Do Not Bite Your Tongue

The big challenge journalism faces today today is that by not providing certain information, the profession normalizes what is not normal.

One of the most interesting professional problems that journalists working in the United States are going to have to face up to is how to prevent information about the new president, Donald Trump, from “normalizing” his figure, language and political role. Getting Trump to continue producing the strangeness he deserves and ensuring that from January—once he takes his position—the White House does not suppress his anomalous or irrational characteristics would surely be the first piece of advice that journalists who worked in Europe in the 1930s would give us.

The fight against the “normalization” of President Trump and everyone involved in his entourage should be part of the intellectual commitment from the media, not only in the U.S. but everywhere, in order to prevent us from gradually adjusting to that anomaly which imagines that anyone with a similar history [to Trump’s] can occupy one of the roles with the most responsibility in the world. The more we ignore and trivialize this abnormality, the more it instills mental laziness in us, and one of his messages will eventually be allowed to go by without criticism or opposition. Through just one of his racist or irrational decisions, we would be allowing the deterioration of freedom of speech and democracy, precisely everything that the United States has represented. We would not be showing respect for the U.S. president, but negligence and professional oversight.

So-called “semantic slippage” poses the greatest danger. The media, at least the European media, has already swallowed all of the possible language pitfalls with respect to immigrants and refugees: We stopped reporting on “illegal work contracts” to talk about “illegal workers,” and the people at risk of drowning stopped being “shipwrecked people” to become “illegal immigrants.” We now run the risk of starting to “slip with” the language used to describe the new reality of the U.S and make it less implacable.

In fact this is already happening in the world of finance. Using the financial markets as a barometer, you might think that nothing has happened—not the famous British referendum on Brexit, nor the election of Trump, nor the 10 months of a caretaker government in Spain, nor the departure of Matteo Renzi from the Italian government; nothing has provoked the feared reaction from the world of finance. From the economic point of view, everything seems perfectly acceptable, everything is normal, probably because they do not fear that any of this affects their interests. For the markets, panic and meltdown arrive when they break their own casino table and start believing that their frameworks could be subject to new regulation. Then they shoot in all directions and give the impression of going crazy. In contrast, for them, Trump seems to herald normality.

It would be in the interests of journalists to remember the opposite and fight strongly against this current. As the husband of the M.P. Jo Cox, assassinated during the Brexit campaign by an extreme British nationalist, recently explained, “History shows how quickly hatred is normalized. What begins with biting your tongue for political expediency or out of social awkwardness soon becomes complicity with something far worse. Before you know it, it is already too late.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour spoke a few days ago in front of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York to ask her colleagues not to bite their tongues and to stop the normalization of what is abnormal. They should surely be the one to lead the way, but exerting control in order to avoid the slippage of our own language is also our task.

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