But in 2016, the idea of the pivot took on a new power. And it made it all but impossible for Trump’s rampant dishonesty to disqualify him from the presidency.
The “pivot” normalized political lying by repackaging it as a legitimate and even responsible campaign strategy. Everyone was waiting for Trump to pivot. Many were even recommending that he pivot, begging him to pivot. Treating the pivot as something worth waiting for implicitly conceded that lying — constant, intensive, rabble-rousing lying — was acceptable during a presidential campaign. It wasn’t a disqualifying attribute but a superficial problem you could “fix.” A candidate’s insults and threats could be wiped away, could be completely overwritten, could be covered up like wallpaper, if he would just behave normally for a second to let us make sense of things.
Everyone bought into a model of American politics that handwaves away every expectation of honesty. The media did so by flattering readers and viewers. Many of us have watched TV shows about political scandals and sympathized with the fixers trying to manipulate the candidate’s public image. By treating the public as cynically complicit in the project of “fixing” a campaign that’s off the rails and as the targets of that fix — as total amnesiacs who won’t remember anything that was promised them — the “pivot” became a potent double-edged explanatory tool. Anyone targeted by the pivot who happened to be smart enough to spot it as a manipulative tactic would smile knowingly: That’s for the amnesiac rubes, that’s not for me.