[November 20, 2016]
It’s a Small World After Trump
No Civility? No Stomach for the New DC? No Problem! Just Ignore It All.
Well, it has now been more than one week since the world came unhinged, and decent-hearted losers started quietly contemplating the darkest and most sinister thoughts (should we actually root for a global depression or more mass handgun violence just to start the long process of pushing the newest group of imbeciles out of power?).
But thank God, there has not been a single word heard from the new Great White Father. No gloating, no controversial announcements of cabinet nominees, no bashing the pollsters or media or anyone who doubted him, no impudent presidential posturing. In fact, no elephantine Trump blasts of rhetoric at all.
The smarmy surrogates have also gone completely silent. What a relief to be without the snake-eyed disparagements of Giuliani, the tsk-tsking tones of Christie, the breathless naïve I-told-you-sos of Kayleigh McEnany.
Then again, there have also been no human-interest stories, no stock market updates… not even a weather report. That’s because I have turned off ALL the news – no newspapers, no TV news, no WashingtonPost.com, no Facebook updates – and in so doing have managed to moderate my jumpy systolic peaks and begun to settle into a very small, peaceful world that I will attempt to occupy, happily and modestly, for 208 weeks, until maybe, just maybe, it will be safe to go in the water again.
I went into this blackout mode a few days before November 8, and other than watching a few minutes of TV coverage early on election night and sensing what was happening, I have remained there – not in a mood of darkness, but definitely in the dark. Yes, I heard that Trump won; but I have no idea by how much. Don’t know which states went red or blue. Never heard any victory or concession speeches, no triumphal chest-thumping or unseemly whining. Not one syllable. I am completely unaware of the outcome of most other hotly contested races, which I had been obsessively following via multiple daily visits to news websites or hours spent riveted to CNN. I don’t even know what happened on the ballot initiatives to make recreational pot legal.
Now before you dismiss this as a silly stunt, or classic denial, or a radical head-in-the-sand reaction, and before you decide that it couldn’t possibly work for you, consider this:
- I am still a productive member of society who goes to work every day, and is still paying more than my fair share of taxes
- Indeed, I am still fighting for a more purpose-centric world, with greater social justice and environmental stewardship, because that is the nature of the consulting work I do
- I am still e-mailing and getting together with friends, still going out to dinner, still shopping
- I am still watching sports and deriving great pleasure from the good vs. evil battles that take place in the arenas for a couple of hours, and then end
- I am still spending 2 or 3 hours a day outdoors, bicycling or playing with my cats, taking in the beautiful nuances of Mother Nature and observing the splendor of shifting autumnal light
It’s just that I have entirely eliminated my exposure to all the vile declarations, the Pharisaic pronouncements, the pulse-jarring political pomposity, the fearmongering, the empty “expertise” of the talking heads.
I thought I needed all that. After all, wasn’t I the newsaholic who had built a collection of more than 500 newspapers from the most important events of my life? Wasn’t I the guy who was so fixated on post-9/11 news coverage that my direct reports at Discovery Channel called me a “terrorism junkie”? But it turns out I don’t need the news. None of it. Ignorance is bliss, and I am feeling more blissful right now than I have since childhood.
More importantly, I have replaced that wasted time and worry-energy with some productive character-building activities.
For example, I have decided that I should begin reading the 100 greatest novels ever written – a task that will, conveniently, probably take me about four years. I have started, not coincidentally, with Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
I am also sampling some of the wealth of original productions on Netflix and Amazon Video, and am going back to revisit badly-missed productions like The Sopranos. I have cancelled my newspaper subscription, and am no longer listening to All Things Considered, but I am exploring Sirius XM in a way I never have – studying the lyrics and syncopation of Noel Coward’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen alone could take up a week of my self-imposed exile – and am rediscovering my large CD collection.
Over the next four years I will volunteer more, travel more, and write more letters to friends. I might even start following hockey, a sport I have never appreciated, because it’s a very long season and it might come in handy should I decide to head north when everything goes south.
