What is normalcy? And what does it mean when we tell ourselves that we want to get back to it?
When American historians hear talk of “normalcy,” they think of Warren G. Harding. Harding did not invent normalcy. Not the word, nor the state of being. But he benefited from the appeal of both.
Elected president in 1920, Harding campaigned to put a keel beneath a nation buffeted by world war as well as the long and deadly 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. But finding the language for this was a struggle. Harding’s inept speeches saddled him with too many words—making “hope” and “inspiration” fight for breathing space.
But in a speech Harding gave in Boston in May 1920, he managed to convey a text that would be abnormally memorable.