On 4 March, the grand jury investigating possible crimes related to the Mueller investigation issued a subpoena for documents. According to a NBC News report, the subjects include the president and nine of his most intimate associates. The subpoena seeks three years’ worth of correspondence, enough evidence to bring forth an indictment or two at the highest levels of the Executive branch. This, for those who have forgotten the definition, is hard news.
The announcement, like many related to Donald Trump and bad news, was upended by a little known Trump associate named Sam Nunberg. This person popped into the cable news circuit and literally dominated the headlines and air time for days. Nunberg, who has no active association with Trump and no formal involvement with his campaign or presidency, was among those subpoenaed. Although in possession of a law degree, he sounded more like a stand-in for the Jerry Springer show, spilling nonsense and contradictions. When his time on stage was over, we were left asking: Who cares?
That dramatic performance was followed two days later by an even more brain-rattling announcement that an adult film actor was suing Trump over a non-disclosure agreement. Day after day, Americans were treated to the unseemly details of a tryst between the man in the Oval Office, a buxom blonde and her level-headed lawyer. Again, we wonder why does this matter? The Stormy Daniels saga continues. There may be some nugget of significance in her censored story – perhaps a Trump train of illegitimate children – but who knows?
Another 48 hours yielded yet another eye-popping headline. Trump agreed on-the-spot to a sit-down meeting with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jung-un. Details of the meet up are a mystery. Thus far, we have a South Korean official extending the invite on behalf of Rocket Boy but no confirmation from Kim. People in the State department were left in the lurch of ignorance along with just about everyone else in the Executive branch along with members of Congress.
Republicans were still recoiling from the threat of tariffs, a declaration made by Trump at the opening of this month. In something resembling coherence, over 100 House members sent their party leader a letter imploring reason. The missive read in part: “We are writing to express deep concern about the prospect of broad, global tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.”
All of the above occurred in just four days.
During this same period, the NYSE tanked by over 500 points, a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in a British town, Megyn Kelly interviewed Vladimir Putin, China abolished term limits, allowing its president to serve for life, Trump approved and suggested the U.S. should do the same while rumors surfaced that Chief of Staff Kelly and National Security Advisor McMaster would soon be dumped by Trump, who also leveled new criticism at Attorney General Sessions.
This is four days of news.
The News Hogs
Just about a year ago, I wrote about psychic numbness as it applies to the threat of nuclear holocaust. The term originated during the apex of nuclear proliferation, the years before the world began disarming. Psychic numbness is the ability to live outwardly normal lives while the imminent threat of annihilation is ever-present. The people of South Korea are the newest generation experiencing this phenomena.
Nuclear war is still a reality. However, Americans face a more pernicious numbness. It’s an amalgam of TMI mixed in with abject ignorance. We have become a continent of news-junkies and data deniers.
Many citizens follow the news as part of our daily habit. We track our favorite shows, allow headlines onto our devices, filter them on social media. A fewer number read newspapers and magazines. And a minority actually read a timely book from cover to cover. However, the new normal is different. Rather than a steady drip, we are inundated with information as the above four-day period shows.
Not a day goes by that Breaking News flares up on our notifications or play tag on the TV chirons. Cable news shows in their one and two-hour segments are stuffed with data. Anchors and their guests talk at a clip that causes them to stumble over words and drown in their saliva. There is so much and so little time. Yet they will force out every headline, each implication, the panoply of repercussions. They engage in spontaneous analyses, deciphering what matters and why at a moments’ notice. All is performed at such a pace that our senses are stunned. We are left with superficiality. There is zero time for reflection – that most ancient and complex turn of comprehension that requires a key element – time.
But there is no time. News bombards us. Just in the hours since starting this post, Trump fired the Secretary of State and announced a replacement. By the time this is completed, any number of unsettling things might happen.
The lack of reflection signals a breakdown in our cognitive function. Instead of a well read, thoughtful populace, we are news hogs on adrenaline. We juggle multiple crises, anticipate more, in continual agitation, unable to absorb, coalesce or even recall what was a matter of high importance just the week prior. There is no calm debate. No quiet time. No middle ground. Our psychic numbness is more akin to PTSD.
The News Adverse
The obverse holds for the data deniers. Instead of immersion, they are news adverse. These are the minority, the so-called core bloc of Trump voters who proudly proclaim “Fake News” at any information that troubles their convictions. The news adverse value ignorance above insight. A fair number are functionally illiterate, capable of digesting a tweet but unable to read beyond the grade school level. Their purview of “news” includes the kind of muck that used to be relegated to cheap tabloids and pulp fiction or the Bible.
As adults with dwarfed education, they are susceptible to bold headlines and splashy photos. Their learning comes from audio-video – talk show hosts like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh – and disconnected, illogical rants by the president and his echo machines. Since they are unable to independently weigh information and discern its value, they are suckers for wild conspiracies and blatant lies. They never notice contradiction. Rambling is an art form for them.
The data deniers cement their positions and any particle of contrary evidence is refused entry. It is impossible to persuade this population. They exist in a zero sum, black-and-white universe of simplicity.
This is the state of discourse in America today. The two opposing forces – the news hogs and the news adverse – face off in a climate of a news deluge. We are at this stunning impasse.