The day the panic died

by Curt Bentley

Well, folks, it’s officially a brave new world.

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 8 years since I, along with a small band of other Utah Supreme Court clerks, clustered in the hallway at the back of the fifth floor of the Matheson Courthouse and watched Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.

I had mixed feelings.

I believe I was the only person in our little group watching that day who hadn’t voted for Obama.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him.  I was impressed with his public speaking ability.  I was impressed with his intellect.  I was distinctly unimpressed with his experience and almost non-existent record of accomplishment.  I was generally not impressed with the fervor surrounding his candidacy, which just seemed over the top to me.

I was much less moderate then than I am now, and much more pessimistic, too.  It wasn’t only because President Obama had been elected against my preference.  I hadn’t voted for McCain, either.  After all, they both supported the bailout (TARP, remember that?) and that, for me, was a bridge too far.

I was 31 years old, a new law school graduate, not yet a homeowner, and still a relatively new parent.  I was also caught up in a near constant state of alarm about America’s nascent financial crisis, and I saw everything through the lens of impending economic doom.

For the two years prior to the election, I had been obsessively following HousingPANIC (a blog devoted to warning people about the housing market’s coming collapse) and watching hour-by-hour results in the stock market (even though I had no money invested) as traders responded to the latest news about Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, FDIC Friday bank closings, and “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke’s decisions at the Federal Reserve.

By mid-2007, I had become convinced the housing market would crash, and crash hard.  It did.  I was convinced that the effects would quickly reverberate throughout the economy…which they did.  I worried people were going to get laid off, be unable to obtain credit, and whole industries built on propped up consumer spending would be set back a decade or more…which they were.

And when I thought about President Obama (with a Democratic Congress and a huge reservoir of political capital) and Ben Bernanke doubling down on the same type of deficit spending and credit expansion that brought us the financial crisis to begin with…I wasn’t sure how a recognizable America would emerge on the other side.  Would the world abandon the dollar?  Would China call our debt due?  Would the whole monetary system collapse?

And then one day, as I was obsessively hitting refresh for the latest post on HousingPANIC, the blog ended.

Just like that — with a post that said, essentially, “Our mission is accomplished.  We warned people of the crash, which happened.  Now it’s time to move on.  The new world is here, and it’s time to stop panicking, to stop being alarmed, and to get living in it.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it).

I’ll be honest and say I was not only surprised, I was disappointed.  In my own subconscious way, I wanted more PANIC!  If I couldn’t have my preferred political and economic outcomes, I wanted more validation about how bad things were, how bad things were going to get, and how right I had been about it all!  And perhaps, I was so accustomed to living in anticipation of, and steeling myself for, a dangerous future that I had forgotten how to let the past go and allow the future take care of itself.  I think, in my own way, I wanted the fight to continue.  Because if it didn’t, had I given up?  Had I given in?

In the ensuing few weeks, the stock market stabilized at low levels, we entered the post-crisis world of persistent, but survivable, high unemployment, and life moved on.  The world didn’t end.  Some things changed more than I wanted them to, and some things didn’t change as much as I had hoped they would.

But life went on fundamentally unchanged in all of the most important ways.

And I think I learned something that day.  It marked a change in my attitude, and the beginning of political moderation in both attitude and substance (whether the latter is good or bad, you can decide) that never quite progressed as far as my more liberal friends wanted it to (because I am fundamentally conservative).

The day that HousingPANIC died (sorry, couldn’t resist), I began climbing down off the barricade and started to set down my weapons of war.

Now, I have had plenty of criticisms for President Obama over the last 8 years: from the stimulus (remember cash for clunkers??!), Obamacare, to Iraq, to Syria, and beyond.  I’ve also leveled plenty of criticisms at candidate Donald Trump during the last year, and I will undoubtedly have many, many more of President Trump during the next four.

But I don’t need to be, and don’t want to be, perpetually at war with anyone.  Not with Barack Obama.  Not with Donald Trump.  I don’t need that.  My family and friends don’t need that from me.  America doesn’t need that from me.

And here’s the point of this post:

If you are freaked out and living in a state of panic, fear, or anger about the future in a President Trump world, try not to be.  Can I offer a piece of advice?  Have some faith in America and the good people you know who disagree with your politics and opinions.  If you don’t know any good people who disagree with you politically, get to know some!  Then, make a commitment to refuse to insult them, directly or indirectly, no matter how wrong you think they are.  If you ever do, don’t be afraid to apologize.  And then listen to them.

For every two or three news stories you read that resonate with your own political predilections, find a headline that challenges your assumptions and read that, too — without looking to criticize or rolling your eyes (at least more than once or twice).

Those little things will work wonders.  And before you know it, you’ll be on the other side of four years of Donald Trump.  You don’t have to go along with anything.  But you don’t have to live in constant state of fear, panic, criticism, or disgust, either.  That’s what I learned the day the panic died.

Godspeed, Barack Obama!  Good luck President Trump!

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