What’s Normal?

What’s Normal?


Leonard Zwelling

The hardest part of overseas travel for me is the difficulty I have keeping up with events back in the States. English speaking television in many foreign countries is limited to CNN and we all know that’s “fake news.” Not really, but still, having only one news source is never healthy. If I have access to the internet, I can download The NY Times after 5 AM Houston time on my Kindle, but that’s one in the afternoon in Turkey. I do peruse the websites when I have internet access, but to me there is no substitute for a real newspaper. TV and cable news is fine for knowing what happened, but if you want to know why, a newspaper is the better source.

For this reason, I do not throw out the newspapers when I am away or use a vacation hold. I have them collected and I review the op-ed sections of The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Houston Chronicle upon my return.

The opinion page of The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, May 5 had three timely pieces that more or less talk about how the current climate in America deviates from the norm or what used to be the American norm.

The first piece is called “A Dog’s Breakfast of a Dinner” by the always informative Peggy Noonan. She relates her opinion that the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has probably overstayed its welcome. This year, the dinner had as its star attraction the comedienne Michelle Wolf who was both crude and insulting to many of the current members of the Trump Administration some of whom were in attendance. But it wasn’t just that. The gathered masses tend to lean left at this dinner and now that it is televised, the whole world gets to see how the liberal elite thumb their noses at the fifty percent of the country that do not think as they do. This is not a healthy demonstration by the people charged with bringing objective reporting to the country. Ms. Noonan insists that this particular exercise in freedom of speech at the expense of the Republicans (most of the time) needs to end. If the correspondents need an annual event at which to give themselves awards, so be it. Insulting others need not be part of this and it’s neither normal nor polite to think that it is.

The second piece is called “It’s the Era of Feelings, and Not Necessarily Good Ones.” It was written by Paula Marantz Cohen, a dean and English professor at Drexel University. She describes three causes of the rise of feelings over rational thought in the dialogue of America. Relativity when making decisions is first on the list. My own book speaks of the rise of moral relativism in academia and on Capitol Hill. Sometimes, there really is a truth and a right. The ability of the president to describe news he doesn’t like as fake suggests that he has a relative view of both morality and behavior. He’s wrong. The second issue leading to the rise of feelings over thought has been discoveries in the neurosciences that suggest that we rationalize decisions that have been made at the gut level. Again, this is a form of moral relativism. Finally, technology has given us an outlet for all of those feelings that we never had before. Facebook. Groups of “like-feeling” individuals on the web or on politically correct college campuses can band together and create new “law” with things like trigger warnings that make individual feelings more important than legally-guaranteed freedoms, like the one to offend with free speech. Cohen urges a return to a society where laws predominate, not feelings.

The final opinion piece is by Homan W. Jenkins, Jr. It is called “Should Presidents Be ‘Good’ People?” Who knows what a good person is? A bad one is easy to identify. Hitler and Charles Manson come to mind. But how good does one have to be to be a good person and do we really want this as a criterion for electing our leaders? Perhaps. Is Mr. Trump a good person? Who knows? Whether he is or not, he is the president and he gained that office through an emotional response to his own outlandish behavior and the tepid counter-punching of his opponent. 2016 was anything but a normal election. Perhaps we need to get back to a conventional pattern in 2018 and beyond.

These three articles are worth a read for outlining the many aspects of the current political climate in the U.S. There is too much taunting rather than attempting to find accord. There is too much emotion when rational thought is called for. And there is way too much emphasis placed on the goodness of the person in the office. Let’s worry less about that and more about performance. Here’s hoping that while those who resonate with Mr. Trump on the emotional level will never be convinced of his fallibility, and those who oppose him insist he’s not a good person, let’s actually see what he does—especially on June 12 in Singapore.

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