I must be a masochist. First thing in the morning I fetch the Post-Gazette, scan the front page, and then turn to the op-ed pages to check on the day’s opinion pieces, some local, some national, to get their take on the latest batch of upsetting events happening in our world. On Tuesdays and Fridays I immediately turn to Page 2 to see what Tony Norman has to say. (For those of you who do not deign to read the Post Gazette, Tony Norman is, in my opinion, the publication’s most interesting columnist, whose trenchant and often wry observances frequently make it from my desktop to desktops around the land.)
After I’ve perused the Post-Gazette I download the New York Times to find out what their platoon of columnists has to say about the latest shocks to our collective system.
Terrorism – It’s becoming a du jour kind of thing – bombing du jour, mass shooting du jour. It’s reached the point that we turn on the morning news, listen to a report of the latest bombing, turn over, and go back to sleep.
We’re in a quandary, to say the very least, as we scurry about plugging up one leak in the damn while four more burst forth elsewhere. More dogs, more security, more searches – aiming to defeat an enemy who relishes watching us dance on hot coals.
Determination to stay alive is the strongest urge man possesses. But when our enemy has managed to rid himself of that primal urge, how are we to fight back?
The Campaign – Nothing is happening right now that gives me hope. We have a choice between two painfully flawed candidates. Many months ago I asked my husband, “Don’t the Democrats have anybody else to run for president?”
Evidently they didn’t, and we’re seeing the results now. I’m not a Hillary hater, but it seems to me that someone with less baggage and more charm might have come to the fore. Hillary is brittle and unspontaneous. Nothing about her makes me think, “I like that woman.” My husband says, "She's competent." I say, "Competent is boring."
And I'm now questioning her competence having just heard the FBI report on her email activity, which was described as “extremely careless.” That doesn’t exactly bespeak competence.
I’m sorry, but I don’t give two hoots about whether we have a woman president just so we can say we do. I would like for us to have an excellent president.
My choice, ill-informed as it may be, would have been Joe Biden. He’s a sympathetic figure, an affable, back-slapping kind of guy who, notwithstanding a tendency to utter an occasional verbal boo-boo, is liked, and he knows plenty about domestic and foreign policy and as much as Hillary does about the presidency. He has been the best vice president a president could possibly want.
What can I say about Trump that hasn’t already been said? It’s obvious that his success is based primarily on his ability to give voice to the rage of millions of disaffected white people – the ones whose idea of cultural activity is tailgating and target shooting – who will never get over having an uppity Nee-gro in the Oval Office.
The Republican Party has only itself to blame for this unlikely turn of events. They've spent the last eight years doing everrything they could think of to undermine Obama while the gods were about to pull the rug from under them. Whoops!
Brexit - Obama can’t be directly blamed for the rage of the Leavers. But he is blamed for initiating or continuing events that have led to the mass migration of “undesirables” into the European Union and Britain. The Brexit vote will result, for many years to come, in as yet unimagined, unintended consequences. But the Leave gang, along with their squeamish, right-leaning counterparts in France, Hungary and other European countries are having a hard time accepting what they see happening and feel helpless to prevent.
These developments have given permission to a certain contingent of (mostly) young males to torment those they see as “the other.” A Mexican-American man who has been living in England for eighteen years is accosted by a group of thugs shouting at him to “Go back to Africa!” Africa? The hooligans are not only mean and xenophobic, they’re also stupid if they can’t tell the difference between a Latino and an African. All they see is brownish skin.
Cultural upheaval – There are changes happening that those of us who have been around for a while find mind boggling. I often wonder how my father, who died in 1980, would react to the 21st century culture wars. He would think he was being hoodwinked, that these new “norms” of society couldn’t possibly be true.
Weather – We watch footage of floods and tornadoes and fires that rob people of their homes and a lifetime of possessions. I’m not a climate scientist and haven’t the slightest idea if global warming is responsible. But whatever the cause, the degree of devastation makes me wonder how these people go on without losing their minds.
Assorted shootings, beatings, stabbings – In locales urban and rural, people who have been driven insane by drugs or circumstances are doing away with one another. A mother shoots to death her two teenage daughters to avenge a dispute with her husband while another mother slashes the throats of her four children, all under the age of five. Two policeman shoot to death a black man who is being held on the ground more confused than threatening. The policemen's bodycams have unaccountably gone missing before the shooting occurs.
We learn about these horrors while watching the 6 o’clock news – one disaster after another, one ghastly example of man’s inhumanity to man, while we sip our Chardonnay and dine on grilled salmon. Why do we do it?
We are retirees, and the news is an important component of our lives. It doesn’t require anything of us other than our attention, and it doesn't make our feet hurt. When we socialize, we can’t talk about our jobs. But we can talk about the news.
And there's a tendency in humans to engage in schadenfreude – pleasure derived from another person's misfortune. We might not be feeling pleasure, but we are experiencing the only thing that is keeping us halfway sane: The belief that what we’re seeing is not going to happen to us.