In the heated battles over America’s future, an unexpected group has emerged — the “normies.” Long dismissed as boring fence-sitters, these regular citizens going about their lives with little drama may be our best defense against rising authoritarian forces.

The normies are natural opposites to the disinformation that floods social media, undermining core democratic principles. As Anne Applebaum wrote recently for The Atlantic, a cross-national propaganda machine has created an alternate reality where all opposing views are lies, elections are rigged and democracy itself is a corrupt, failing system.

Normies reject that view of the world, if they even notice it at all. They are pragmatic problem-solvers who prioritize cooperation over partisan squabbling. Pundits like Bill Maher (who recently said, “I speak for the normies”) have lifted up “normal people” who reject extreme ideologies on either side as saviors of democratic reason and common sense. Normies embody a principled skepticism against the seductive “us vs. them” narratives pushed by political arsonists and authoritarians.

But normies represent something deeper than just centrism — they model an ethic of civic solidarity that can renew American democracy against disinformation’s corrosive effects. Their commitment to respectful disagreement echoes the influential legal philosophy expressed in Robert Cover’s “Nomos and Narrative.”

Cover, who taught at Yale Law School until his death in 1986, argued that law doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It arises from and is shaped by the narratives, practices and worldviews of particular communities. He called these deeply rooted value systems that give meaning to a group’s way of life their “nomos.”

For religious communities especially, Cover saw these nomoi deriving from sacred foundational stories and traditions that imbue a group’s rituals, ethics and legal interpretations with profound moral meaning. The biblical narratives and practices passed down over generations construct a distinctive “normative universe” for communities like Orthodox Jews or evangelical Christians.

But the idea of these jurisgenerative norms extended beyond just religious spheres. Cover pointed to how the Civil Rights Movement was driven by its own nomos, a shared set of narratives about equality, human dignity and nonviolent resistance that provided a cohering ethical framework for the movement. These nomoi generated new interpretations of American constitutional principles.

The key point for Cover was that these various nomoi, whether Judaic, Christian, secular humanist or others, were all generative of moral truths that could challenge the official orthodoxy of state law. Each nomos constructed its own “redemptive constitutionalism.” In a pluralistic society, he argued, the state cannot simply suppress these multiple nomoi as subversive.

True freedom requires creating space for these diverse moral universes to coexist and for adherents to have their voices heard, without the state privileging one singular nomos over all others. Without this pluralist recognition, the state risks becoming an oppressive force.

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This philosophy of allowing different nomoi to coexist under an ethic of empathetic pluralism provides a vital antidote to today’s hostile divisions between MAGA conservatives and progressives on the far left. These two sides have become entrenched moral tribes, sealed off into separate normative realms with seemingly irreconcilable views on core issues of justice, truth and society’s ethical foundations.

The MAGA right has its own insular nomos shaped by identity-defining narratives, traditions and authority figures. Central are ideals of patriotic loyalty, protecting traditional Christianity and gender roles, and upholding an orderly society based on virtues like self-reliance. On the other side, the progressives have built a competing moral universe organized around narratives of building an equitable society free from systemic oppression. This nomos upholds ethical commitments to ideals like diversity, dismantling traditional power structures, questioning canonical teachings and subverting established cultural norms.

These two political and cultural factions are encamped in what Cover would describe as “radically incommensurable” moral universes with totally different visions of justice and hierarchies of ethical values. Tragic levels of mutual enmity and suspicion flow from their inability to even conceptualize how the other side arrives at its premises. This is where Cover’s ethic of empathetic pluralism becomes vital as an alternative path. Rather than a winner-take-all battle to universally impose one dominant nomos, he advocated creating spaces of mutual recognition and tolerance.

The key is resisting the impulse to negate or invalidate an opposing group’s entire moral worldview as illegitimate. Even if we disagree with values and practices arising from another nomos, we should strive to understand where others are coming from to negotiate productive coexistence.


This doesn’t mean surrendering our own moral commitments. But it means accepting the inevitability of persisting moral differences in a pluralistic society. In doing so, we develop the humble empathy necessary to let others’ nomoi thrive, even as we uphold our own ethical stances. The goal is creating space for these varied moral universes to engage in perpetual dialectic — continuously enriching and renewing each other’s visions through democratic discourse, rather than trying to extinguish all but one official orthodoxy. By embracing pluralist empathy, we take oxygen away from authoritarians who thrive on sowing enmity between moral tribes.

Normies exemplify this ethos. The MAGA normie may uphold rural Christian traditions but preserve space for LGBTQ nomoi under pluralist democracy. The progressive normie likely rejects xenophobia but strives to validate rural America’s ethics of loyalty and sanctity while upholding human dignity. Both robustly reject authoritarian encroachments, but resist defining whole swaths of countrymen as beyond the democratic pale — an irredeemable “other” unworthy of pluralist recognition.

For authoritarians to win, they need a populace fractured into hermetically sealed moral realms. Normies can be democracy’s renewing force. In this raging battle for the nation’s democratic soul, the oft-derided middle may well show us the pluralist way.

Asma T. Uddin is an attorney, a Deseret contributing writer and the author of “When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom” and “The Politics of Vulnerability: How to Heal Muslim-Christian Relations in a Post-Christian America.”

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