There is a little more sectarianism in the air. Throughout the period since the Agreement, we have seen that politics here shifts between vicious circles and virtuous circles. For a time, political parties will recognise that their advantage lies in co-operation, magnanimity, the easing of tension. We have seen many examples of that, most starkly the relationship between Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley and the Paisley family's tributes to McGuinness after his death.
I'm thinking also of Peter Robinson's visit to the home of Michaela McAreavey, the daughter of the Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, after she had been murdered in Mauritius. Or the words he used after the murder of Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh, about his faith in his Catholic neighbours.
One of the first things attacked when tensions rise is the presumption that people in an opposing camp are no less human than ourselves. That edge is never far away, but at times it is sharper and nastier than the routine default level of acrimony and sarcasm.
These are the times when we are back in the vicious circle, when politicians find that their advantage lies in exacerbating division. It augurs ill when we approach an election with that venom infusing the parties.
We saw in the Assembly election and General Election of 2017 that the DUP and Sinn Fein both thrived on the tension between them. Just a year earlier, the joke was that they were "Marlene", a fusion of Martin and Arlene, too close together for their followers to be at ease with. But as soon as the claws were bared, the votes went up on both sides. This is the tragic state of politics here.
Of course, parties should oppose each other, but the weird thing here is that Sinn Fein and the DUP do not compete against each other for votes. There are few - if any - floating voters in a middle ground between them. But they do compete within their factions against other parties and can lose at their flanks rather than at their frontlines. Brexit has provided the DUP's flank-biting rival, the TUV, with a cause it can capitalise on. Unionism will rally now to press for the scrapping of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It is a good, strong issue for them. Trade is damaged (does anyone know where I can buy lactose-free milk now?).
There is the potential for the DUP to take leadership of a major campaign, or equally to lose standing among the electorate for having enabled this, and cede the leadership to others.
Similarly, Sinn Fein can play this virtuously, say by acknowledging there is a problem and seeking amelioration alongside the DUP, or it can crank up the tension by blaming the DUP. They might find it harder to defend the Protocol in all its facets, given that business is suffering and might suffer more.
It could be tricky for them. Steve Aiken of the Ulster Unionist Party makes the case that, by invoking Article 16, the clause that enables a breach of the Protocol, the Government would initiate a negotiation which local parties would participate in.
But an election is coming next year and parties will be calculating whether it is in their best interests to save the economy, or damage the other side.
The best way to damage the DUP is to fragment unionism; set the parties against each other. Politics is cynical and Jim Allister's demand for a unionist revolt against the Protocol must be lifting the hearts of republicans.
They will love this, for if unionism fragments over the Protocol, Sinn Fein will likely be the biggest party and, thanks to modifications in the Good Friday Agreement at St Andrews, will appoint the next First Minister.
Indeed, the prospect of that happening might be the countervail against the fragmentation of unionism. The DUP argument will be that if you vote TUV, or even Alliance, you will get Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein, on its flank, pulls back straying voters by reinforcing the view that the DUP is an evil sectarian force that has to be held in check. It thereby gains by every tactless remark by a party member: Arlene using the metaphor of feeding a crocodile for conceding arguments to Sinn Fein, for instance. When she was asked by a reporter to say something about Michelle O'Neill, she said she was "blonde".
When the virtuous circle is in play, remarks like these can be overlooked and are less likely to be made. When the vicious circle is in play, they are ammunition.
Ian Paisley got hammered for using the phrase "the Catholic IRA". He was speaking about sectarianism, about attacks on Protestants. The IRA was, indeed, sectarian, often deliberately killing Protestants for no other reason than that they were Protestant. And the sect implied by that word "sectarian" is the Catholic cultural context out of which the movement arose.
Academics, writers and journalists frequently refer to the "Catholic community" and don't get pounced on. The usage is not a comment on faith, or theology. It is a flawed and inadequate term for its purpose, but so are all the others: "nationalist", "republican", "fenian", "taig".
If you don't acknowledge that the IRA came out of a Catholic community, then you can't indict them of sectarianism and you would have to extend the same latitude to the loyalists.
A growing number of people here are determined to dissociate themselves from sectarianism and not to be triggered into predictable factional responses. That is a problem for the two big parties, which thrive on such tensions.
But it is also a problem for the parties like Alliance and the Greens, Ulster Unionists and SDLP, all of which grow at times when the virtuous circle is in play.
What would Alliance do, for instance, if some idiot Secretary of State (and we have had a few) was to call a border poll? How will the SDLP distinguish itself from Sinn Fein's position on the Protocol.
What will the Ulster Unionists do to carry forward the credit it has taken for managing the Covid crisis once it has passed? They can't stoke up sectarian arguments to their advantage, because the gains would only go to the big hitters anyway.
How do they put us back on a virtuous circle? I would think they can only do it by pulling together, providing better ideas for meeting the challenge of the Protocol, for that will be the major irritant in our politics in the year, perhaps years, ahead.
For showing us that they are the grown-ups in the room.