A collage of Trump at a rally with the headlines, "North Korea and Risks of Miscalculation," "Trump and Putin had an Undisclosed Second Conversation," "The Voter Purges Are Coming," "Trump Election Comission, Already Under Fire, Holds First Meeting," "These are all the people the Senate health care bill will hurt," and "Russia Mogul's Aide Was 8th Person at Trump Jr. Meeting"

Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0


Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0

Are You Worrying the Right Way About the Right Things?

We’ve been distraction-shaming each other since day one of the chaos presidency. But how can we find focus with an unprecedented onslaught of never-ending headlines?

This article was made possible because of the generous support of DAME members.  We urgently need your help to keep publishing. Will you contribute just $5 a month to support our journalism?

Reader, I want you to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Don’t have a mirror close by? Maybe use your selfie camera, since you probably care a lot about your face, which is of course, an awful and bad thing to care about these days. After all, don’t you realize that planet Earth is crumbling into the sea?

In fact, there are a lot of things you’re not caring about properly, and no shortage of attendant finger-wagging tailored to foment the Facebook arguments that separate the good people from the ones who didn’t see that new Times piece about immigration. You know the one—the one you read and got righteously mad about while your woefully distracted friends and family were still raging about that silly opioid epidemic.

In a horrifying and hilarious Washington Post column last week, Catherine Rampell brilliantly parodied the growing attention-trolling zeitgeist of the Trump era, dubbing 2017 the “ouroboros of distractions.” Every new revelation about Trump, his administration and the trickle-down awfulness of the MAGA monster is simultaneously urgent and insignificant, depending on which flavor of scold you’re particularly partial to.

Concerned about Trump’s diplomatic disgraces? Then perhaps it’s your fault that the latest doomsday climate science didn’t get more play. Appalled by the president’s wholesale incompetence on Twitter? You’re probably single-handedly relegating news about his campaign’s collusion with Russia to the internal depths of those newspapers that nobody reads any more. But of course you nitwits who do care about that whole Russia thing would do well to focus on what’s really important: The fact that 45 eats his steaks well done. Unless, of course, you’re one of those dolts who gave the barest shit about that business with Trump firing the FBI director for failing to do the bidding of the executive office, which means you necessarily must be wholly unconcerned with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s reignition of the war on drugs.

It’s bizarre indeed to suggest that it’s a bad thing when vast swaths of Americans are falling all over themselves to find the right C-SPAN feed on which to watch the fireworks of encroaching fascism, and yet here we are. Attention-policing is hardly new, but now that every day—and on some days, every hour—brings a barrage of news that under any other administration would have dominated the media cycle for months, the sheer volume of appalling revelations does indeed make it hard to put all those headlines in focus.

But every minute we spend worrying about whether we’re worrying about the right agent of democracy’s destruction is a minute we’re not worrying about any agent of democracy’s destruction, but instead worrying about whether we’re worrying correctly about the destruction of democracy.

Reader, I release you from this burden. Because I believe you are capable of caring about more than one thing at a time, maybe even capable of caring about multiple things at a time. The fact that there’s so much to care about doesn’t mean you have to care about all of it. If anything is truly a distraction in this era of unprecedented political tomfoolery, it’s a lengthy harangue about the way you choose to parcel out your emotional and intellectual energy.

Self-important scolds about the “real” problems are hardly inspirational. Mostly, they’re exhausting and boring and disheartening, because nobody has the power to manipulate the time-space continuum in such a way that would satisfy these many and various writers and tweeters. “Don’t be distracted,” indeed. Don’t be distracted by somebody telling you that the thing that affects your family, that grabs your interest, that motivates you to stay plugged into the political and news cycle, isn’t worthwhile.

Because there absolutely is a surefire way to ensure that people really don’t pay attention to the goings-on in the government, and that’s to make them feel like they’re helpless, stupid, or politically impotent. Voter exhaustion is real, and we need look no further than our own low-turnout red-state backyards to see its effect. When left-leaning people believe that they can’t do the right thing, or that doing the right thing won’t meaningfully matter, they become harder and harder to convince to do anything at all. This is an uphill fight all too familiar to progressives, liberals, and Democrats in states dominated by right-wing politicians who have taken advantage of this long-term brow-beating effort to further disenfranchise—and disenchant—voters by passing voter-ID laws and gerrymandering districts.

We’re only halfway through this year, and already we have more than enough bullshit to keep everyone’s first-priority plates full. If you want to put most of your energy into protesting the Trump administration’s appalling treatment of immigrants, keep it up. If reproductive justice stokes your fire, stoke away. If the Republicans’ innumerable attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare keeps you up at night, let it.

Let whatever engages you keep engaging you so that whatever enrages you can keep enraging you—in healthy, sustainable doses. Those massive Inauguration Day and Women’s March protests happened because tens of thousands of people were ready to give a shit about something, and we can’t let hand-wringing opinion writers dampen that flame. The resistance needs fighters at all stations, and no one fighter can man them all. Together, however, we can put up a formidable defense, and if enough of us stay involved on the issues we care about, it might just become an offense, instead.


Before you go, we hope you’ll consider supporting DAME’s journalism.

Today, just tiny number of corporations and billionaire owners are in control the news we watch and read. That influence shapes our culture and our understanding of the world. But at DAME, we serve as a counterbalance by doing things differently. We’re reader funded, which means our only agenda is to serve our readers. No both sides, no false equivalencies, no billionaire interests. Just our mission to publish the information and reporting that help you navigate the most complex issues we face.

But to keep publishing, stay independent and paywall free for all, we urgently need more support. During our Spring Membership drive, we hope you’ll join the community helping to build a more equitable media landscape with a monthly membership of just $5.00 per month or one-time gift in any amount.

Support Dame Today

Become a member!