The return to normalcy that wasn’t

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Dec. 31—The year 2021 was supposed to be a “return to normalcy,” to borrow a phrase from Warren G. Harding’s presidential campaign a century ago.

It hardly lived up to its billing.

The rhetoric of emergency, crisis, and imminent doom has dominated American life since about 11 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2016, when it was clear Donald Trump would win the presidency over Hillary Clinton. The tension of constant crisis defined the next three years; in 2020, it seemed to hit a breaking point.

Coronavirus. George Floyd. Elections. Crisis upon crisis. Emergency upon emergency.

Then, on the evening of Nov. 3, 2020, an exhale. Normalcy, in the person of perhaps the most established and, well, normal politician of the last few generations, seemed to have returned. But no. Frivolous lawsuits. Cynical allegations of fraud. An insurrection. The crisis had only deepened. The seemingly impossible had happened:…

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