2021: Our year of irony and tragedy | Lloyd E. Sheaffer
Twenty-five years ago Alanis Morissette introduced the pop number “Ironic” It just so happened the song dropped as I was leading my Honors English I classes in discussions of irony. Her bouncy lyrics provided plenty of opportunities to discuss examples of irony.
My charges made these decisions on whether the singer’s examples in the song were ironic: “It’s like rain on your wedding day”? No. “It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay”? No. “It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife”? No. Was it ironic that Morissette’s tune was released at the very time my classes were studying irony? No. It was coincidence.
That year, 1996 may not have been a time of irony, but I feel 2021 could be.
Isn’t it ironic that, as Newsweek reports, “More than 50 current or former military service members have been charged for crimes in relation to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to the Department of Justice“? These are people who upon entering the military took the oath “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . . .”
We depend on our soldiers and sailors and airmen to keep our nation and democracy strong, not to attack it through seditious actions and treasonous uprisings. Ironic? Yes.
Isn’t it ironic that these present and former service members and the 625 others arrested, as well as hundreds or maybe thousands of others, were goaded into mutiny by an effete Commander-in-Chief who also swore an oath to defend the backbone of our democracy: “I, _______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Isn’t it ironic that a wannabe autocrat used the presidential powers invested by the U.S. Constitution he swore to safeguard to incite a coup? Yes.
Isn’t it ironic that the political party that expounded such traditional values as capitalism, which depends on having a thriving job market, now vehemently rails against an infrastructure program that will provide innumerable jobs solely because it was developed by a Democratic president. “One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” proclaimed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Ironic? Yes.
As an example of the Republicans falling in line behind the fractious McConnell putting party before the American people, in a recent commentary Pennsylvania Capital-Star‘s Editor-in-Chief, John L. Micek, demonstrates the 180-degree turn the GOP has taken:
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Isn’t it ironic that congressional members of the Republican Party, which once believed that, as noted by Brad Cook, “Government should leave most decisions on personal matters, like how we live, reproduce, love and worship, to individuals without government interference,” are seeking to overturn laws that take away a woman’s “personal matter” when it comes to abortion?
Isn’t it ironic that the party that once lived by the credo “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” is now represented by former general and national security advisor Michael Flynn, who just a few days ago said, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion,” he said while speaking on the‘ReAwaken America’ tour. “One nation under God and one religion under God.” Ironic? Ironic? Yes and Yes.
Isn’t it ironic that so many of the pandemic era anti-vaxers and anti-maskers, who claim it is their inalienable right to personal liberty and freedom of choice to do what they want, are supporters of the putz whose demagogic actions and egocentric aims could ultimately lead to citizens having fewer rights and freedoms under an autocratic leader? Yes.
Isn’t it ironic that those who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are now overwhelming our health systems? In fact, NPR reported that 97 percent of people who are hospitalized from COVID now are unvaccinated.
Those who rejected scientific evidence of the efficacy of vaccination but instead promulgated or accepted brainless conspiracy theories—implanted microchips, altered DNA, COVID shots will turn people into chimpanzees—and blathering lies are now suffering and dying from COVID-19. Ironic? Yes, and completely avoidable.
Isn’t it ironic that those who bloviate most loudly that we are a nation of law and order now, when called to account for their past actions, gleefully thumb their noses at those laws—think Steve Bannon, et al—and, therefore, disrupt society’s order. Yes.
Back in my 1996 classroom my pupils wanted to talk about another line in Morissette’s lyrics: “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you.”
They determined that life only sneaks up on you if you fail to pay attention to and remain informed about what is happening around you; you must be proactive to avoid problems and to obviate disastrous conflicts. I guess too many Americans have not been paying attention or being informed. Otherwise, we would not be teetering on the edge of political and social crises.
As has been noted many times by commentators, pundits, and journalists, our democracy has been put at risk by obstreperous partisanship, by the rise in extremist ideologies and practitioners, by deliberate and divisive attacks on our nation’s institutions.
A story goes that Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when a woman shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
“It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take” opines Alanis Morissette in her song. Is it ironic? No. But it is sad that forces bending toward a monarchy are reshaping our republic.
I was wrong in my earlier speculation: 2021 is not a year of irony. It is a year of tragedy.
Listen to what my former ninth graders discovered a quarter of a century ago: Pay attention; be informed; take action to avoid the impending calamity.
It’s the only way we can keep our republic.
Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at email@example.com.
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