How the unthinkable becomes routine — and why it’s so dangerous: Two years into the Trump presidency, Americans are becoming numb to rapid, dangerous changes. We are accepting horrific, disqualifying, authoritarian behavior from Trump — and then just moving on to the next horror like zombies.
Humans have a survival-based instinct to adapt. As a species, we are remarkably resilient at just “getting on with it,” even in the face of rapid and perilous change. That’s usually good news for humanity. But when it comes to politics, that urge to accept even destructive change can become an existential threat to democracy.
In 2003, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey, he was described as a “modern, pro-Western democrat,” a man who would reinvigorate democracy as he pushed his country toward membership in the European Union. An editorial in the New York Times claimed that he “favors democratic pluralism” and was trying to “move closer to Western-style democracy.”
How wrong they were.
Fifteen years later, Erdogan holds virtually unchecked power. He has used his office — first as prime minster, now as president — to steadily dismantle democracy, piece by piece. Slowly but surely, he has gutted the judiciary, subdued the legislature and muzzled the press. When did Turkey’s already wounded democracy draw its last breath? It’s hard to say — and that’s precisely the point. Democracy can die a slow, gasping death — so slow that you grow used to its demise.
The benchmarks today are clearer: Erdogan has thrown more journalists in jail than any other leader on Earth. He has arrested tens of thousands of people who oppose him. His government has even prosecuted someone for sharing an unflattering meme of the insecure strongman. But the slow-burn process acclimated Turks to his destructive despotism. They got used to it. The scandals and the authoritarian attacks became routine. That helped Erdogan get away with it.
Two years into the Trump presidency, Americans are becoming numb to rapid, dangerous changes. We are accepting horrific, disqualifying, authoritarian behavior from Trump — and then just moving on to the next horror like zombies, all while growing used to the new normal around us because it is becoming routine.