Resetting the Normalcy Index

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battered clock

It’s close to, but not quite, the time to press the start-button of the internal clock we’re all blessed with. It’s a memory timer, a special one. It doesn’t make it harder or easier to remember things. It’s a device that measures the time it takes for us to lose our sensory experience at the moment of an occurrence – be it a thought, a visceral reaction, or a conditioned response to some action or turn of events. I mean the time it takes for it to be more and more difficult to recall, never mind feel with the same spontaneous immediacy, just how bad it was.

There’s a general wisdom afoot, a not surprising one given the hegemony of domestic media in attracting and shaping our attention, that this is a particularly American phenomenon. It might not be; but merely the result of our great self-absorption… that and the media learned we aren’t very much interested in news about the rest of the world, real news.

The de facto result, if it’s not actually verifiably, as John Oliver likes to say, “objectively” true that, for us in the U.S., what else matters? It’s as if Europeans, say, for whatever reason, or the Koreans, or the Armenians, are much better at keeping alive in all their sharp intensity, their affective spikiness, the outrages visited upon them. But especially to remember the perpetrators and the depths of their perfidy and cruelty.

Even in very recent history, the effects of this peculiar kind of mnemonic anesthesia become manifest – more precisely, to becoming touchstones of how effectively and swiftly the anodyne development of the process occurs. There’s Nixon, of course, and in the course of his historical reconstruction how, merely 20 years after he left office in disgrace and within a whisker of becoming our first president to be criminally indicted, he would be eulogized by another President, Bill Clinton. In 1994, at Nixon’s funeral, Clinton said, and this was only halfway through the largely laudatory remarks, “He gave of himself with intelligence and energy and devotion to duty, and his entire country owes him a debt of gratitude for that service.”

Only six years after that, we voted into office the man whose tenure and whose conduct as the chief executive did, indeed, seem to eclipse the level of Nixonian transgression – in tenor, in inhumanity, in criminality. Then, we were barely more than a single administration away from seeing the back of George W. Bush, to the collective relief of a great many people, including not a few of those naturally disposed to look favorably on his politics and his policies before a new standard emerged. Trump was barely in office when what we saw with a rapidly diminishing view through the rear view mirror began to look like a poignant recollection of a better time in the context of what was suddenly a monstrous and – a new quality – inescapable present; for the first time, an omnipresent and pervasive presidency.

And once again, our standards for imagining the bottom of what had seemed in earlier, now nostalgic times, almost with that romantic quality of the long ago, that time we reserved for a sense of yesteryear, a fairy tale quality never to be recaptured, were transformed. There was that jocular meme, “Miss me yet?” and only one of the many artifacts that seemed to sprout spontaneously, like plants in a desert that hadn’t seen rain in century. Suddenly, it seemed sudden anyway, George W. Bush wasn’t so bad after all. How many of us have heard that, and how many times? And all it took was eight years.

While we’re resetting the clock, and calibrating our sensibilities – assured we’re on the verge of a new era of normalcy – while we’re waiting for the moment to start the timer going again, how long do you think it will be before we’ve reached that interior state of sensibilities that have settled in, content, like old sleeping dogs, and prodded to recall just how it was during the time of you know…? That terrible time… and we think, hmmm, maybe it wasn’t so terrible.

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6 thoughts on “Resetting the Normalcy Index

  1. … and…. “tpe”, where “type” should have been…
    Depressed finger skills.

  2. Howard…I think you are making oblique reference to the imminent end of the Trump term of terror… That has been like Four Years of Hell.
    Our task now is to determine how we got duped into having him rule us, and if that dupoing can be proactively avoided. Why did the Dems lose all those Congressional seats?. Areas going from Red to blue…sure…. but… from Blue to Red??? WTF?

