America is so easily distracted that it elected a television conman, but his reality-style Presidency won’t get picked up for a second season because America is also easily bored.
By David Todd McCarty | Monday, June 22, 2020
As a nation, America is just one more hyperactive child with mild to severe attention deficit disorder, spoiled with unbelievable wealth and yet cursed with willful neglect, lashing out in anger at any attempt to curb its behavior and then crying itself to sleep from exhaustion. We actually got the President we deserved for once—a perfect reflection of our dysfunctional upbringing.
When it comes to our desire to reflect deeply on complex problems, America is about as deep as a spilled glass of water on a slick, steel ramp. The vast majority of the American public is too self-involved, too distracted by TikTok and The Bachelor to concern themselves with the technical issues involved in government policy, corporate oversight or electoral gerrymandering.
Politics, for most people, is not about one’s thoughts on a properly functioning democracy, or even an ideological stance on the function of government in the lives of its citizens, but rather a measure of one’s own tribal identity, a mere extension of who one is, more closely resembling their association with a professional sports franchise than with any particular affinity to a political philosophy or policy.
One recent study reports that no more than 1% of Americans are actually politically active or engaged and our apathy and willful ignorance is self-evident for all to see with even a passing glance at your social media feed. Very few people read any in-depth coverage of any current news story, relying instead on television news (44%), online (34%), radio (14%) and then print (7%). Even a respectable newspaper article is rarely longer than 1,000 words.
The Pew Research Center reports that two-thirds of US adults now get the bulk of their news from social media, with over half getting their news from Facebook, while YouTube came in second at 28%, followed by Twitter at 17% and Instagram at 14%. LinkedIn, Reddit and Snapchat had smaller but still notable audiences at a respective 8%, 8% and 6%.
“One of the factors driving this is that now almost all news organizations now rely on social media – if not to report the story then to promote those stories,” wrote Peter Suciu for Forbes. “For many readers, instead of clicking through to the actual reporting, the social media recap seems to be good enough.”
So even though Americans say they get their news from social media sites, in many cases they’re not even reading the linked articles, just the headlines and the comments. They aren’t even getting their news from Dan Rather. Rather they’re getting it from Doug, their idiot neighbor armed with a seventh-grade education and a conspiracy theory he got from a loud-mouthed internet “celebrity” hawking vitamin supplements from his basement.
Even the video programming most Americans consume is in bite-sized chunks, designed for a fast food diet infused with selective outrage and inflammatory chyrons. It’s less like a meal and more like a mini-muffin of bullshit with “truthy” sprinkles.
So like other overstimulated kids living off a high-fructose diet of pablum, Americans will eventually have no other choice but to crash in a heap of frayed nerves and disappointment.
Trump’s lackluster performance and even less spectacular crowd at his triumphant return to the campaign trail in Tulsa, Oklahoma are evidence that Americans have gotten about all they’re going to get from Donald J. Trump. It took three and a half years, countless tweets, scandal after scandal, a revolving door of clowns and thieves, tens of thousands of lies, and even a congressional impeachment, but it seems as if even his supporters are starting to realize that there is no more there, there. There will be more rallies of course, and plenty of crowds still to come—they aren’t finished yet—but the legs of the movement are no longer fresh. At this point, we’ve seen all we’re going to see, and there ain’t no more.
In the early days, pundits worried that Trump was just gaslighting us, throwing more and more bullshit at us until we were overwhelmed, and for awhile that was true. We couldn’t keep up with our hourly outrage of his grotesque desecration of American institutions and social norms. Critics similarly fretted that we were in danger of normalizing his behavior to the point where we would no longer be outraged by his abuse of office, which was also true. We did become immune to the shock of it all.
What we didn’t see coming possibly, was that everyone, even his supporters, would get tired of watching the circus clown throw peanuts at the donkey and after awhile we’d all just start waiting for the tiger to eat the tamer. You can only ramp up the tension and hype for so long before there is nothing left to do but fold up the tent and move to the next town.
Ironically, Trump has run out of real estate.
Given that in the American Venn diagram of those who will sleep out for days to see Trump ramble on incoherently, and those who will watch grown men drive in a circle for four hours in the summer heat, the crossover is pretty heavy, so their tolerance for banality is obviously pretty high. As long as there is at least an outside chance that someone will die in a fiery crash at some point, he has been able to hold their attention. But there are signs that this is waning.
Spectacle is the only thing that Trump has ever brought to the equation, whether it was in his crass appearances on Howard Stern, his unrealistic reality show of fictitious wealth and power, or his improbable rise to the office of the Presidency where he is unmatched in modern history for willful ignorance and sheer stupidity.
