We’ve now lived more than a week in Trump’s America, and I’m considering the limits of constant outrage.
One of the most dispiriting aspects of this election, for me, was how ineffective conventional journalism was at warning voters what they were buying with a vote for Trump. Say what you want about NPR, but the NYT and WashPost did spectacular work digging into the president-elect’s shady business practices, his failure to pay income taxes, his fake charity, his pussy-grabbing, all of it. If you didn’t know these things about the man before you pulled the lever for him, you simply weren’t paying attention.
If it made any difference, it didn’t make enough to keep him out of the White House. And so now we confront the most bizarre presidential transition in recent memory, and the stories are falling into our laps like ripe fruit. Top-secret clearances for the Trump kids, check. Press release on Ivanka’s bracelet, check. The man who won the White House and now doesn’t seem to want to actually live there, check. (I could look up links for all these, but I’m not. You can easily find them yourself. That’s sort of my point.) The new president has made it very clear: He will be running a kleptocracy, even feels he has a mandate to do so.
And with the exception of some demonstrations here and there, the country seems pretty fine with that.
So the question might be: Where do we go from here? Is this information so utterly irrelevant to millions of voters that journalists will simply stop gathering and presenting it? Or do we keep it up, at the very real risk that every bit of it can be used by the Trump camp as evidence of the terrible, terrible “bias” he labors under? And with the additional risk that with such a firehose of information in their faces day after day, most readers will simply go numb and tune out?
I’m not going to keep you in suspense. Of course we’re still going to do it. The job seeks an audience, but it doesn’t require one. But I worry about the numbness factor, and many other things, as well, including the whipsaw effect I feel almost every day. I think, OK, it’s going to be bad, but we can handle it, and then two hours later a surrogate floats the idea of registering Muslim immigrants, y’know, like they did with the Japanese in World War II, and my brain explodes.
I worry about pretty much everything these days. We haven’t had a literally shameless person in such high office before, not for years upon years. It’s terrifying.
But the right tone has to be struck. And it’s hard to sound an alarm with any nuance. It’s either ringing or it’s not. A few weeks ago I stood at a Detroit bus stop for 40 minutes or so, while a tired alarm at a long-closed business nearby wailed and wailed. “Do you take this bus every day?” I asked a woman. She nodded.
“How long has that alarm been ringing?”
So you see what we’re up against. How long before we become that alarm?
Something to think about.
A reader asked me, earlier this week, if I would make good on my pledge to offer some advice on how to tell the difference between real and fake news sites. As in so many things, it turns out that if you wait long enough, the internet solves the problem for you. Here’s a helpful Google doc, updated regularly, full of fake, distorted or clickbait-crap news from both the left and right. Earlier today, it had a list, but the list appears to be gone, but not permanently — it’s being updated, the author writes. In the meantime, it has some practical advice about common tells, including one that nearly tripped me up a while back, the “.com.co” suffix on URLs.
But here’s one from earlier this week. The site was called TheRightists.com. I’m not linking because hitting these sites, even to browse, feels risky to me; it always explodes a million pop-under windows and sets the laptop fans to whirring. But note the screenshot:
David Brooks, really? Assassination? So harsh. I read the story. There’s a paragraph from a recent Brooks column (I think. Anyway, it sounds like him.), followed by one where Brooks says, “dude.” I can more imagine my dead grandmother calling someone dude than Mr. Bobo Himself. This sent me to the About Us tab, which exploded more pop-unders and revealed this:
Note the ads. So many ads. The worse the ads, the less reliable the site. This is simply a given:
It’s not enough that these people ruined my business. Then they ruined what replaced it, such as it was.
I think I better go to bed. Thanksgiving week ahead! We have so much to be thankful for, don’t we? Have a great weekend.