From the Discontent of Murders, Sports, Politicians to the Hope of Pandas and the Pope

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One of two giant panda cubs born Aug. 22 in Washington, D.C. | The Smithsonian's National Zoo

When the deformed Richard III, stalking the stage in the Shakespeare play that bore his name, intones that this was “the winter of our discontent,” he means that all that discontent otherwise known as the War of the Roses, which plagued England during the 1400s, is over. That conflict ends, just as winter indicates the end of the season and the year.

Alas, this is the summer of our discontent. Although this summer is not quite over, the discontent in our land is likely to continue. The Plantagenets had Richard to discombobulate them further, at least according to Shakespeare’s version of history. These our times not only have Donald Trump usurping, if you will, the Republican electoral primary process to his own music, but we, the people, have experienced trying times of conflict for several months now, with no particular end in sight to the continued stirrings of tragedy and drama.  Those alarums have infected not only our politics but our societal and cultural differences—and our relations with the rest of the world. Even so, locally, the sports teams that usually give us relief from sorrow and controversy do not but, these days, add to it. It is both late and early to say this: There is no joy in Mudville when it comes to the underachieving Nationals and the bombastic Redskins.

Any reasonable observer of our national politics—as opposed to those infected with either dour fanaticism or alarming optimism—has to be at least a little alarmed, a lot amazed, and even appalled at what has happened to that great American pastime and the hunt for American votes in a presidential election year, a process which will have no actual votes cast until Iowa and New Hampshire in the spring. Nevertheless, there has been enough money spent by individuals and the ranks of the stalking super PACs to probably rescue Greece from insolvency.  There are enough candidates for President of the United States, counting both sides, to make up a roster of at least one very bad football team.

Before this process began, in a political galaxy far, far away and long ago, there were such creatures who called themselves members of the conventional wisdom class, whose sole reason for existence was that they were there to predict the path of the primaries, the course of the electoral game, and who would be in the political Superbowl, while egos, if not footballs, were being deflated along the way. These wise men and women—some opting for the name of strategists and commentators—were certain back then that Hillary Clinton need not fret, nor should the Democratic Party, because Hillary had the nomination sewed up, and most likely could prevail over any one of the hundred or so Republican candidates in the field.   The C.W. members were less sure about the G.O.P., with some concern about the “base” of ultra-conservatives called the Tea Party, and—as well as or—the evangelical wing, which might prevent the rise of a moderate like Bush III or Marco Rubio to prevail in the end.

All these things might yet happen—we are hedgers from way back.  But all those laugh-track laughers and nay-sayers who dismissed and ridiculed the nascent candidacy of ultra-mogul Donald Trump—hereafter called the Donald—as yet another publicity stunt have egg on their face, and are trembling.  Trump the Teflon man who once spent a good bit of his money trying to be leader of the birthed party, has now become a serious contender for the Republican nomination and won’t go away. He’s survived McCain gate, Mexican-rapists gate, “blood coming out of her whatever gate,” almost every kind of gate except the pearly one, to amass a major lead in the polls, and expand his ego to a point where it just has to explode, please?  He even managed to find time to announce during his travels that German model and celebrity Heidi Klum was no longer a 10, which may solve the mystery of how Ivana Trump and Marla Maples became ex-Mrs. Trumps.  Apparently, there is an expiration date on 10-status in the Trump world.

Trump has succeeded so far by speaking his mind, or saying whatever is on his mind at the moment.  His solutions for the immigration problem are short-sighted, policies that fit exactly into the size of a slogan on a placard, or as they said in Iowa, where Trump descended from heaven in a helicopter—schtick on a stick.  He has a gift near-genius level for demagoguing nearly any issue that comes up in the course of his travels, especially the immigration issue.   We would say something about the rest of the candidates but, hey, we’re the media. We don’t have to.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is running—away from that pesky e-mail and Benghazi controversy.  She sounds as much of a Luddite as anyone belonging to her generation. The honest mistake does come to mind, because she keeps saying things that could be true but perhaps aren’t.  It won’t go away, not as long as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) draws breath—and the media still finds the whole thing fascinating.

All of this leaves Bernie Sanders, who is still being mistaken here and there for Barney Frank—drawing big crowds, talking about the one-percenters, and generally acting like a guy who has sniffed the political air and found it inviting. 

Could we be seeing a Trump-Sanders campaign? Not if Vice President Biden is still thinking about running. 

This election campaign season has the air of farce about it, but many people are now seeing it as an unfolding and dangerous tragedy.  Shakespeare would have a field day, no matter how he marketed the story.

The American party system appears under siege and give the appearance of collapsing in this summer.  As Yeats noted long ago in his poem, “The Second Coming,” “Things fall apart, the center will not hold.”  More accurately, the center is not occupied by politicians these days.

Trump’s weirdly quixotic but also oddly triumphant campaign—he filled a football stadium in Alabama, is one of the major unsettling aspects of these past few months. 

Along with them—in Washington, D.C.—is a rise in homicides that has troubled lawmakers, the mayor, the chief of police and all of us.  The number now stands at 102 and with over four months in 2015 to go, stands a good chance of setting a 21st-century record.   It is a disturbing trend—all kinds of shootings, drive-bys, the death of crossfire victims, gangs and domestic beefs which seem unstoppable.  They seem to be a strand of the story of year-long police-involved shootings and killing of African Americans by white policemen, and the resultant demonstration, sometimes violent, that occurred in their wake, most dramatically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

The discontent and fear is everywhere—ISIS in the Middle East with unrelenting horrific acts and a touchstone, the political battles over the Iranian treaty, the constant pop, like some daily music, of mass shootings, not the mention the ongoing crackle of massive, hugely destructive and deadly forest fires in the American West. 

Nevertheless, there are always moments of grace—Dare we call them amazing?—none more amazing the behavior of the survivors of the victims of the South Carolina church shooting, which had as a beneficial effect in which most, but not all, Southern politicians, seeing the light long enough to make Confederate flags disappear from official government sites.

In this summer of our discontent, even with a shocking stock market crash barking at everyone’s heels like a junk bond dog, we turn to small—sometimes very small—things. 

That would be the birth of twin baby pandas at the National Zoo, quite unexpected, quite joyful. The little beings, pink and yelping, are so far healthy, fully tooled to make you smile.  With the pandas, follows Pope Francis, due in Washington, D.C., in a month’s time—he brings, as always, hope spread out like life-saving air itself among the multitudes.

If you went for a walk at the Dupont Circle market, you could get a taste of the hopeful things in daily living accompanied by music—a Billie Holliday tune played at a used book store, a thin man with a hat playing Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried,” a jazz guitarist sitting in the shade offered by a bank building.  Sometimes, that’s soothing and just enough for a summer’s day.

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