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Going to bed a caterpillar, waking a ‘Failed loser butterfly. Sad.’

by Jeremy Hooper

Sure, the TEA Party started making things weird even before our current decade began. And yes, the attacks on President Obama started trending off the political pages and into high school slambooks. I don’t want to be halcyon about an era that had an ability to feel hallucinatory.

But still, the political game from 2004–2016 was largely played in the same basic arena that we had known throughout modern history. With a studied understanding of governmental affairs and the ability to form opinions, both the dedicated political pro and the armchair commentator could find an entry point. The game might lead to a love/hate relationship, but the basic parameters of that relationship were understandable. Consensual. 

What the hell happened to that place?! And what is this twisted new world? And how do we leave?

76D019C1-41AB-4FB9-A63C-0D7D6AC396C2When I stepped away from daily commentary writing and turned my focus toward my family, I felt really good about where we were. Nothing was perfect, but it felt relatively calm. Problems felt like they were at least in search of solutions, even if those answers were still down the road. There at least seeemed to be a road. I felt okay getting off of it for a spell and letting others drive us forward.

Entering back into the picture now, I feel like someone who spent a decade obtaining an advanced degree in a subject that no longer exists. Like someone who recorded 60 Minutes, only to have the DVR replace it with a particularly lowbrow Real Housewives episode.

A president tweeting insults at an actor who portays him on SNL is how something unremarkable. A son-in-law serving in a senior White House role without a security clearance no elicits casual eye-rolling rather than national outrage. Former caddies are now senior communications officials. Porn stars sue the president. Resignations are as common as press briefings. We slur and ban and wall-in minority groups. Russia chooses our Secretary of State. Jailtime seems more likely than not for several key figures.

Forget talking about legislation. Silly child, that’s no longer a thing. To be a political commentator in 2018, one must instead perform psychoanalysis on a president who doesn’t seem to have even a basic understanding of his role, on inexperienced colleagues who seem both complicit and disdainful in equal measure, and on scandals that range from National Enquirer to global inquiry.

And then when there is an actual policy discussion, say on guns or on DACA or trasngender military access, the information stream is so muddled and confusing, led at the top by a man with the vocabulary of Nelson Muntz’s less intellectually curious cousin and carried out by a GOP leadership cabal that just wants to ramrod in anything they can before this Devil’s bargain runs out, that someone with a heart for reasoned debate and sound policy has almost no chance at achieving a toehold.

And no, this isn’t a byproduct of being a left-leaner coming up for air in a world that turned right. This new world is not right (in any sense). I love a good debate with the conservative side, and I spent years having that conversation at a time when my movement was lost in the political wilderness. I’m quite comfortable in an underdog role. I like making an against-the-odds case.

What I’m not comfortable with doing is pretending anything going on right now is normal. Or good for our country. Or safe. Or even humane. To even concede that this is a “new normal” is, to my mind, an exceedingly dangerous choice for the continuation of our nation. If young people in particular see this crude and cruel experiment as something to replicate, we will become an unrecognizable people.

And I liked us how we were before, despite our considerable flaws.

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