WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — August 19, 2019 — It is highly unlikely that the August doldrums of 2019 are markedly different than those of past years. We expect some kind of summer break from the tension and conflict that are now our regular portion. And memories of past summers seem to focus on iced tea and midday naps.
But things sure feel different. The overarching reality is Trumpworld. Should we buy Greenland? Should members of Congress be barred from Israel? Did the Clintons murder Jeffrey Epstein? Why did the stock market crash?
Similar unusualness pops up in New York. Mount Vernon has two, or three, mayors. New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio is on a national tour and the city doesn’t seem to miss him. State courts see an explosion of lawsuits asserting child abuse in heretofore beloved institutions. The Mets are on a winning streak.
On both serious and more frivolous issues, the world seems to teeter.
That’s because it is. The shared realities that were the assumed unifying social bonds are fraying.
There’s reason to blame pervasive and unrelenting inflammatory language, be it from Trump or some of his adversaries. Eventually, the ferocity of public discourse undermines our faith in ourselves.
There’s some reason to blame the erosion of institutional trust. Religious, economic, political and social entities weaken or disappear and we are seemingly left alone.
There’s a sense that the unmaking of civil society is an unstoppable force. That’s because it is. Our past arrangements and credos are inadequate to the present situation.
It is doubtful that politics alone can re-establish stability. The 2020 election is more likely to confirm our divisions than bridge them. The absence of unifying authority is the new normal.
So if this August feels different from past ones, you’re not crazy. It is. We are on our own for the foreseeable future.
The good news is that such paradigm shifts are normal, even if it makes us uncomfortable. The Great Depression and New Deal; the Cold War and the atomic age; the movements on behalf of minorities, women and the environment; the technology revolutions: All required adjustments by institutions and individuals that were disorienting, at least at the beginning, but yielded a better world.
It’s understandable that we all feel the impact of a new age of anxiety. But there’s no reason to despair. It may be helpful to embrace the moment and help shape a new, more livable, set of arrangements, publicly and privately. Inevitably, the cool winds of September will sweep away the mists of August, refreshing us all. Youthful energy, tempered by experience and caution, will drive us forward.
Keep the faith. Enjoy the lemonade and barbecues. Get ready for more uncertainty and weirdness. Think about how you want the emerging Brave New World to look, privately and publicly. There’s more to a full year than August doldrums.
Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
Original publication by Times-Union on August 18, 2019.
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