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Trump wanted peaceful protesters shot. The fact that we're not shocked is telling.

Reports of a sociopathic president ought to be bigger news.

In Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous 1993 essay, “Defining Deviancy Down,” the senator from New York argued that a societal rise in criminal behavior had led to “redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.”

The latest evidence of Donald Trump’s vile sociopathy comes from his Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

One can only imagine what the late Sen. Moynihan would say if he saw firsthand the redefining of political deviancy brought about by former President Donald Trump.

This past week has served to remind us once again that the 45th president of the United States, the likely 2024 Republican nominee and the man before whom virtually every Republican politician prostrates regularly acts like a lunatic.

The latest evidence of Trump’s vile sociopathy comes from his Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who writes in a soon-to-be-published memoir that when peaceful demonstrators were gathered outside the White House after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, Trump asked his advisers: "Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?"

That’s right. The president of the United States, sitting in the Oval Office behind the so-called Resolute Desk, asked whether law enforcement officials could shoot peaceful, unarmed protesters in the streets of the nation’s capital. It’s the kind of thing one might imagine in an authoritarian regime, not the world’s oldest continuous democracy.

Esper’s account isn’t the first telling of this story. Last year, reporter Michael Bender of The Wall Street Journal wrote that Trump, talking to his aides about videos of police manhandling protesters, said: "That's how you're supposed to handle these people. Crack their skulls!"

According to Bender, Trump also pushed for the military to be sent in to quell the demonstrations and "beat the f--k out" of the protesters. He is also alleged to have said “just shoot them” multiple times.

Even though we now have confirmation from someone who was in the room, it’s barely a major news story. It wasn’t even much of a news story when it was first reported in June.

That’s basically par for the course for America’s response to Trump. Half the country is fine with him calling for the maiming of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. Half the country is too numb to make much of a fuss about it.

Even stories about Trump’s sociopathic indifference to the lives of his own supporters barely cause a ripple. According to a new book by New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin, Trump continued to push for Charlotte, North Carolina, to host delegates in person at the 2020 Republican National Convention, even though it would have put them at risk from Covid-19.

That's right. The president of the United States asked whether law enforcement could shoot peaceful protesters in the streets of the nation’s capital.

According to Burns and Martin, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told Trump he was concerned that Trump’s delegates, many of whom were older, would be at significant risk of Covid infection if they were gathered together in an indoor arena.

“Aren’t you worried about them, particularly?” Cooper asked.

“No, no, I’m not,” Trump replied.

According to Burns and Martin, Trump told Cooper, “I’ve never had an empty seat, from the day I came down the escalator,” a reference to when he announced his candidacy for president at Trump Tower in New York in June 2015. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s, you know, 50 percent empty or more.”

Is there any reason to believe that evidence of Trump’s monstrous indifference to the lives of people who venerated him would change their opinion of him? Not at all. Indeed, Trump regularly held events in 2020 that put his supporters at risk of Covid. Nobody seemed to care.

It’s now pro forma for Trump to make fundraising appeals that promise to send his opponents — and “their sinister and corrupt Left-wing system,” defined by “Socialism, Wokeism, and Left-wing fascism” — into the “ash heap of history.”

What once would have been unimaginable, career-ending statements or sentiments are met with shrugs — just part of the scenery in today’s America.

Of course, it’s not just Trump who’s defining deviancy down. Much of what Trump spouts has become routine rhetoric out of the mouths of Republican politicians.

The result is that millions of his supporters have been given license to believe and openly state the most shocking and lurid accusations against their political opponents.

It quickly become a core belief on the far right that teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation is an effort by Democrats to “groom” young people for sexual abuse.

Republican voters now overwhelmingly believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. Just over the past few weeks, it quickly become a core belief on the far right that teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools is an effort by pedophiliac Democrats to “groom” young people for sexual abuse.

Over the weekend, The New York Times did an exhaustive survey of Tucker Carlson’s top-rated show on Fox News and reported that he “has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news” by openly and ostentatiously trafficking in white nationalist rhetoric.

It was met by the usual outrage from the left and yawns from the conservatives, who once blanched at such open embraces of racist viewpoints. For the vast majority of Americans it simply doesn’t register.

Of course, one could cite thousands of outrages over the past seven years — from anti-vaccination political rhetoric that may have led to a quarter-million preventable deaths to a brazen attack on the citadel of the U.S. government and the continued, unceasing attacks on basic democratic norms. Most of those outrages have largely faded from national consciousness.

Is anyone really surprised that a Supreme Court on which five conservative justices were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote would, according to an unauthorized leak of a draft opinion, brazenly discard a 50-year-old precedent establishing abortion as the law of the land? Lawlessness and hyperpartisanship, even in bedrock institutions that are supposed to be above such parochial concerns, aren’t even surprises.

In a country that is so sharply and nastily divided along partisan lines, it’s the rule rather than the exception. Tribe now trumps all else, and even if your tribe member is a racist, a lunatic or a sociopath … well, he or she is still on your team.

This isn’t a case of defining deviancy down but of defining deviancy out of existence.

This isn’t a case of defining deviancy down but of defining deviancy out of existence.

America has long been defined by an optimism about the future: a belief that the arc of history bends toward justice and that better days are always ahead. It’s myth-making, of course, but it has also reflected a strain of American thought that has crossed party lines since the country’s earliest days. What reason is there for optimism today?

Beyond that, how does a country where nothing is off-limits, where there are no lines left to be crossed and where no behavior is considered unacceptable survive? How can it be governed when one's political opponents aren’t rivals but enemies who need to be “defeated” and destroyed?

This is the poisoned chalice that Trump and his cohort of cowardly Republican enablers have bequeathed to the nation — a country not simply in decline, but in free fall.