These are the “words of year,” each reflecting the “ethos, mood, or preoccupations” of 2017. At this time last year, I predicted post-accountability would take the title. So I was wrong. But go ahead — tell me we didn’t live in world where a truth was a lie, a lie was truth, and people didn’t care either way. In short, post-accountability.
So much for predictions. This year, I’ll nominate my own word for 2017 — actually two words — to represent these current topsy-turvy times: new normal, as in “what used to be the exception is now the rule.”
Recent headlines verify this choice:
That’s just the beginning. What about the four months in Connecticut without a budget? Hopefully, that is not the new normal, but it appears a state budget deficit with ever-increasing taxes is.
“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presented legislative leaders [last] Wednesday with more than $303 million in spending cuts and tax increases as they seek to resolve a $208 million budget deficit,” reported CT News Junkie.
Another new normal in Connecticut: intensely partisan politics. Yes, all politics are partisan, but compromise occurs less frequently in the Nutmeg state now. In addition to the months-long, party-line budget standoff, consider the current gubernatorial sweepstakes. New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, a Republican, is considering a run, but she might not be “Republican enough” for some Republicans.
“The Connecticut Family Institute’s website blasts her for supporting the distribution of condoms in New Britain schools several years ago, warning, ‘She’s crossed a line we won’t soon forget’.”
To get a real sense of the new normal, one must look beyond the Constitution State and focus squarely on President Donald Trump. He has taken “new normal” to stratospheric levels. Consider:
• The new purpose of government agencies is to fight their very purpose: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, sued the EPA 14 times over climate policies when he was Oklahoma attorney general. Rick Perry, Department of Energy secretary, is an outspoken critic of the agency, even once forgetting it existed. Betsy DeVos has advocated for private schools as secretary for the Department of Education, an agency supposedly serving public schools.
More to the point, the Trump administration forbade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using certain words in official documents — you know, non-scientific terms like transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.
• The new policy for government policies is to carelessly remove the old policies: Don’t like the Paris climate accord? Just pull out. Bothered by transgender people in the military? Just ban them via Twitter decree. Ticked off about the millions of acres of national monument land? Just give it back to the states for industrial development.
As Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal explains, such “policy decisions” undermine the work of federal employees: “They see their life’s work crumbling, because they see a president taking a sledgehammer to really complex aspects of policy. They realize there’s pros and cons and conflicting interests, and they’ve tried to reach compromises that he just impulsively destroys because it was a good campaign slogan.”
• The new definition of “presidential” is anything but: He insults and berates anyone who disagrees with him. He kidnaps the spotlight at events meant to recognize others like Boy Scouts and Native Americans. And he hobnobs with the CEO of the NRA while ignoring the fifth anniversary of Sandy Hook.
Obviously, Donald Trump has redefined presidential behavior. What was once full of grace and humility has deteriorated to vanity and vulgarity. This sad reality — demonstrated repeatedly by Trump’s narcissistic, petulant, and boorish tweets — is the most conspicuous example of the “new normal” in 2017.
As we conclude this new-normal year, let’s hope a few positive new normals — like the #MeToo movement — will subdue Trump’s influence and generate a more optimistic word of the year for 2018. Something like equality or progress. I’d even settle for basic kindness.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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