There’s an elegant theory that was proposed in the 1990s by the sociologist Diane Vaughan.

When studying the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, she found that NASA engineers and decision makers had become so accustomed to cutting corners that these behaviors became part of the agency’s standard operating procedure; this occurred in spite of the fact these behaviors were well outside NASA’s own rules about safety.

Vaughan termed this phenomenon the “normalization of deviance.” She suggested, in a nutshell, that aberrant behaviours are allowed to become normalized by actors—and within institutions—because, most of the time, nothing bad happens as a result of them.That is, until something bad happens.

So, every time Trevor Noah treats someone like Tomi Lahren with kid gloves on The Daily Show, and every time Bill Maher invites someone like Ann Coulter to be a voice of the conservative movement on Real Time, it normalizes abhorrent views and behaviors that thoughtful, decent people should resist.  And, by “thoughtful, decent people” I mean liberals and conservatives.

ct-trevor-noah-tomi-lahren-daily-show-20161201Trevor Noah interviews “conservative commentator” Tomi Lahren. (Comedy Central)

Yes, I absolutely, 100%, believe in the right to free speech.  It just doesn’t have to be normalized on The Daily Show, Morning Joe, Real Time, and the like.  We call them fringe viewpoints for a reason. It’s people like Tomi Lahren and Ann Coulter, right along side the Breitbarts of the world, that are being given high-profile opportunities to normalize the disgusting viewpoints—and behaviors towards others—that we are observing in the United States today.

We need to be better.  And, the Bill Mahers and Trevor Noahs of the world owe us more.

Today is December 15th, 2016.  It’s a Thursday. But it’s not a normal one.