I had one of those “aha” experiences over the weekend. My wonderful nephew, Ben, graduated from medical school. To be precise, he graduated from the medical school of the University of South Carolina, in the state capital, Columbia.
The ceremony was lovely. Some 85 med students who had worked their hearts out for four years got accolades from teachers. The commencement speaker hit just the right notes. The locals were friendly, and the food was superb. It was as normal as any university setting could be.
But most citizens of this state voted for Donald Trump. And deep racism continues to define the South Carolina ruling elite, as installed by the electorate. Here’s what’s so troubling. Normal daily life coexists all too easily with the destruction of what’s decent in America, in the age of Trump.
Germans, at least those who were not Jewish or gay, must have had something of the same feeling circa 1937 as they went about their daily business in Berlin. The cafes were open, the universities held classes and graduated students, couples got married, babies were born. People went to work, did their jobs, paid their bills.
Some celebrated the dictator, some ignored him. But it was too normal.
Hannah Arendt referred to Adolph Eichmann and his crimes as the banality of evil—“terrifyingly normal.” There is something terrifying about how normal so much of daily life is today. I’ve been at dinners with friends where we congratulate each other at having gotten through a social evening without mentioning Trump.
I’m not saying that daily life and happy ceremonies should be suspended for the duration. But somehow, if we are to rid this nation of Trump, we must keep the menace he represents in our consciousness even as we find joy in life’s pleasures.