By Steve Smith
In recent weeks it seems like I’ve been exposed to around 1,200 advertising messages for everything from cars to carpet cleaners, all beginning with the phrase “In these uncertain times…” This cliché has become our new advertising contagion. Why don’t they just get to the point? “We’re open.” “We’re closed, but we’re delivering.” “We want you to buy a car and we’re making deals.” Ok, got it. But all this has made me think: Of what can we be “certain” these days?
Think about it – is it a certainty that our homes will increase in value? Previous generations were absolutely certain that being a homeowner was the realization of the American Dream. And equity in that home would enable a higher quality of life in many ways. Since the mortgage meltdown of 2005-2009, affectionately referred to as the “Great Recession,” that traditional indicator of prosperity has been more “uncertain” than ever. Ask Millennials about this and they will express sincere doubts about home ownership as a sound investment.
Is it a certainty that any of our investments, even managed conservatively, will perform reasonably well? The financial markets, it seems, have been more turbulent than at any time since the Great Depression. And will corporate CEOs and their boards of directors be guided by sound policy with a long-term view, or will they continue their short-sighted pursuit of short-term gains? Or is it certain that the federal government will continue to bail out big corporations when they get into trouble? Perhaps one of the least likely certainties is that, following decades of offshoring, high quality manufacturing jobs will return to the United States.
In interpersonal relations, will there be a time when we can again be certain of shaking hands with someone – or even standing a bit closer to them – without thinking, “Is that person infected with the new plague?” Health experts say COVID-19 will be with us for some time, and that a resurgence is likely this fall.
In public policy, can we be certain that our government is not lying to us? That elected officials will do what is right for their constituency and not just what will get them re-elected? Wisconsin’s April primary was a sad illustration of an electoral system pushed to the breaking point, and partisan politics resulting in citizens having to choose between their personal safety and their right to vote.
Can we be certain that policy makers will be guided by science and fact and not by conspiracy theories or efforts to pander to the religious right, or the oil and gas industry, or both, just to get votes?
Can we be certain the current occupant of the Oval Office always puts a higher priority on his TV ratings than he does on the substance and accuracy of information he delivers in the midst of a public health crisis?
The bigger question is – when will we, if ever, return to a time of “certainty?”
Given that our society is as divided as it’s ever been, is uncertainty our ”new normal?” Yes, that’s another cliché. I feel helpless to say anything more.