"Return to Normalcy" was the 1920 campaign slogan of Warren Harding, offering a retreat from two intense, tumultuous decades that included World War I. While it captured the weariness of the American public, it upset strict grammarians who insisted the word normalcy should have been normality, noting that formal is to formality as normal is to normality. But language usage evolves and so does the sense of what is normal.
Those of us who worked to end the national nightmare of the last four years often called for a return to some sense of normal. Now we must figure out what that means. To me, a return to the Obama years or even the Clinton years would offer some respite from the recent insanity but little more. We tend to romanticize happier times and right now that would be a mistake. Both those presidents pushed for progressive improvements but were not without fault. Their educational policies toyed with untested reforms that overlooked reality-based classroom experiences. On labor issues, neither president championed card check (signing a card to indicate support for a union) that would have greatly eased union organizing. While they were often our allies on broad education and labor issues, it is time to look at new realities and push for an overall transformation of the body politic.
Let's not try to go back to the future.
First, we need positive action to conquer the pandemic. The White House needs to deliver clear messages on how we can work together for the common good by wearing masks and social distancing while it also focuses like a laser on getting the vaccines to the states and to as many Americans as quickly as possible.
Second, we need to fix the economy. The former White House occupant fixated on the stock market but ignored Main Street. Let's look for policy changes that will help small businesses, the unemployed and the underemployed. While the pandemic surged, the economy flattened, so the two must be addressed in tandem. The COVID-19 rescue package passed by Congress in December lacked adequate stimulus investment and was only a partial help. Now, we need to really "prime the pump" as FDR did in the Great Depression. State and local governments are struggling to staunch the local economic bleeding and restore the kinds of projects and programs that can do just that.
We continue to face crises in four major areas: health/the pandemic, the economy, the environment and human/civil rights. Short-term, immediate action will solve some problems, but some require long-range, hard work.
The rhetoric from and the personal examples set by President Biden and Vice President Harris will be important in forging a new path. Words have meaning, and personal behavior and demeanor have a consequential impact on the American public. My inclination is not to return to normalcy or normality but to join in a call for national purpose.
We are witnesses to President Biden's repeated references to the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. For our new normal, let's take Heaney's poetic inspiration and "make hope and history rhyme."