the known universe on its head. The class sat speechless. The teacher ran out of the room, crying. Joseph sat back down at his desk quietly, as always. With one hurl of his large socks, Joseph had upset the order of the known universe.
Our world is orderly, less because of laws, than because of human beings’ natural instinct to be orderly. Most of us stop at red lights, even when there is no traffic in the oncoming direction and no one to observe our actions. We wait in lines. We tell friends that their grandchildren are beautiful. We cheat less on our taxes than most other people around the world do.
We expect our president to follow the same kind of orderly norms Not only do we crave predictability, but we crave leadership. We’d like our leaders to be a bit more intelligent than we are, a bit wiser, a bit more capable. We may rant about them, just as we ranted about teachers we didn’t like. But we know that, given the opportunity to inhabit their position, many of our own decisions would be flawed.
The news now is filled, not with the wisdom or capability of the soon-to-be leader of this country, but rather of the litany of norms he has disregarded. As each breach is made, we realize more and more that norms are not laws. There are simply too many of them to be regulated. We obey the law, but we follow the norm. There is huge difference.
People talk about this disregard as the “new norm.” LBL respectfully disagrees. One disregard of a norm does not create a new norm. It creates a red flag. We can choose to ignore the red flag, or we can voice our opposition.
Demeaning journalists and the publications they write for is not a new norm. It is an affront to free speech. Naming candidates for the cabinet whose only qualifications are a disregard for the departments they will head is not a new norm. It is an erosion of the government’s role to serve the people. Cultivating an alliance with a foreign power that has meddled in the election process is not a new norm. It is a blatant attempt to shift the balance of power across Europe, at the risk of international law. Collapsing family and personal business with the business of State is not a new norm. It is a conflict of interest. Dismissing the reality of climate change is not the new norm. It is the willful acceleration of the death of the planet.
There is no one moment when it is proper to react. Neither is it possible to react to everything. But it is possible to see that the ultimate goal here is less in serving the people than it is to magnify the power of the office. While people patiently wait for jobs and for prosperity, the greater emphasis will be on enhancing the benefits to those in charge. LBL, for one, will not call that a new norm. And, unlike her classroom teacher, she will not go crying out of the room. The stakes are too high.