Moving Beyond the Frantic
Yearning for success to repair what ails the body politic can make us impatient. Sometimes, it's necessary to take our time.
In an opening scene of the Roman Polanski-directed thriller Frantic, Harrison Ford is savoring a shower and the chance for a romantic interlude with his lovely wife just after arriving in Paris. Shot from inside the glassed-in shower and with his back to the hotel bedroom, Ford doesn’t see what we see: Strange men have entered the room and taken her away.
Soon begins his frantic search to find his missing wife in a city he doesn’t know, among locals speaking a language that he cannot access. Every minute is fraught with questions of who took her and why; every encounter possesses the delicious promise that maybe this will be the key to solving his problem and reuniting with his love. A city that once seemed so beautiful for this American doctor has become a nightmare. Parisian timelessness has been replaced by nothing less than a ticking bomb.
The question of time has been on my mind during this holiday break. The frenzied pace of the four years of Trump—every day, every tweet, every new uttering or momentary decision, portended some new drama to contend with—tested the capacity of the news media and the public to keep up. Forget news cycles that followed any natural rhythm: Daily life was like driving on the highway and trying to pass an endless series of collisions with car after car (crime after crime) piling up. It was hard—and dangerous—to look away.
The arrival of President Biden seemed to be a chance to catch our breath. Here was a man who promised steady leadership and a return to normalcy, to the extent that could ever be possible amid the wreckage within democracy, the economy, public health, rule of law and the justice system. High-speed pile-ups are difficult to untangle; cleaning up the messes takes time, especially when plenty of bad drivers are still on the loose with a tank of gas.
In Biden’s first months (and during the campaign), we heard a lot of talk that he was too old, too slow, too boring—even as he and his team quickly, energetically and strategically put in place a vaccination program and passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to move the country beyond the daily drumbeat of death counts and get back to work. (Remember the refrain? Over 200 million doses of vaccine in less than 100 days.)
Some of the criticism could be chalked up to ageism and cynicism and a genuine hunger from partisan opponents to see him fail, no matter how much additional pain and suffering that would unleash. But the resistance to the new president from some quarters (besides the MAGA crowd) also represented an inability to shift gears after four years of craziness and accept that responsible governance takes time. (Biden’s pursuit and ultimate passage of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill demonstrated what careful, methodical planning and execution can accomplish.)
I acknowledge that I too have sometimes refused to recognize how long it takes to build a criminal case against the leading inciter of insurrection and his top accomplices. It’s led to criticism by me and many of you of what seems like slow-walking—if not ignoring—of the case by Attorney General Merrick Garland, even while he promised from the beginning that he would follow the leads “wherever they take us.” It remains my view that he could have offset the public’s need for speed by providing a clearer and more frequent depiction of his intentions, without undermining the secrecy of the DOJ’s operations.
In just four days, it will be two years since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the peaceful transfer of power and democracy itself. We are still left to wonder whether the four criminal referrals of Donald J. Trump by the Jan. 6 committee (including insurrection) and the investigation by the recently installed special counsel Jack Smith who promised to act expeditiously will finally yield indictments against and prosecution of the former White House occupant.
My compulsion for speed influences my optimism that indictments will come soon, and possibly in the next several months. As I’ve noted repeatedly, the longer this process takes (and if he escapes prosecution altogether), the more it will empower other sociopathic leaders to emulate the behavior and exploit the threat of political violence.
The last days of my break before New Year’s were spent in Boston with my family. We spent some days there a year ago, just as the Omicron variant was surging and we wondered whether the virus would get us, despite being vaccinated. (It didn’t, although it added an extra layer of nervousness to our travels and crowded meals.)
While the virus continues to be a fact of life, it is hard to believe that it was only one year ago that Omicron and the pandemic itself was weighing so heavily. In the midst of the deadly destruction, it was as if time had stopped and the reality of COVID was that it would never lift its boot from our necks. In a busier, more boisterous Boston this year, that memory felt like a different era.
I happily limited my social media activity in the last two weeks, luxuriating in the avoidance of the constant, frenzied updates. Yet Elon Musk served up a reminder on New Year’s Day of what we’re up against in downshifting from the frantic.
“Hope you’re having a great day 1 2023!,” Twitter’s overlord began, providing momentary promise that he wanted something better for the year. Then came the follow-up: “One thing’s for sure, it won’t be boring.”
Since he acquired the platform for $44 billion in October, Musk has made clear his excitement by the amount of activity, frequently posting apparently high engagement statistics, no matter how much damage that increased volume has been causing. In his need for constant attention and escalation of conflict, a year that “won’t be boring” may sound fantastic. There’s no question that his platform thrives on a constant, impatient pulse of drama—Greta Thunberg’s takedown of the toxic Andrew Tate and his subsequent arrest in Romania for sex trafficking is surely a top exemplar at the end of 2022.
But here’s hoping that the rollover of the odometer to 2023 will be an opportunity to check our speed, recognize that some journeys are not made better by hurrying to our destinations, and appreciate the views along the way.
Whether it’s the project of democracy, the urgent need to address CO2 levels and the climate crisis, the indictment and prosecution of Trump, or the ongoing need to slow the cancerous spread of autocratic, anti-democratic, white supremacist, toxic nationalist and sociopathic extremism—as much as we all may yearn for these efforts to quicken their pace, the key is to take the time necessary to ensure a successful outcome.
A frantic Harrison Ford may make for great entertainment, but it’s no way to live a life.
What better way to start 2023 than by joining our engaged, thoughtful community? If you’re not already a paid subscriber, please consider becoming one and join the conversation.