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There isn’t really a way to describe it. ‘Stable,’ comes to mind, as does ‘boring’ and ‘safe’.
But the closest descriptor might be ‘quiet,’ a good word to capture the absence of what was, in the end, maybe just a lot of noise.
Americans would wake up, leave work, walk out of a movie theatre — cease doing whatever thing had gloriously occupied their attention — and their phones would greet them with all the flashing, buzzing, screaming reminders.
Donald Trump tweeted something racist. An official resigned. Trump tweeted. A New York Times investigation dropped. Sanctions were placed. Trump tweeted. Trump said something offensive at a press conference. An official got fired. A Washington tell-all was published. A scandal. A lie. A push notification. A Trump tweet and another Trump tweet and another and another and another.
Trump’s presidency reduced the news cycle to minute details — confusing and complicated shreds of information that could only be 1) ignored or 2) understood through constant vigilance. A lot of reading back, scrolling more, tapping through, trying to figure it all out.
You’d tell yourself not to look, or at least not to look so much, or, okay, to look but at least not to care. But you still did. We all did. Because what else could we do?
It didn’t matter if you thought that Trump was doing harm or if you thought that Trump’s work was being harmed from constant attack. Bearing witness to the drumbeat of details became a moral imperative. The only fitting substitute for action.
The news consumption impulse started to make a lot more sense to me when I saw it in a different form, when the threat was personal and the consequences were ventilators and FaceTime goodbyes.
When coronavirus first came to America, it felt like news was baked into the quarantine routine.
In 2020, local news outlets saw subscriptions boosted by 50 percentage points. National network news audiences increased as much as 16 per cent. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans said they were using their phones to read in daily.
We were all waking up, checking the numbers, tuning in to the press conferences, engaging with the news like it was a matter of survival.
Because what else could we do?
The difference between Trump and coronavirus was that, with coronavirus, the story never changed. It was day after day then week after week then month after month after month of rising numbers and slow-moving crisis.
And maybe that’s why, after some unknowable amount of time, it felt like America went numb to the pandemic entirely. By late summer 2020, google searches for coronavirus terms were lower than they were before the US went into lockdown, even with the death count rising above 200,000.
Unlike Australia, the US never experienced months of reprieve before being shocked back into action by a single case escaping hotel quarantine.
The spikes that brought Americans back to the news were just other forms of crisis: The world’s largest protest movement over racial injustice, an election that never seemed to end, an attack on the US Capitol, the start of a vaccination effort impaired by disinformation and distrust.
Americans in 2021 may not be acting like they’re in survival mode, but, in a way, they still are.
The country’s mental health has become a top discussion topic, with headline after headline claiming Americans are burnt out, exhausted, knocked down and laid bare in a measurable, noticeable way.
After living through years of stress, they’re following the plan they know — making individual choices where real national change feels impossible.
It’s just gone the other way.
According to an analysis by Axios, overall news consumption dropped at least 18 percentage points between the end of January and now.
It’s declining more and more every day.
good 4 her
Twitter had one of its very rare Good Days this week. For a moment, social media looked rather happy and healthy.
Teen pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo took a visit to the White House to help encourage Generation Z to get vaccinated. The official videos weren’t too emotional:
But the memes made us lose our mind:
If you’re unaffected by this particular moment of pop culture, we don’t really get it.
Here’s the deal with … Texas Democrats
This week, more than 50 Democratic state politicians packed their bags (and hit up the bottle-o) and left the Lone Star state.
The goal of their walkout was to shut down a special sitting of the Texas state government by denying it a quorum — a rule that says 100 of the 150 people in the House and 21 of the 31 people in the Senate have to be present for the government to function.
They’re trying to block a Republican effort to pass a sweeping elections bill that would make it harder to vote in the state.
The Democrats flew to Washington DC in an attempt to get some national attention on their plight, convince Biden to push electoral reforms on a federal level and avoid Texas police who can be empowered to arrest them and bring them back to work.
They got the national attention, but they’re going to have to hole up in DC until August 6 when the special session expires.
And in the end, they’re unlikely to succeed.
Every other time American politicians have tried this move, the bill they’ve tried to block has eventually passed.
Postcards from Mar-A-Lago
CPAC was back this week. And so was its leading act, former president Donald Trump.
The script has become pretty familiar at these things, but Trump’s stance shifted pretty noticeably on one issue — the Capital riots.
Ahead of the event, he said in a Fox News interview that those involved in the riots were “peaceful people, these were great people”.
On stage he complained that “patriots” had been jailed for “extended periods of time”.
As it does with most things, Trump’s shift was echoed by the Republicans in attendance.
It’s just another example of what we flagged last week — that the effort to rewrite what happened on January 6 is only just beginning.
And while Fox News might have aired Trump’s CPAC speech, plenty noted the disclaimer that ran underneath the president looked more at home on CNN:
Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with a $1.6 billion lawsuit making its way through the courts, could it?
The Iowa Speaking Circuit
Coronavirus cancelled the 2020 edition, but the Iowa State Fair is back for 2021.
It’s one of America’s most wonderful political traditions, particularly in the lead up to presidential elections, where primped and prepared candidates are forced to press the flesh with the unwashed masses of “real America” and think on their feet.
They also are expected to grab an … ahem … local delicacy … from the fair and get a picture looking a bit silly eating it. Exhibits A and B for the court:
A good performance lifts a campaign (and fills a candidate’s coffers). But eating a deep-fried Twinkie the wrong way can be considered a disaster.
Being an off-year, the 2021 political shenanigans of the fair are likely to be rather muted. But we had to share with you the list of exciting new foods that’ll be available this year. It included:
- Pork Rind Nachos
- Eggnog Cultured Frappucino
- Rattlesnake Corn Dog
- Elk Sausage
- Whatever a Peanut Butter Squealer is
God bless America, folks.