Yesterday, I was sitting in front of my computer pondering what I should write about. After reading all the usual sources (I typically browse at least 10 media sites daily), I gave up and turned my computer off.
Today, I realized that my problem wasn’t writer’s block. Like the rest of America, I am simply overwhelmed by the volume and outrageous character of President Trump’s missteps, gaffes, incendiary tweets, conflicts of interest, lies, scandals, offensiveness to foreign leaders, cruel policy proposals, etc. etc. etc.
It’s all noise, and there’s no filter to separate what is important from what is merely offensive.
Many worry that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies make him an enemy of free speech in general and freedom of the press in particular, but I retain faith that our truly independent federal judiciary will prevent Trump from seriously infringing upon the press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Trump’s real threat to the press is that he is affecting the entire nation with the same battle fatigue I felt reading the headlines on Memorial Day. Who can keep up? Does anyone even remember the supposedly campaign-ending outrages Trump committed just last year? Grab ’em by the pussy? Attacking a Gold Star family? Calling a beauty contestant Miss Piggy? Anyone?
Each of these incidents was politically fatal to anyone but Trump. But Trump just presses on, lies and denies, and commits fresh outrages that make you forget the last ones. The public attention span has always been short, but Trump’s shenanigans from 2015 until now have shortened it to the point of non-existence. And now it has reached a point where a weary American public simply doesn’t hear it anymore. They don’t care if they do hear it.
“Honey, there’s another Trump scandal in the headlines.”
Yawns. “Could you pass the salt?”
In just the past week, the Washington Post and the New York Times have reported news that should shake the republic to its very foundation. On Friday, WaPo broke the news that Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, during the presidential campaign, had proposed setting up secret back-channel communications with the Russian government using encrypted Russian technology that U.S. intelligence services could not monitor.
This news was an absolute bombshell. It raises numerous questions as to why Kushner was having this conversation, with whom in Russia he wished to communicate without anyone monitoring it, and why this conversation was not included in the application Kushner filed to obtain his security clearance as a presidential aide.
The public’s reaction: “Do you want pepper, too?”
A week earlier, the New York Times first broke the news that the FBI Russia investigation was not only looking at lower-level members of the Trump transition team, but at the conduct of Kushner himself. The president’s own son-in-law.
“Nah, pepper upsets my stomach.”
Trump spent last week in Europe, where he became the first president in U.S. history to refuse to pledge to NATO’s defense, opting instead to grouse about other member countries’ failure to contribute to their “fair share” of defending themselves from threats such as Russia. He also refused to commit to the Paris Accords on reducing global-warming gases. These two actions marked historic reversals of American foreign and environmental policy.
“Want to watch a movie after we eat?”
The sound and fury of the Trump administration is itself Trump’s greatest threat to our democracy, which cannot function without an informed and interested voting public. It is not that Trump can thwart the entire federal judiciary and muzzle the press. It is that the institution of the press itself is becoming less and less relevant, and so is less and less important, even though TV news ratings are up and mainstream media websites are receiving record-breaking traffic. People may be exposed to scandal and outrage but the constant onslaught of revelations dulls the senses and induces ennui.
Outrage is an exhausting emotion, and it is hard to stay outraged every day.
Even for me.
But daily outrage and disgust is the right reaction to an administration mired in scandal, rife with conflicts of interest, and presided over by a man with a toddler’s attention span. It is the correct way to think about a president who lies every day. It is the only sane response to policy proposals that would gut the healthcare system and the social safety net in order to give billionaires tax cuts. And it is absolutely required to be outraged and disgusted by immigration policies fueled by white nationalism.
So let’s hope that the public’s reaction to the next Trump story changes to: “Wait, Trump did WHAT?? I’m not hungry anymore.”