Return to Normal

It’s cold again. The furnace kicked on again this week, although we still wear sweaters in the house. The storm windows are up and the first snow storm of the year just missed us. The Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east both got hit Tuesday, but here the valley; it was just incessant rain and lashing wind.

Summer in Vermont is a short, beautiful dream from which one wakes and returns to normal. This may sound depressing to some, but here in the north country, there’s a certain comfort in long nights and cold days.

Or maybe I just welcome a return to normal – any kind of normal. A tragedy of the Internet age is that it feeds certain kinds of obsessive-compulsive behavior. I can (and do) check the status of the stock market six or eight times a day. I follow all the political polls and developments.

As with any compulsion, these activities are not particularly gratifying. If the stock market would stop careening up and down, I wouldn’t feel the need to check it so often. (Right now, it’s up 111 points for the day. But the headlines say the economy shrank in the third quarter. And ExxonMobil posted yet another record profit.) You get the picture.

I have no idea when I’ll be able to resort to again checking the market once a day, but at least there’s light at the end of the political tunnel. Five days to go and everybody – especially the candidates – wish it was over already.

I’m ready to return to normal. I’m ready to go back to America, the country I knew before this eight-year delusion set in. Even though the polls say Barack Obama is poised for a significant win on Tuesday, and the Democratic Party is poised to increase its margins in the House and Senate, there will be many Americans who will be angry at the results when they wake up on November 5th.

Anger is an emotion, not an idea, so it can be hard for people to explain. I’ve spoken with people who voted for George Bush and who intend to vote for John McCain. None of them claim to be happy with the way the country has turned out under Mr. Bush’s leadership, although they argue (without much conviction anymore) that an Al Gore or John Kerry administration would have been worse.

These folks are afraid of Sen. Obama. Fear, like anger, is an emotion not an idea, so it can be hard to describe, too. They’re afraid because the outlets where they get their news have behaved irresponsibly, filling their heads with half-truths and untruths. They’re afraid because our nation has, in the last few decades, divided itself into an ideological and cultural civil war. Each side has its own set of beliefs and statistics that wedge us apart, even though our values are similar on each side of the divide.

Fear in America is not limited to people who support Sen. McCain. Sen. Obama’s supporters are afraid, too. Everyone knows the economy is bad; no one knows how bad. We know the news will spool out in the weeks ahead. I tell myself I’m not afraid, just anxious. I’m anxious to know how much (or little) will get spent the day after Thanksgiving, that great barometer of our economic confidence. That anxiety is why I check the stock market so often. (Now it’s up 61 points for the day, so it’s lost 50 points in the last 20 minutes.)

One of the things I didn’t like about the Bush administration is that Mr. Bush acted like he was president of his half of the country and the half that didn’t agree with him could go pound salt.

Although I think the next president will need to take strong, decisive action to get us out of the various messes Mr. Bush has put us in, I hope a President Obama will – as he has repeatedly said he will – govern as the president of all Americans.

Whoever wins Tuesday will have many urgent issues on his desk. No issue, however, is more important than binding up this nation’s divisions and returning us to normal.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *