The last two weeks have been anything but boring. The pace of news seems designed to keep us off-balance. It can make it difficult to find what is worth our attention. If a story is from a few days ago, it can feel like it’s already old news and not part of the conversation we’re having now. Often we gravitate to the things that are easily digestible, that we already are inclined to care about, and that don’t challenge us to do more than give the post a like.
In this post-election season we need to fight this tendency.
Take this weekend for example. On Friday the President-elect settled three lawsuits that were brought against him over the fraudulent practices at Trump University, to the tune of $25 million. Trump did not admit to any wrong-doing in the settlement. Despite his tweet that “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U.” the settlement figure (as well as the instructor’s handbook) suggest the case was not a slam-dunk for the President-elect. The settlement also spares Trump the embarrassment of showing up in court, giving him time to “focus on our country.”
And this would have been an embarrassing case. Instructors at Trump U were told to encourage students to put themselves in substantial credit-card debt to pay for courses containing information you could easily find on the internet. This is also the case where Trump questioned the abilities of a US born judge to try the case fairly because he had Mexican heritage. Burrito bowls aside we know Trump’s comments about Mexicans have been a bit… controversial to say the least. This situation is unprecedented for a President-elect, and this is not the only lawsuit Trump will likely have to settle. So you’d think that this story would be the top trending topic in my news-feed all weekend.
But as it turns out, Mike Pence got booed at the theater.
Now don’t get me wrong. Both the audience’s reaction to Pence, and the cast’s later words to him were deeply satisfying. There was a throwaway joke on SNL that Pence is the reason Trump will never be impeached, and any democrat who’s taken a closer look at Pence would be forced to agree. Hamilton has a diverse cast and they rightly called out the inconsistency of his views with his attending the show. And Trump’s reaction to the whole kerfuffle shows that he has not abandoned his reactionary twitter habits. The other trending story this weekend were some Trump supporters making Starbucks employees write “Trump” on their cups. This was accompanied by some footage of one such supporter being a dick. Personally, I think it’s nice that Trump supporters like this self-identify. I mean, a barista would never do something to your coffee after you’ve been a jerk … right?
Both of these stories tickle me in one way or another. But they’re dessert, and you need to finish your meal before you get dessert.
Here’s what I mean. There’s nothing wrong with clicking the links to the Hamilton footage, and smiling at the video. You can spend some time thinking of Pence musicals and share your favorites on Twitter. But that can’t be all you do. There are cabinet appointments being made, there are policy directions being discussed, and there events that continue to speak to the character of the man we just elected. I know we all need a laugh, and I love the Joe memes too. But as John Oliver said last week, we can’t let any of this seem normal. We need to do a little digging to see what’s passing us by in favor of what is shiny and easy to understand.
Here’s an example from my own backyard. The day after I attended the rally in Clintonville, a seeming Trump supporter tackled a speaker at an anti-Trump rally. The tackler was quickly led away in handcuffs to a crowd of people chanting “shame shame.” This clip made me angry. I still think of OSU as my home in a lot of ways, and after the encouraging night I’d had the day before, this felt like we were backsliding. But a few days later we found out that the tackler has aspergers syndrome, that the tackle wasn’t even politically motivated, and that the speaker wanted the police to drop any charges of assault. I could have let the incident play as just fuel on the fire, as a way to get myself mad at Trump supporters, but that would have been missing a larger part of the truth.
We can’t afford to get distracted, and we can’t afford to just take fleeting looks at events. We’re in this for the next four years. Seeing something that bugs us or delight us and sharing it on social media isn’t going to be enough. It certainly wasn’t before the election and it’s not going to be in two or four years.