A constant refrain in the news these days is the wish to “return to normal,” or questions to doctors or leaders about “when are we are going to return to normal?” Underlying this desire for the “normal” is to return to the way things were before COVID-19, a longing for the way things were before March 2020.
I for one do not want to return to “normal.” I don’t long for the way things were before the coronavirus disrupted all our lives in some pretty profound ways. Beyond that, this constant discussion of a return to normal really misses the opportunity to honor all the sacrifices that have been made in the past year as well as all the losses we have suffered. In order to give meaning to the sacrifice and make it more than just pain, loss and struggle, it must have purpose. This meaning and purpose is found in change and finding a new way of being in this world.
Shootings should not be ‘normal’
Yes, of course, I want to be able to gather with friends, hug my loved ones, go out without having to wear a mask and social distance, and behave in natural human ways without worry. But our country before COVID-19 wasn’t even close to perfect, our leaders were not all ones of integrity and pursuing the common good, and the way we acted toward one another wasn’t consistently the best we can be.
The tragic loss of life in the shootings in the Atlanta area and in Boulder, Colorado, is a reminder of how the “normal” isn’t something any of us should want. These shootings had become all too common before the pandemic and are once again reminding us of the lack of leadership that had and has become the norm in America. Long before COVID-19, we watched as many Republican politicians refused to make lessening gun violence a priority and shine light on the hate that exists toward others in America. And today we see the same.
Before the pandemic came to our country, we saw truth as a casualty in our political and policy debates. We watched as many leaders disparaged science, knowledge and data in order to accomplish some political aim, whether it was on climate change, economic policy or gun reform. Before COVID-19, equal justice for all was a collection of words used in speeches but not followed through by way too many people in leadership positions.
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The norm before the coronavirus was for some in this country the sentiment that white people had a higher place of importance in the day-to-day ways we gathered as a country. The white supremacy movement was building in overt actions well before last March, and ballot access for every citizen was not only not a priority, but impediments erected to some was a normal operating procedure in some jurisdictions. And we see this again today in those using the mythic idea of widespread voter fraud to put in place restrictions on voting.
Fight against a return to the past
As we begin to return to what some are calling the “norm,” let me illustrate something that again points out why none of us should want to return to the way things were before. Approximately 1.5 million people have died from gun violence in the past five decades, and in that same periodthere have been about 1,500 documented proven instances of voter fraud out of more than 3 billion votes cast.
And what is the “norm” for GOP politicians to concentrate on and prioritize? They are focusing exclusively on policies related to the myth of voter fraud, and ignoring the truth of gun violence and standing in the way of commonsense gun reform. This is the norm for some today, and was the norm a year ago.
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Let us all resolve to not return to the norm. Let us use what we have experienced in the past year to make our lives and our country better. Let us understand the common humanity we all have and how we each suffer if we don’t pursue policies that help the common good. Let us make truth and science and facts a central part of our political debates. Let us demand integrity in each other and our leaders. Let us fight for equality and justice for all no matter sex, color, creed or any other way we differ from one another. Let us fight against the scourge of nativism and white supremacy. Let us reform our institutions and structures to make them more democratic.
In this way, we won’t return to normal. And by not returning to the normal before COVID-19 we can purposely use in a positive meaningful way the struggle of the past year, and once again make concrete steps to forming “a more perfect union.” We should all be willing to have the courage and wisdom to navigate into the future with compassion for each other, and not long for the past just because it is predictable, known and normal.
Matthew Dowd, a political independent, was chief strategist for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. He is the former chief political analyst for ABC News and author of “A New Way: Embracing the Paradox as We Lead and Serve.” Follow him on Twitter: @matthewjdowd