When the Normal Is Insane

Tonight, Trump will continue the longest war in US history.

Members of the US Army during Operation Destined Strike in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, August 22, 2006. Staff Sgt Brandon Aird / Wikimedia

Tonight, Trump gives an address about Afghanistan. The tone/style will be either trademark bombast (fire and fury) or “presidential” or both. Regardless of the style, it’ll entail a commitment, according to the latest reports, of roughly four thousand US troops, a fraction of the number of troops committed to Afghanistan under Obama, with no mention of private contractors. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be a status quo operation packaged in high-octane rhetoric.

Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The discussion will have moved on to Trump’s latest tweet; whatever surge in the polls Trump got from his announcement will be countermanded by whatever barbarity he utters in his tweet.

But while everyone will be talking about the “insanity” of this presidency and this moment, there’ll be almost no discussion of the real insanity of this moment: that yet another US president continues, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the longest war in US history — a war that shows no sign of being winnable — simply because no US president wants to be the one who lost Afghanistan.

Everyone is aware of the real insanity. We just call it normal politics. Trump frothing at the mouth? That’s norm erosion.