But when the coronation takes place on January 20, I won’t see or hear about it at all. When the ACA is dismantled to Republican cheers, and when the wall is built, and when gay marriage and Roe v. Wade are challenged or overturned, I will be unaware. (My friend Gil, a veteran journalist and very smart guy, insists that this puts me right in line with most other oblivious, uninformed Americans, including the more than 1 out of 2 who didn’t vote.) I may or may not find out about these and other affronts to human decency, but at least I won’t be standing on the tracks quaking for weeks on end while the rumble of the approaching train rattles my every nerve. By the time I hear the news, it will have already gone by, and will reach my ears only as a distant Doppler echo. And by then I may be too deep into Dreiser’s An American Tragedy or Huxley’s Brave New World to really notice.
Granted, I am able to do all this because I am a white male, of sufficient means and access, living in relative isolation in the suburbs; not everyone is so fortunate. And for those who choose to remain engaged, fighting the good fight every day, I have nothing but respect. I now know that I am not made of such stuff.
Of course, if there are race riots, or if the price of produce skyrockets because of the lack of farm labor, or if I am unable to secure new health insurance because of my pre-existing aortic aneurysm, or if there is nuclear fallout blowing in the wind, I will know about it. I can’t hide from everything, or as Edith Wharton put it, be “wholly absorbed in barricading [oneself] against the unpleasant.” But the lesson of 2016 is that I know I cannot impact any of those things via the broken political process, either individually or collectively. So while I would suffer for those tragedies, I won’t suffer fools gladly – and after all, it is the profound stupidity of the elected and the electorate that has been so disheartening and has gotten me so riled up in the past. I have to take care of my aorta, or nothing else matters.
Disconnecting so completely may not sound humanly possible in our world of constant media exposure, but I have had enough previous experience with this technique to know that it works.
As a fanatical Cincinnati Reds fan of more than 40 years, who would typically check in on the score of a single ballgame-in-progress several times, I found my anxiety building to unhealthy levels during their up-and-down 2013 season, and thus decided to take a few weeks off from all Reds news in July and August. I stopped accessing MLB.com. I used extended TV screen mode so I wouldn’t be able to see the score “crawlers” across the bottom of ESPN. I picked up the newspaper each day and tossed out the sports section before reading anything else. It was a bit of cold turkey evasion, but the weeks passed, my curiosity withered, my addiction receded, and then I parachuted back in later with a far healthier perspective.
Emboldened by the success of my stoicism, and furious that the Reds hadn’t made any moves to improve themselves after ending 2013 in futility and plummeting in 2014, I skipped the entire baseball season in 2015. I didn’t see the results of a single game, from April through September, and found myself in the strange position of entering October not even knowing which teams had made the playoffs. I never would have thought that possible.
So – this can be done. And if you can’t possibly imagine how you will get through a Trump presidency, with its war on immigrants and globalism and tolerance and climate change and education and culture and women, then it should be done. Think of it as an act of “civility disobedience.” You don’t have to be ignorant; you just have to learn to ignore.
You must be nimble and clever. Cancel the newspaper, or train yourself to just pull the front section off without looking and stick it directly in the recycling bin. Tune to satellite radio instead of broadcast, if possible, but in any event always have your thumb on the button, ready to change the station in case a DJ says something unexpected. Carry an MP3 player and headphones with you at all times, because they will be needed to drown out the dreck in airport lounges and doctors’ waiting rooms. Change your Facebook preferences so that you do not get e-mail notifications whenever somebody posts something – and fill your social media feeds with cat videos, which will push out everything else. Use the TV news timeslots to catch up on your reading or go for a walk, and pull the all-news channels out of your lineup of favorites so you don’t accidentally hear that breathy braggadocio while channel surfing. Open your eyes to the natural world, close your ears to the political one, and return to a simpler, better time before the insanity of feuding politicians invaded your sense of goodness and worth. Life is short. Enjoy it a little bit more for the next 207 weeks.
Of course, if Trump should win re-election, and I have read all 100 books and mastered the nuances of the power play, then it’s right back to 538.com.
[Update in May of 2017: Still haven’t turned on the news. Still haven’t heard Trump speak. Still don’t know who the members of the Cabinet are. Sixteen novels read.
[Update in April of 2020: I stayed off of news for two years. I have read about 75 classic novels.]