Tag Archives: 2018

A Warning About The Overton Window

Well, Happy New Year!

The year 2018 is likely to be pivotal for America; in November, we will see whether outrage is sustainable–whether Trump has continued to be embarrassing and dangerous enough to keep large majorities of Americans active in the political resistance.

A lot can change in eleven months. Outrage can be exhausting. Propaganda can change public opinion. Voter suppression tactics can be ramped up. Racism, xenophobia and misogyny can be normalized and justified.

And then there’s this: Vox has recently warned readers about the Overton Window.

“Don’t normalize this” has become a kind of rallying cry during President Trump’s first year in office — a reminder to not get too acclimated to Trump’s norm-breaking and erratic behavior.

But the real danger of the Trump presidency might have less to do with Trump’s abnormality and more to do with how “normal” he makes other Republicans look by comparison.

It’s a timely warning, because let’s face it: next to the antics and ignorance of this Administration, behavior that once would have shocked us seems pretty tame by comparison.

There’s a concept in political theory developed by Joseph P. Overton which suggests that there’s a “window” of acceptable ideas and policy proposals in public discourse. Everything inside the window is normal and expected, while everything outside the window is radical, ridiculous, or unthinkable. And Overton argued that the easiest way to move that window was to force people to consider ideas at the extremes, as far away from the window as possible. Because forcing people to consider an unthinkable idea, even if they rejected it, would make all less extreme ideas seem acceptable by comparison — it would move the “window” slowly in that direction.

A great deal of that damage has already been done.

Trump’s presidency has forced news networks to grapple with conspiracy theories, right-wing trolls, and dishonest government spokespeople — making them a regular fixture of our national political debates. And that grappling has moved the Overton Window in ways that will warp our politics long after Trump’s presidency comes to an end.

This is the phenomenon that allows us to look at seriously radical politicians and fail to recognize how far they are from what used to be the mainstream. It is the sort of “normalization” that allows us to consider Senators and Representatives “moderate,” despite their consistent support for Trump and his warped agenda, simply because they smile occasionally and refrain from throwing verbal feces.

As odious as Trump and his crew of institutional vandals are, our immediate–and imperative– task is to defeat and replace his complicit Congressional enablers. We can’t let the Overton Window diminish our recognition of their culpability.

If there is a massive Democratic wave in November, it will do three things: it will be a stinging repudiation of Donald Trump; it will hasten the day when the GOP returns to its roots and some semblance of sanity; and–counter-intuitive as it may seem–it will also be a wake-up call to Democrats, because it will signal the continued operation of democratic accountability.

We have eleven months to resist normalizing the bizarre. Eleven months to make sure that vote suppression tactics don’t work. Eleven months to recruit, encourage and support good candidates. Eleven months to begin what will be a long process of restoring sanity and responsibility to American government.

What’s that old saying? This is the first day of the rest of our lives…

Happy 2018. Let’s make it count.