“Return to normalcy” was United States presidential candidate Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan for the election of 1920. He was considered a long shot at best, but turned the corner just weeks before the nominating convention when he said these words in a speech in Boston in May 1920:
“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration.”
The country was emerging from the devastation of World War I, which claimed 117,000 U.S. lives, and the Spanish flu pandemic, which claimed the lives of another 675,000 Americans (and an estimated 50 million around the globe).
As for Warren G. Harding, his was a case study in being careful what you wish for. A return to normalcy for him meant scandals and ill health. The 29th president caught the flu — not the Spanish flu, but a descendant — just two years into his term and never recovered. He died at 57 in August 1923.
Fast forward to March 2022. We’re all exhausted from the impacts and challenges of COVID pandemic. And we frequently say that we want to “return to normal.” But do we really? Ask yourself these questions from the Times News, February 24, 2022, Print Edition:
Do we really want to return to normal in politics where politicians are more concerned with getting reelected than doing what is best for the country (which is its people) regardless of the political consequences?
Do we really want to return to normal work where people (are required to) commute every morning from home to office and commute back every night from office to home?
Do we really want to return to a normal healthcare system where many people do not have adequate health care, and where too many have no health care?
Do we really want to return to normal where we give up what we have discovered that is useful, that makes our lives easier?
- Like Zoom, which allows us to participate in events whenever we cannot be there physically, as when visiting distant relatives, traveling on business, or enjoying a vacation.
- Like ordering food from our favorite restaurants and grocery stores through their apps and then picking it up at a time convenient for us, or having it delivered to our homes.
- Like the option of remote learning when weather or personal circumstances prohibit our children from physically being in school.
The pandemic shed light on issues that were either typically sidestepped or accepted with little resistance. Like mental health, wealth inequality, underpaid work, racial injustice and equity, and lack of diversity. Will returning to normal life mean sweeping these hard conversations back under the rug?
Truthfully, it’s way past time we stop using the term “return to normal” because we cannot. We can only live in today’s normal and work to make the societal changes necessary so that tomorrow’s normal is what we want it to be.