Is Cynicism Warranted in These Times?

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I tend to be optimistic to a fault. Frankly, I find cynics to be boring and, as Clay Claiborne once wrote, cynicism is the vestige of the privileged.

But I can’t deny that, at this moment in time, I’m feeling pretty cynical. How that plays out is that my response to stories like this is “meh.”

North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student from Pyongyang in 2017.

The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with Kim Jong Un.

Part of my response is that it is difficult to find something to say about Trump’s malfeasance and ignorance that hasn’t already been said. I suspect that goes hand-in-hand with a certain level of outrage fatigue. After over two years of this crap, it is difficult to avoid exhaustion.

But I’ve noticed this cynical response to news being more pronounced since the Mueller report was released a week ago. Anyone who read it saw documentation of the most serious abuses of power by a president in this country’s history. How do we simply put that aside and move on to the daily chronicles of outrageous behavior being exhibited by Trump?

Perhaps I’ve reached my limit. It feels like we’re caught on a hamster wheel running round and round while getting nowhere. Some of that is fed by our short attention span coupled with the 24-hour news cycle that keeps us from landing on one thing and following through until something is accomplished. If anything was going to do that, it should be the Mueller report. We should be hammering on it continually until something gives.

I have a hunch that what is behind the cynicism I’m feeling is fear. This country is, as Kamala Harris says, at an inflection point. My optimism has always assumed that we would figure this one out…eventually. But to be honest, I’ve felt some doubt about that over the last few days.

My reprieve right now is that, as the song says, “to everything there is a season.” Perhaps that’s even true of cynicism.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.