CLEVELAND, OH – In 1920, Warren Gamaliel Harding (the eighth, and last, Buckeye in the White House) campaigned for president on the slogan “A Return to Normalcy.” One hundred years later, Americans recycled that slogan, as their goal for the country – but the country has two very different normalcies in mind.
For one part of the country, the return to normalcy is simple, and explicitly stated: We’ve got to get back to normal life — regular, ordinary, everyday life — this can’t go on — we can’t keep putting life on hold; We need to work, we need to support our families, and live dignified and fulfilling lives; We need to pursue our goals and aspirations; We need to have normal social relations and activities; We need to live publicly — have a night out, sing, dance, travel, attend a sporting event — go to church, weddings, funerals, parties, the gym, movies, concerts — like normal; We need companionship — to gather with friends and relatives — to be able to visit loved ones in the hospital; We need physical affection and touch — to shake hands, hug, kiss, and dance, cheek-to-cheek; We need to see people’s faces, so we can look them in the eye, and smile; We need to be safe in our persons and property; We need to live without suspicion; We want to live without fear.
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No, says the other part of the country, we can’t get back to normal life, until we get back to normal politics. Normal politics is what makes life normal — it’s the guardian and keeper of normal life — while abnormal politics makes life abnormal. That’s why abnormal politics is the greatest abnormality of all — the cause of all other abnormalities; and the only way to get back to normal life, is to get back to normal politics — and what we’ve had, the last four years, is not normal politics.
We can’t have amateurs in politics, people who haven’t spent a single day in public service and don’t know the way things are done in politics; We can’t have people who don’t know the law, didn’t go to law school, don’t have any experience in making or studying laws, aren’t even lawyers; We can’t have people who talk like they’re in the street — vulgar, unenlightened loudmouths — this is not a brawl — this is the serious, dignified business of the country, and the whole world depends on it; We can’t have people who are impolitic — who just say whatever’s on their mind, who can’t contain their inner thoughts and don’t take into account the sensitivities of all people, especially our best educated and most enlightened leaders; We can’t have people who don’t look and talk like normal politicians, who don’t smooth out the rough edges to put people at ease — so people know that things are normal; We can’t have our leaders pulling in different directions, and against the advice of experts — especially in a time of crisis; And, above all, We can’t have somebody in the highest office in the land, who hasn’t served a single day in public office, who doesn’t know what public service is, and who doesn’t act presidential and doesn’t talk like a president should. This is the ultimate abnormality, and all the other abnormalities flow down from there.
Look what abnormal politics has done: it’s created abnormalities — and abnormalities aplenty. With abnormal politics, everything is worse: fires are worse, floods are worse, hurricanes and tornadoes are worse; storms become super-storms; the heat, the cold, forest fires, and water shortages are as bad as can be; a contagion means death; the work of health professionals is made more difficult; foreign countries interfere in our elections; a foreign enemy controls the president; government is at a standstill; society is as divided as it’s ever been; people’s spirits are at their lowest — they’re angrier, crazier, and more violent; the president’s every utterance, gesture, thought, and decision is a disaster — everything is worse, and life is off kilter — all, because of abnormal politics; and if we kept going like that, we would have headed off the cliff — which absolutely justified alarm and panic by the public, the media, experts, and normal politicians. With abnormal politics, with such an abnormal political process, with such an abnormal president, the world was spinning out of control. That’s why this had to end — the country couldn’t handle any more of this — we had to stop this, no matter what. Only when we get back to normal politics, can we get back to normal life — because normal politics is the glue that keeps things together — it’s what makes society function normally, like a well-oiled machine.
What we need, instead, is normal politicians – people who’ve spent their lives in public service, who are experienced in governing, who’ve proven they can govern effectively, who know public policy and how to solve people’s problems — something only they have the experience and training to do; We need normal politicians who know what it takes to hammer out legislation, who know how to work with other politicians, who understand the need for discretion and for working within the normal political framework; We need people who know law — who’ve made laws, studied law, practiced law; We need to follow the tried-and-true practices that public servants and professional diplomats have developed over generations of public service — experts in their fields and specialists in their countries who know their areas better than anybody else — people whose only interest is the public interest (not private interest), for the benefit of all the people; We need to respect the knowledge and wisdom of experts, politicians, and journalists who know public policy — who’ve studied it, made it, covered it, explained it; We especially need to respect and listen to scientists and experts, to deal with the world’s complicated problems — people who have the necessary scientific and professional credentials, building on generations of work and insight by specialists before them — people whose roles should not only be central, but whose expert advice should be respected, followed, and deferred to by amateurs and non-specialists, so the country speaks with one voice, instead of muddying the waters and obstructing progress; We need normal politicians who think before they talk — the way politicians are supposed to — well-reasoned and thought-out, practiced in the art of polished political speech, with words that soothe and take into consideration the sensitivities of all constituencies, of public opinion, and of our best-educated, so that things can run smoothly; And most of all, We need a president who talks and behaves like a president should.
But we can’t go backwards anymore — we can’t go back to the old normal — because of what abnormal politics has done to normal life. Abnormal politics has changed everything — conditions have changed, circumstances have changed. So we have to look ahead, past the old normal; we have to progress, to a new normal — a new normal that takes into consideration how abnormal politics has changed life forever.
But we can’t be sure that people fully understand that – that they can see for themselves how dangerous abnormal politics is; we might have to help them, to make sure they get the point, so it doesn’t happen again. As a past president’s chief of staff said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” — and this has certainly been a serious crisis — maybe the most serious we’ve ever faced — abnormal life, caused by abnormal politics. And this crisis is a golden opportunity for people to understand, crystal-clear, and forever, what a threat abnormal politics is to normal life.
So, to make sure that people fully understand that abnormal politics has long-term consequences, we need to keep life abnormal – for just for a little while longer – until the message completely sinks in, so abnormal politics doesn’t happen again: keep wearing the mask (it’s just “a little political theater,” as Pennsylvania’s governor and a state representative said); no physical contact; keep people apart, at work and at play – the elderly and the sick away from their loved ones, no normal schooling, abnormal workplaces, limited public and private gatherings, mostly empty stadiums, arenas, and churches, keep streets and cities deserted, and keep businesses and life shut down — and if they re-open, shut them down again. And, all the while, we need to inform people that all of this is what happens when you have abnormal politics – and that we absolutely cannot afford to have abnormal politics again.
The good thing is, it looks like we’ve made it — we’re getting back to normal politics – so, very soon, we can get back to normal life again.