Odious August Is Over, Thank God

People—and a few poets—have always said that April is the cruelest month.

Sorry to say that it isn’t so.

August is the cruelest month. By far.

August is supposed to be the month when we treasure our last few trips to the beach, when we finally finish “War and Peace” or every James Patterson novel ever written—the number is legion—or go to our gadgets and binge watch every episode of “Game of Thrones.”

August is the month when we ignore the news, because there isn’t supposed to be any. Our elected officials are supposed to be out of town, doing nothing, a continuation of what they did when they were here. In August, consistency like that is the soul of solace and rest.

Instead, the news, the world, just would not go away. It burst onto our daily lives like a nagging life trainer.   It unsettled us in ways that are not supposed to happen in August. August are the joys of baseball, the absence of politics, the sand in your toes, the sun and its relief, the shade. 

Instead, we got Wall Street gyrations, Donald Trump morning, noon and night and whatever else is left. We have people still holding up placards that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and a police chief in Texas insisting that police lives matter, too, after a black man killed a police officer at a gas station.  We have the shocking, tragic, horrible shooting deaths—live, on the air—of a television reporter and her camera man from a Roanoke, Virginia, TV station. 

Here in Washington, as of now, the number of homicides is 105, the same total for all homicides in 2014, a chunk of that number achieved in shootings in August. Out West, spectacular and hugely destructive forest fires raged over Washington state, Oregon, California, in the middle of a devastating drought, and Idaho, while it became obvious to many that climate change was doing serious damage to the northernmost edges of the world, where glaciers and animals were receding or disappearing.

The news came at us in daily doses. It was the kind of news that stayed with you and lingered, got under your skin.   

During this time of year, politics shouldn’t be such a circus: loud, noisy, full of chest-beating, trumpeting and out-and-out chaos.  And it wouldn’t be, if Donald Trump were not in the race for the Republican nomination for president.  It wouldn’t be, if Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination since the last time she ran for president, didn’t suddenly seem pale and weak, wobbling from wounds from a thousand cuts of e-mails.   It wouldn’t be if it weren’t fairly apparent that no matter what outrageous things he says, no matter how many women he insults, Trump remains on top of the polls. 

One thing remains clear and therefore unsettling: the political establishment, the one in Washington and everywhere else, is under siege. Two of the most familiar names in politics—Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, are shrinking right before our eyes. It is the summer of the amateur and an apparently deep resentment of all things political. Trump is—as he often says—no politician, but a billionaire, as he often says, too. He has turned the immigration into a personal pet peeve of his and a national resentment.  Ben Carson is also doing well—he’s an African American neurosurgeon, running second behind Trump in some polls.  His qualification: he will bend his knees to no one. Bernie Sanders, the principal threat to Clinton, not dismissing her own tepid performance, is a Vermont socialist, which is honorary amateur status.  

It’s beginning to look like almost anybody with a little money can run.  When it comes to running for president, anybody can. No qualifications necessary. Politicians need not apply. If this thing holds up, it should turn the whole electoral process upside down.  In spite of everything that’s rancid and wrong with politics and government, this is still an unsettling thought.

In August, of course, you didn’t have to think about politics. You could talk about the weather, which was horrible—not such much for those in D.C. Heat waves are a part of August, the destruction of record numbers of acres in the West are not, and neither are the death of four firefighters.  Those images of fires combusting spontaneously made every broadcast of the nightly news for a while, as scary as any horror or disaster movie.  

If you didn’t want to think about politics or the weather, well, there was crime, and plenty of it, especially in Washington.   Those 105 homicides are reflective of a national trend—our neighbor Baltimore’s homicide rate is through the roof—but it’s particularly upsetting in D.C., where the mysterious rash of killings have become a political fight between D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and the police union over tactics, among other things.  Right alongside are continued expressions and demonstrations over the killing of black men by white police officers—and lately, the killing of police officers, which is on the rise.

For sheer shock and horrible drama, there wasn’t a bigger story than the Aug. 26 killings of television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward by Vester Flanagan, a very disgruntled, former employee of the television station where the two worked.  Even as Ward’s life was commemorated recently, the story itself has become a political story on the right—Rush Limbaugh and his ilk—who’ve insisted that this was a hate crime.

Let’s try economics.  Okay, let’s not.  Wall Street experienced a wave of daily Dow Jones Industrial Average tsunamis, with a one-day, 1,000-point drop among other precipitous falls, the latest of which has the Dow teetering around the 15,000-point mark.

How about sports?   This is August after all. Are the Nationals leading the National League East and primed for a playoff run?  Sorry.  That was July. August was the month when the Washington Nationals (and the Baltimore Orioles along with them) experienced what can only be described as a near-total eclipse of their chances to make it to the playoffs, let alone win the World Series, which all the experts had them doing. The awe-inspiring pitching staff fell apart, the team failed to hit consistently, and injuries decimated the lineup throughout the year. As of this writing, the Nats are six games behind the hot New York Mets, and time, as they say, is running out.  

Even a champion wasn’t immune from the woes of August.  American Pharoah, the First Triple Crown winner in a long, long time, had his luster (and maybe stud fee) dimmed a little when he finished second in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Even the arrival of a new baby panda at the zoo was tinged with the cruel reality of the natural world. Panda mom Mei Ziang gave birth in August not to just one but two baby pandas. Unfortunately, this being August, the younger of the two succumbed to pneumonia, although the older one is thriving and sporting black and white colors.

In Europe, we witnessed a growing world tragedy as refugees from the killing grounds of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq tried desperately to escape. The train station in Budapest was shut down.

So, it was at last a goodbye to August, the reigning and current champion of cruelest month of the year. Rejoice. The wicked month is dead. 

It is September, the end of summer, the beginning of fall. The pope is coming. The city is bursting with new arts seasons,  including 50 or so world premiere plays by female playwrights. Football is here. The Redskins are . . . (um, hold that thought), and baseball—even with the struggling Nationals—is still baseball.


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