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Denise Balkissoon
Denise Balkissoon

DENISE BALKISSOON

Some things should never be ‘normalized’ Add to ...

In Toronto, it’s apparently normal for cars to crash into babies, and for hardly anyone to pay attention. Since Oct. 22, three pedestrians have been hit while pushing strollers. In one case, the mom and tot weren’t even crossing the street, but were on the sidewalk. In another, the driver fled the scene.

I learned of these incidents through short police bulletins or brief news stories, none of which mentioned whether the children or caregivers were ultimately all right. Abandoning an injured baby at the side of the road seems horrific to me, but Torontonians have become inured.

Forty-four pedestrians have been killed on Toronto’s roads this year, the highest number since 2002. Pedestrian deaths in Ontario as a whole are the highest they’ve been in eight years, and on average, 310 pedestrians died in Canada every year between 2010 and 2014.

If something can be said to be normal because it happens a lot, then dead pedestrians are pretty normal.

Related: How an 'alt-right' website owner became Donald Trump's chief strategist

Read more: What does the Trump era mean for Canadians? A survival guide

The definition of “normal” is a hot topic lately because of the frightening mess that is the transition between U.S. presidents. Plenty of seemingly abnormal things are happening down there, like the fact the president-elect’s children, who run his businesses, have sat in on meetings with world leaders. Donald Trump’s Filipino business partner was recently named as a special envoy to the U.S. by the President of the Philippines. And Mr. Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education despises public school.

As unbelievable as all of these things might seem, they are true. They keep happening, so if frequency is a component of normalcy then, well, they’re normal. But normal is also about what we’re okay with, about drawing a line between what happens regularly and what is acceptable.

That push and pull has also been evident since the U.S. election. On the morning of Nov. 9, hours after the election and just weeks after one of People magazine’s writers depicted a disturbing account of an alleged sexual assault by Mr. Trump, it dropped a set of cutesy-pie pics of his daughter Ivanka and her children. Critics wondered if the mag’s staff had a genuine opinion on Donald Trump and the normality of his behaviour toward women.

The scrutiny has been non-stop ever since. More recently, news media were skewered for repeating Mr. Trump’s statement that “millions” of undocumented people cast votes without stating explicitly that it’s a lie.

Norms change all of the time. Sometimes they’re wonderful, like support for same-sex marriage. Sometimes they’re benign, like how well the general public can use chopsticks. And sometimes they’re unsettling, like being lulled into constantly updating multinational companies on our locations because it’s handy when our phones remember what we last googled.

That lulling is the issue, because acceptance happens incrementally. Last week, the Holocaust scholar Jane Caplan published a measured analysis as to whether Mr. Trump is actually a fascist, as he’s been called. The point of asking, she noted, isn’t to slap a harsh label on a person one doesn’t like, but to learn from mistakes of the past.

One of those mistakes is complacency – Ms. Caplan called fascism “the creeping fog that incrementally occupies power while obscuring its motives, its moves and its goals.” Those resisting the normalization of questionable moves by the incoming president have a fair and deep-seated worry about the slow shifting of societal boundaries that set the stage for acquiescence to all-out corruption, or worse.

It certainly seems to be happening – like for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who once criticized Mr. Trump’s Islamophobia. Now, as a potential Secretary of State, he’s praising the KKK-approved president-elect’s supposed “message of inclusion.”

Labelling something as normal is a way of organizing the world, of making quick decisions as to what is reasonable and what cannot be tolerated. It frames how we absorb information and how we explain it, in both the short and long term.

Police and news reports, for example, often note when pedestrians who are hit by drivers were wearing dark clothing. They usually give that detail as much space as whether those pedestrians were obeying traffic laws, which is the case in the majority of walking deaths in both Toronto and Calgary.

But running a red light is a crime that can result in death, while having a black winter coat is a wardrobe choice. How did it become reasonable to equate the two? Personally, I’m not okay with that being normal.

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Follow on Twitter: @Balkissoon

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