    Biden seems to be batting way above his weight, in his post-election functioning.
    Now : hopefully he will be able to make the Repubs be less self-centered, and a bit more compassionate. more like Bernie

    • Jack, always good to hear from you… I thought, actually, my reference was more acute than oblique. I don’t like typing Trump’s name too often. One of my few irrational quirks – I think it adds, however infinitesimally, to some kind of validation.

      I’d beggar your analysis a bit by suggesting that the task before us now (because I think we’ve always known how “we got duped”… it’s a little thing called human nature, some truncated or malformed facets of which in too many of us create what I’ll just call a susceptibility), is how to create mechanisms that fit within the larger framework of a notion of the four freedoms and the Bill of Rights, and which are unbiassed, fair, and enforceable – probably will have to be some very clever mechanisms that leverage the corrective strategy of our famous system of checks and balances. Something tells me it’s more the rules and protocols that define the process of legislative action and inaction, plus a way of somehow ginning up and getting past the process of the kisses of approval of both houses and then the signature of the occupant in the Oval Office a way of curtailing what are too many open-ended powers, not to mention mandates whose limits and prohibitions have always only been inferred and assumed (because we never imagined a monster as reckless and untamed and not susceptible to the concept of natural law or concepts like the social contract; even the founding fathers knew there’d be monsters, but they figured they’d always act, ultimately and finally, like gentlemen (in the old-fashioned sense).

      And, if I didn’t say it as explicitly here, or if it’s not a matter of here, then maybe not directly to you, but I think there’s not much more than a hairsbreadth of difference, except in decorum, and the opportunistic leverage in the public embrace of certain formulae, between a Democrat or a Republican. One on one, they’re indistinguishable, like the quiz that was circulating on social media for awhile wherein the player had to guess which of two photos of the inside of a refrigerator was that of a Trump (that’s twice I’ve typed it out) supporter and which that of a Biden supporter.

      The problem is, we white folks in charge have, the voluntarily ruling echelon of us, have had it too easy for too long: to much privilege, too many get out of jail cards, too much wriggle room in how the laws that govern everyone govern us, and too much world (which is, yes, a fragile planet in many ways, but so unimaginably large compared to the size of one of us, that it can absorb a lot of abuse before it shows signs that would make anybody scared – Democrat or Republican – and stop imagining that, as it always has in the past, this too shall pass). The Republicans do shit (as opposed to the shit Democrats have done, and will do again, and, as far as I know are still doing) because they know they can get away with it, which is the outcome, on average, for the entire period since we brought the troops home after demobilization, after we won the last “good war.” I do hope you don’t want me to start elucidating, textbook fashion, some of what the Democrats (who at times in the recent past had a hundred vote majority in Congress and could do whatever they wanted) knew they could get away with… including allowing shortfalls to be built into laws that were supposed to correct all the inequities and injustice of the prior hundred or two hundred or four hundred years past: We passed a “landmark” groundbreaking Civil Rights Act in 1965… so how did we end up where we are anyway. I’m afraid it’s not as simple as “a bit more compassionate.” When you ask that famous Dublin question, “who is he when he’s at home?” of a Republican, you’ll discover to your amazement, shock and chagrin, that he or she is every bit as compassionate (whatever being that is and however you measure that quality in isolation of confronting a problem requiring it) as, for certain, as Bernie Sanders. I have no idea how compassionate Bernie Sanders is. I know what he says is more satisfying and sensible as a policy. But I don’t need Bernie Sanders for that. We’ve had that model since the Continental Congress met and put their signatures to a document that began the long goodbye to King George.

      One more thing, I corrected your typo, and so I won’t repost your two “corrective” comments… Keep on truckin’ good buddy.

    • I endorse the notion of a dyad… makes it easier to swallow (and, of course, once I start thinking about it and the thought coheres, “well it’s a tiny bit more complicated than that… I end up 3000 words later with a screed that most people don’t want to summon the energy to pay attention to (since I don’t write like Ernest Hemingway, and this ain’t no novel).

      However, and that said, my dyad, now you got me thinking about it, is that the American dichotomy is more likely fugue state or PTSD.

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