H. Brandt Ayers: After the storm, normality will return
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Societies’ calm seas are about to be whipped into a perfect storm by the cross currents of an electorate that seems ready to reverse the course it set two years ago and bring back the party that gave us an economic tsunami.

Ordinarily, the lives of communities are lived as gently as the sea, which from time to time is made angry by passing political storms but is eternally governed by the deep swells and monotonous tides of normality.

We may be about to have a crazy, irrational midterm election, but that won’t have any effect on the jovial gathering of conservatives and a smattering of liberals at Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Club meetings in towns like mine.

In my hometown we have a good many bars but there’s a church on every corner. The paper has never reported a barroom brawl between Democrats and Republicans, and only one preacher fired because of his politics.

The glue that holds society together is the sameness of everyday life: workaday rituals, habits of civility, conformity to the norm, ambivalence, indifference and resignation.

But, wait; when it comes to commonplace routines such as City Council meetings, my town is an exception.

You might call the two-year term of this council a perfect storm, if it rose to that level. It’s more a tempest in a teapot. The council has been a cockpit for name-calling, wild goose chasing, trivia inflating inaction.

Currently, four members over the objections of the mayor are engaged in a Grand Inquisition into “corruption” in City Hall and the police department. Weeks of hearings seem to be about police not being as upset as one councilman was about public criticism and an insulting remark on a policeman’s Facebook page.

The councilman whose feelings were hurt is a lightning rod of controversy with opinions that are vagrant and a volcanic temperament. He is likable in person, but as a public official he is all sound and fury, accomplishing nothing.

“Corruption” at City Hall seems to be about delinquent business taxes owed by an unnamed circuit court judge that everybody in town knows is Judge Joel Laird, who owns the Courthouse Café where there were management problems.

My detour into local affairs from an essay on looming, madcap elections is a deliberate diversion to reinforce the point that Congress may be a revolving tangle of partisanship, but City Hall is a compelling, strictly apolitical concern.

The Grand Inquisition, which continues, seems to have crystallized citizen disgust with this City Council across party lines. The paper published a rare Sunday front-page editorial critical of the council and suggesting legal remedies.

The Chamber of Commerce has bought a full-page ad and is touring the county advocating a movement to “Change the Conversation” and call on officials and citizens to sign pledges upholding respectful civic virtues.

A spontaneous gathering of concerned citizens has been called together to discuss what to do about the mounting crisis at City Hall and another group of civic leaders is meeting for the same purpose.

It is in our nature to do so — a surprise to French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited our young country in 1835. He wrote:

“These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. In a local community in their country a citizen may conceive of some need, which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with a neighbor.

“Then what happens? A committee comes into existence and then the committee begins functioning on behalf of that need. You won’t believe this, but it’s true. All of this is done without reference to any bureaucracy. All of this is done by the private citizens on their own initiative.”

That certainly has not been what has governed the vulgar verbal dueling in City Hall or some of the goofier policy positions and slogans of the tea party movement.

They are more in tune with the “Mad Hatters Tea Party,” which Wikipedia describes as “characterized by switching places on the table at any given time, making short, personal remarks, asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical poetry, all of which eventually drive Alice away.”

The spirit that animates citizens in local communities seen by de Tocqueville has been sadly absent from Congresses in the recent past.

From 1994 onward, a series of congressional hearings harassed the administration of President Clinton, resulting in the constitutional crisis of impeachment in the House and trial by the Senate, which found him not guilty.

That Republican Congress was in power for the eight years of George Bush’s presidency, years of war, fierce partisanship, rising world enmity toward the U.S. and a doubling of the national debt.

Hope that naturally accompanies new national leadership and was a theme of the Obama campaign immediately crashed head-on into the Great Recession, caused by private greed and lax governmental regulation.

A frightened, disillusioned, angry public seems to have rejected the very measures that were taken to save the country from a worse economic fate. They have waited too long for too many years to see the country right itself.

They are impatient with the snail’s pace of recovery, puzzled or resentful of the president’s seeming distance from their clear distress and have formed a “citizens’” tea-party movement that is financed by self-interested billionaires.

The shell-shocked, mad-hatter’s election will go on out there, but after the storm has passed, the monotonous tide of normality, the metronome of civic life in towns like mine will resume its steady beat tick-tick, tick-tick, tick-tick …

H. Brandt Ayers is chairman of Consolidated Publishing and publisher of The Anniston Star.
comments (2)
« YellowHammerFlicker wrote on Thursday, Oct 07 at 04:12 PM »
Mr. Ayers,

I enjoyed your column. You definitely hit the nail on the head!
« Level Head wrote on Thursday, Oct 07 at 02:36 PM »
Democrats took over Congress in 2006, so Bush did not have 8 years of having it all his way. However, I would not expect a left wing nut case like you to let facts interfere with a good bashing of Republicans. Brandt, why don't you go out and give your millions away to finance some of these liberal entitlements? I would rather keep my money and spent it as I see fit.