By Paul Rozycki
Looking back on 2016, it is strange how quickly the abnormal became normal.
One of the most worrisome aspects of the Flint Water Crisis is how normal certain things have become. I’ve gotten used to having the house littered with water bottles and having cases of water piled all over the kitchen. I’m used to changing filters every week or so. I’m used to picking up a carload of water every few weeks. I’m used to planting a huge trash bag full of empty plastic bottles at the curb every recycling week. I’m used to not drinking the tap water.
I’ve gotten so used to all this that I have hard time breaking the habit. When I go to a friend’s home outside of Flint, I wonder where the water bottles are. I hesitate when drinking water elsewhere.
At the movies in Flint Township last week, I had to remind myself, “It’s okay to stop at the drinking fountain. We’re not in the city.”
And that’s the problem. None of these things should be normal. But they have become normal. When you do anything long enough it starts to seem normal–even things that shouldn’t be normal and things we wouldn’t have accepted as normal just a few years ago.
Similarly, before 2016, how many people would have thought it normal to have serious presidential candidates calling each other names, bragging about their sex lives, insulting veterans, minorities, women, the handicapped and the media? Under normal conditions, what would be the chances of that candidate being elected to anything, much less the presidency? So many things that were truly bizarre and offensive during last year’s presidential campaign are now, unfortunately, being accepted as the ‘new normal’.
As we move into the New Year, there are more than a few things from 2016 that have become normal, that shouldn’t be accepted as normal in 2017.
The ‘new normal’ for Flint?
It shouldn’t be normal to have new criminal charges regularly filed against local officials, who are blamed for the water crisis.
It shouldn’t be normal to regularly hear that ‘the water is getting better, but keep using your filters’, after almost three years of bad water.
It shouldn’t be normal to face endless court battles over how to deliver water to a city in crisis.
It shouldn’t be normal to have new misgivings and doubts about a nearly completed Karegnondi Pipeline, which promised to deliver clean, affordable water to Flint and Genesee County.
It shouldn’t be normal to have almost every recent Flint mayor face recall attempts from unhappy voters, dissatisfied with city hall’s efforts and actions.
It shouldn’t be normal to have the city council meetings regularly disrupted with loud outbursts, threats and arrests of council members.
It shouldn’t be normal to learn that the same filters that remove lead might also increase the chance for bacterial infection in our water.
Is shouldn’t be normal to have two opposing trash companies playing bumper-tag on the city streets as they attempt to get the edge for a city contract, amidst charges of insider dealing.
The ‘new normal’ for the nation?
On the presidential level, the list of ‘new normal’ is even more troubling.
It shouldn’t be normal for a candidate to lose the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, and win the electoral vote.
It shouldn’t be normal for a candidate to insult much of the American population and then call for unity.
It shouldn’t be normal for a candidate to urge a foreign government to hack into the emails of another party. It also shouldn’t be normal for a government to do it.
It shouldn’t be normal for a president-elect to threaten a nuclear buildup in a fleeting 140 character tweet.
It shouldn’t be normal for a presidential candidate to tweet a hostile response to every late night comedian’s skit or joke.
It shouldn’t be normal for a president-elect to act is if he were president, months before he’s actually sworn in.
In an age when more communication avenues are available to us than ever before, it shouldn’t be normal for ‘fake news’ to have a greater impact than the real events and news of the day.
It shouldn’t be normal to have such a blatant disregard for real facts, that facts become whatever we feel like believing at a particular moment.
A New Year’s resolution for 2017
Yet, all of these things (and more) which would have been abnormal, inexcusable, and unacceptable in the past, have become the ‘new normal’. For better or worse, we’ve learned to live with them in 2016. The real danger is that, like hesitating at a drinking fountain, we’ll get used to all of this, and it will all become the normal way we do business.
Perhaps our number one New Year’s resolution for 2017 should be to make sure that last year’s ‘new normal’ doesn’t become normal for the future.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at Paul.Rozycki@mcc.edu.