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I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size.
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Trying to define 2016
Posted at: Feb/09/2017 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: People, Perspectives, Politics & Gov, Society,
We are 5 weeks into 2017, so it seems only fair to look back and try to access or define 2016. Definitions by their very nature need to be short to be effective and understood. In a dictionary, definitions are seldom more than 8-10 words in length. Sometimes a year is best described by a new word added to our lexicon, in this case I have settled on an old word that has taken on a new emphasis. 2016 might best be described as “normal”, or more accurately “a new normal.”
There are a number of critical events that made the news this last year including soaring student loan debt and long lines at airports. There were also significant terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice along with suicide bombings in the Pakistan city of Lahore. Yet, student debt, airport lines and terrorism have been in the news for a long time and just seem to be normal. The release of the “Panama Paper” implicated hundreds of people and thousands of companies in an illicit attempt to hide money offshore, but it has become normal to have a major release of damming documents.
In May, the Leicester City football club won the Premier League title. While their win defied all predictions, no one would watch sports if only the favorites won. Every year there is an underdog champion in some sport and this is the normal flow of competitive competition. In a similar manner, after 108 years the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Undoubtedly, Leicester will seek the relegation bracket nearly as fast as they ascended to the title staying true to normal sports trends.
Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner and he/she was named Glamour magazine’s “woman of the year”. Quite a distinctive title since all he did was cross-dress in 2016. Unfortunately, it has become normal to award a title merely because others are optimistic that person will have a positive impact. Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 because others felt he would eventually have a positive impact on world peace.
The United Kingdom voted in June to leave the European Union, this exit is now known as Brexit. Nevertheless, the rise and fall of international organizations and treaties of cooperation are part of the normal cycle of international politics. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated by a major US political party to be president while the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president. Much like a carnival side show, politics is about doing something new and different, so these milestones become merely normal. A video of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump surfaced in which he bragged about what he desired of a certain women a decade earlier. With everyone wandering around with a video camera in their pocket, the release of a “secret video” has merely become normal. Obviously, Mr. Trump did not deny anything and this quickly faded from the headlines because everyone knew to consider this to be merely normal behavior for him.
When Mr. Trump won the presidential election, many considered this an anomalous event. What really happened is that 63 million voters in 30 states said that they were tired of “business as usual” from their national government. A general dissatisfaction with politics has been brewing for decades and the notion of electing change is the likely the “new normal.” Pundits will continue to believe they can sway their audiences, while the only ones really listening are their sponsors…this too is apparently normal.
“Normal” is a tricky word with its origin inherited as a medical term referring to what is typical or expected, but with no emphasis on good or bad. Doctors may refer to a healthy or acceptable blood count as normal. The same doctor may also refer to the way that skin has torn in an injury as normal. In that same spirit, a mechanic may access the wear and tear on tires showing their steel belts as normal depending on the situation.
Clearly, the meaning of normal and its sister normalize vary in context. When Newt Gingrich says that Donald Trump isn’t normal, he means Mr. Trump is unconventional. When former President Obama says it, he means he’s bizarre. Strangely, people have challenged the legitimacy of both Bush and Obama, but nobody ever argued that they weren’t normal. This confusion could mean that there is nothing normal about the new normal. One of the popular variations of the word normal is normalize.
When a technology person talks about normalizing data, they are focused on organizing columns and tables in a manner that reduces redundancy and improves integrity. In other content the term normalize seems to have a more vague definition. In the fall of 2016 The New York Times was accused of normalizing one of Trump’s environmental advisers when they described him as a “climate contrarian” rather than a denialist. Whether you believe in global warming or not, this terminology shift implies that his views were within the sphere of legitimate debate. Could I be a contrarian with the bank when they imply I am over drawn, would my argument be somehow more legitimate?
There is a clear concern about the new normal and the recurring notion that truth and facts appear to no longer matter. Between Brexit and Trump tweets, there has been a lot of talk on both sides of the Atlantic during 2016 about “post-truth.” This new term was so widely used that the folks at the Oxford Dictionary were prompted to make “post-truth” their word of the year. Post-truth has its roots in the 1990’s, but in this era of tweetstorms and fake news it has found a new prominence. There are those academics with their “post-modernist” theory claiming all truth is relative.
The exercise of rewriting history is as old as man’s social groups. There have always been those who felt a need to change the narrative of key events to serve an agenda or for self-promotion. Normally when someone elects to rewrite history, they wait until the majority of the historical witnesses no longer exist. In our new era of fake news and filter bubbles, facts seem to be irrelevant when a critical agenda is at stake…this too seems to have become normal.
Since at least the era of Julius Caesar politicians have leveraged spin and the careful ability to select some facts and ignore others to serve the promotion of their agenda. Times change and so does the nature of political spin. The common theme in 2016 was to create false headlines and unsubstantiated facts for the sake of supporting an agenda; clearly, false news has become very normal. The establishment media is sticking to their guns and their liberal viewpoint as they supposedly report the "unbiased" news. With so many pundits sitting behind polished desks with network banners behind them the line between news and opinion is lost. 40 years ago Roone Arledge taught us that sensationalism and spectacle will always draw a larger audience than mere facts….this too is merely normal.
Society does not stand still. What was strange and offensive yesterday is often the accepted normal for today. Just a little over a decade ago, terrorism in a western world capital was virtually unheard of, now these events are far too common and only own the headlines for a few days. 20 years ago fast food jobs were the haven of teenage labor looking for some fun money. Now these same fast food jobs are the last stop for many adults. All these items were strange not that long ago, but seem normal in 2016.
Sometimes, what is old becomes new again. Less than a century ago, “Yellow Journalism” was common in America. This was the phenomenon where large cites had multiple newspapers competing for readers. To attract their readers, many papers would ignore research and fact checking in favor of exaggerations, scandal-mongering and sensationalism. Newspapers may be bordering on historical relics, but in the race for ratings, many networks seem to have adopted these same techniques that are associated with Yellow Journalism. Clearly, false facts and selective truth have become far too normal.
Change is around us and therefore there is always a new normal. It is a little disappointing how little fact and truth have to do with this new normal, but maybe that to will fade with time. There is an old Chinese curse that says: “May you live in interesting times.” Interesting may be the most polite way to describe this era; but then again, one person's version of interesting is another's normal.