Like many people that follow politics, Bloustein School professor of public policy Stuart Shapiro was deeply surprised by the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Given Donald Trump’s combination of polarizing rhetoric and demonstrated lack of experience and knowledge about how government works, I was also very concerned,” said Professor Shapiro. “So I started writing down my thoughts and perspectives on social media. The positive responses I got in response to my explanations and perceptions of what was transpiring fueled me to keep writing.”
In December 2017, Professor Shapiro published Not Normal: A Progressive’s Diary of the Year After Trump’s Election, a collection of the year’s writings about Trump’s first year in office beginning the very night of the fateful election. Noting that many of his followers, colleagues and friends were getting upset about a wide range of developments—many of which were very normal for a new president, especially a new Republican president—Professor Shapiro began to document and highlight the aspects of the presidency that were truly “not normal.”
“My intention was not to demean people’s sentiments about Obamacare, the environment, or tax policy, but to highlight what I felt was truly dangerous about the Trump presidency,” he said. “I felt the greatest service I could provide to people was to continually discuss these issues, the impact of these issues on Americans, and more importantly, what they mean going forward.”
Over the last year Professor Shapiro has noted that much of what has turned out to be least normal—and most worrisome—about the Trump presidency was evident during the campaign. “Trump’s rhetoric, and his tweets, continue to destroy norms for how we have come to believe a president should act.”
On November 8, 2016, Professor Shapiro—as he had done in November 2012—hosted the Bloustein School’s graduate student election night pizza party at the school. In 2012 the evening was enjoyable and lighthearted, with the returns coming in as expected. After starting in much the same way as the 2012 gathering, the 2016 event had a much less party like feel as the evening went on. As he notes in the book’s prologue Professor Shapiro had his own nagging concerns going into the night based on predictions provided by respected analyst Nate Silver. “While I don’t pretend to have predicted Trump’s victory,” he says, “I take full credit in thinking he would be a disaster as president.”
Not Normal gives readers Professor Shapiro’s perspective and reactions to a host of developments in real time, reflecting his thinking as events were happening and how they changed as the year progressed. He observes that Trump’s actions on immigration—specifically the Travel Ban—and race (his reaction to Charlottesville) unleashed racial animus on a scale not seen since before the Civil Rights era. His foreign policy has been clumsy at best and isolationist at worst, leading to an erosion of American leadership and a growth in the strength of autocratic regimes such as China and Russia. And Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders and practices has led to very real concerns about democracy in the United States.
The possibility of Russian involvement in the 2016 election is also a recurring discussion. Having always considered himself a skeptic in regards to conspiracy theories, Professor Shapiro notes that over time he has traded in skepticism for confidence as revelation piles upon revelation. “The book shows my thinking evolving from merely mentioning the developments in Trump-Russia to explaining why people are right to be suspicious. For me, a major turning point was when Trump fired James Comey as FBI Director, and it was revealed that Trump had explicitly asked Comey to go easy on the chief of the National Security Administration, Michael Flynn. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying under oath,” Professor Shapiro said. “Whether this threatens Trump’s presidency depends largely on the public reaction to the ongoing revelations, something else I emphasize throughout the book.”
“The last year was hard for many to process. Events occurred so quickly that casual followers of politics felt their heads were spinning. This book is intended for that casual follower,” says Professor Shapiro. He is hopeful that the book is able to put the events of the year into context and highlight what mattered and what was “business as usual.” As unprecedented developments continue to unfold, understanding the unique nature of this administration may be critical for our democracy moving forward.
You can buy Not Normal: A Progressive’s Diary of the Year After Trump’s Election here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/197963467X
Follow Professor Shapiro’s continuing observations on the political scene at https://www.facebook.com/StuartShapiroBlog/