The more we pay attention, the more it costs us.
On the morning I sit down to write this, I learned the following from Twitter:
The Navy covered up the name of the U.S.S. John McCain during the President’s visit to Japan lest the sight of the late senator’s name upset him, making this McCain’s worst coverup since the the Keating Five. The Commander-in-Chief responded, convincingly, that he had no idea this happened. However, he also tweeted, “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected,” which could be true as it could have happened without his personal involvement. Then three hours later he tweeted, “Russia didn’t help me at all,” which is not true.
Meanwhile, a Texas Tech University study found that YouTube can make people think the earth is flat, which I was willing to believe after I once visited Lubbock, where the ground is so flat that the people just look at the sky. There is so little happening at all in Lubbock that they are most famous for the people who’ve left, e.g., Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Gilmore, et al. There is so little happening in Lubbock that the tourism motto is “Lubbock or leave it.” But the point about YouTube stands.
Finally, a study by economists in Milan discovered that Twitter makes us less intelligent, which, if we didn’t know it for a fact we certainly felt it to be true.
Googling the words “Trump” together with “toddler” gets you 68.9 million results, but I’ve always said that comparing the President to a toddler is extremely unfair to toddlers because toddlers grow, learn, mature, and eventually stop messing in their pants. But toddlers also exhaust their caregivers. Parents of toddlers have trouble holding intelligent conversations without lapsing into baby talk or referencing “this cute thing” their child did. Parents of toddlers think wistfully about a time when things were “normal” but know that their little diapered dictators have changed everything. There is no normal anymore. What the parents really want is some peace and quiet, a long weekend without the kids, but mostly a nap. A nap, as in, can you wake me when this is over?
I am not here to argue, as Daniel Drezner has ably, that Trump is the “toddler-in-chief.” My point is that we’re the parents, and I’m a little worried about us. Shortly after Trump was elected I was talking on the phone with my mom (Hi, ma!). She thought it was important to give Trump to be a chance to be a good president, which, to be fair, she’s my mom and can do no wrong so shut up. I, notwithstanding her maternal rightness, countered that standing vigil was required to prevent being gaslit constantly and everlastingly, that if we gave him an inch he’d deny that the British Imperial Measurement System ever existed in the first place. Attention must be paid lest all be lost.
Ha. See also: ha. We are a year and change from Trump running for re-election, and the years have not been kind, either to Mom’s hypothesis that Trump could be a good president (though she doesn’t look a day older, and her new bob looks spiffy) or to my belief that a barking watchdog would deter thieves of truth. As of late April, The Washington Post has clocked 10,000 lies, and 38 percent of the country — including 81 percent of Republicans — think the President is “honest and trustworthy.” This, about a man who, after flubbing the name of Apple’s Tim Cook as “Tim Apple,” first denied it, claiming that he said, “Tim Cook, Apple,” and then said he meant to call him that “to save time & words.” Some artists paint in watercolors, some monkeys fling their own poop. Trump lies. Three years in, and apparently now people will believe the earth is flat.
We don’t want to believe that the Enlightenment was a fraud. We want to believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, but bleach kicks the noonday sun’s butt every time, and oxygen feeds a fire. Sometimes exposing an evil gives it power and acknowledges our submission to its existence. There was a reason you-know-who was He Who Shall Not Be Named. Sometimes you just need to punch Nazis because pointing cameras at them only makes them stronger.
Three British scientists — and for my money, the best sentences start with the words “three British scientists” — found that calling out “dog whistle rhetoric can restore Civil Rights norms and make people less willing to be ‘lumped together’ with a candidate who has been called out for racist tactics—making people ‘shy’ about claiming to support said candidate,” which sounds great. Shame! Ah, that timeless chestnut.
Those British scientists proved that public attention being focused on our American white supremacists make people shy about saying they supported likeminded candidates, but “images showing protests, rioting, and contentious confrontations between armed police officers and civilians that permeated the airwaves during the campaign likely influenced some white Americans’ political beliefs and candidate preferences, even if they were not willing to admit that fact to a pollster.” Calling out racism made racists hide, but it may have made more people racist.
For many of us, bearing witness to this American carnage means using Twitter. He has not let up, and neither have we. He’s tweeting more often. In his first six months, he tweeted 157 times a month. In the most recent six months, it was 284 times a month. We’re engaging more with him. Trump’s interaction rate on Twitter is now five times higher than it was when he took office, and the interactions per tweet Trump puts out there has increased 21 percent since his first six months in office.
Paying attention comes at a cost. Always the cost is time. Sometimes, it is our well-being. We are made more vulnerable to lies and dumber simply because we log onto the President’s anti-social network of choice. We think facts will win out, but our attention fuels him and costs us.
The good news is that we have discovered that we have a superpower. All of us, not individually but all of us working together, can make something powerful by paying attention to it. It worked for the Kardashians. The converse proved true for Serenity, the 2019 science fiction movie that answers the trivia question, “What was Keanu Reeves worst-opening big-budget movie ever?” Paying attention makes the object of that attention real, otherwise how else can you explain dynamic scoring or Ed Sheeran?
It is time to pay attention to something other than what Donald Trump tweets every day, not just because it will make us smarter and feel better but because it will deny him the power that comes with our validation. If you’ll excuse the hokey close, it’s time to see the change you want to be in this world.
What I’m reading
I did not know that “the transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music,” that China last summer “issued a travel warning for the U.S., telling its citizens to beware of shootings, robberies and high costs for medical care,”
As “a particular kind of dystopia has arrived,” Monica Hesse writes that aunties are laying down tracks for new underground railroads. Meanwhile, “Saudi Arabia’s abortion laws are more forgiving than Alabama’s.”
Ann Hornaday with the Washington Post and NPR’s Glen Weldon are my favorite film critics by a mile, though the latter is not monogamous with the medium. Ann’s essay on spoilers and criticism is a great example of her talent. Glen’s GoT recaps were better than the episodes themselves, but to feel the full force of his particular genius, click on this episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour and go to the 14 minute mark. It’s 45 seconds of escalating, brainy fun.
OK, last week I noted that projections for 2020 point to a historic (an historic?) turnout, which is presumed to be bad for Trump as well as the fact that 54 percent of the country says they want to vote against Trump. That was the good news. The bad news is that all available election models have Trump winning re-election.
Korean has a word for “condescending old person.” It’s “kkondae,” and it’s a demographic canary in the South Korean coal mine.
What I’m watching
I didn’t expect HBO’s Chernobyl to be so sad, but in a good way. Those poor people. I came of political age under Reagan, studied Russian in college so I could be a spy (long story for another time), and lived for two years in Moscow, so it takes a helluva work of art to make me empathize with Russians, but this did it.
What I’m listening to
Shreveport’s Seratones have had some good songs — notably 2015’s “Necromancer” and 2016’s “Chandelier” — and they’re a pretty good blues rock band with alternative buzz, but their debut album Get Gone left me a little underwhelmed. The band’s latest album Power is dropping in August, and the advance track “Gotta Get To Know Ya” is promising. They sound less like a successful local band and more like a band that knows how to work with a producer to create something special in a studio.
What do you think of today's email? I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback. I might even put ‘em in the newsletter if I don’t steal it outright: firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoying this newsletter? Forward to a friend! They can sign up here. Unless of course you were forwarded this email, in which case you should…