The problem with spectacle of course is that you have to keep upping the ante for it to work as a form of distraction. Eventually the public tires of the pageantry, the advertiser move on and the show gets cancelled, after which someone inevitably finds out that the star was raping minors the entire time. By then the audience has already discovered a new sideshow, something younger and better looking; someone willing to be even more outrageous in exchange for their fifteen minutes of fame and 30 pieces of silver.
If it weren’t for a massively corrupt, Republican-controlled Senate, and despite a Constitutionally-designed escape valve, it’s possible Trump would have been cancelled long before now.
There are still a lot of people who would rather have Trump as President than be told every day by Conservative media outlets such as Fox News and daytime talk radio, that they’re being taken to the cleaners, robbed of their inheritance and made to look like fools, so it’s not a gimme that he will be defeated in November, but the same fight doesn’t appear to extend beyond his trailer park disciples or party sycophants.
Trump is beginning to lose ground with non-college educated white women, voters over the age of 65 and he’s even begun slipping with Evangelicals. He’s crossed the line so many times, with so many groups, that the benefit of the doubt may finally be in doubt.
The economy is cratering, despite the lunacy of the wildly overvalued stock market. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down, might actually be ramping back up, and with the very real possibility of getting even worse in the fall. Racial tensions are at their highest point since the civil rights marches of the early sixties, due in large part to the institutional racism built into the very foundation of our country’s history. Even stalwart conservative supporters such as the US Military, the NFL and even NASCAR are beginning to turn away, not willing to follow Trump over the proverbial falls.
Trump’s poll numbers, for what they are worth, are worse than ever, falling below 40% in favorability for first time in months, with a double digit deficit to Joe Biden in the latest national polls, with only five months to go until the election.
The sharpest tool in the Democrats’ campaign to reveal the clear ineptitude of the President and encourage Americans to vote for anyone other than Donald Trump is currently a group of disaffected Republicans known as The Liberty Project. Why Republicans are mounting the only effective attack on a sitting Republican President is something you really might want to ask yourself if you’re a Democratic Party political operative. Even more worrisome might be that they’re already playing the long game against Democrats, planning for a future without Donald Trump, and painting themselves as the alternatives to what will undoubtedly be cast as “the failed policies of Joe Biden.”
In the meantime, it seems entirely possible that a remix of Trump’s 2016 unlikely run as a successful businessman who would “drain the swamp” might prove more difficult now that he has had nearly four years to make Americans lives better and has failed to do so. Unemployment is at nearly 15%, a phenomenon not seen since the Great Depression, with more than 40 million Americans currently out of work. Does it really matter who’s fault it is when you’re out of work and the rent is due? Trump’s foreign policy objectives have all been abject failures, from his devastating trade war with China to his complete mishandling of North Korea, his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and his inexplicable weakening of environmental protections, leaving America exposed to a greater existential threat than at any time in our nation’s history.
By almost any metric you can think of, Trump’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster, unless of course you’re either one of the top 1% of the richest people on earth, or a white nationalist hoping for an apocalyptic civil war. They’re doing okay at the moment.
The good news, if we can extract some silver lining from the glowing embers of this dumpster fire, is that Americans are both easily distracted and quickly bored. We have short attention spans and even shorter memories. With a little luck, a smidgen of self interest, a modicum of common sense, and some modest trust in America’s historical aversion to lengthy crisis, enough voters will decide that this sideshow of a Presidency has run its course and it’s time we allow a professional, or at least a full-fledged adult, to take over running the business of the country.
We can’t begin to hope that Trump supporters will see the error of their ways and come to the realization that they’ve been duped by a third-rate conman. We shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for poor white men to understand that they’ve been voting against their own best interests and that their racism and xenophobia is entirely misplaced anger. We can’t pretend that Republicans ever cared about the size of government or the deficit, State’s rights or Federal overreach.
Our hope for the future lies in the trust that enough enlightened people are finally aroused and that the rest of America is finally bored with the circus and just hoping for nothing more than a new season of Dancing With The Stars and some return to normalcy. There’s even an outside chance that a whole new batch of contestants from the ranks of the Trump administration will be guest staring on future episodes as part of their work release program from Federal prison.
America is in the middle of what is being called a “cancel culture”, the practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. A return to our Puritan days of group shaming may just have some value beyond sexual repression after all.
In 2017, after 146 years in business, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey folded up their tents, and admitted that they were no longer relevant or necessary. America had grown tired of the spectacle. Maybe it’s time we canceled the low-rent carnival currently being held in Washington, DC as well. Fire the ringleader, send the clowns packing, put the elephants out to pasture, and arrest the sideshow freaks that have been picking everyone’s pockets. The Bearded Lady from South Carolina and Mertle the Turtle from Kentucky will have to go back to finding work in a back alley cabaret somewhere.
As the carnival barker once said, “Come in a little closer and I will tell you a secret.”