One thing about the Trump administration that we can all agree on: they’re definitely not boring. From petty arguments with B-list celebrities to nuclear war brinksmanship, we are consistently delivered a steady diet of outrageous material to report on and rage about. And so, if we must find a silver lining in the middle of such very serious silliness, it’s that it keeps us involved in politics. The endless onslaught of absurdity keeps slapping us in the face and stops us from drifting off into apathy (or, back to sanity). We are now perpetually engaged in this political reality show.
We’re watching more than ever, but what are we actually seeing? Or perhaps more importantly, what are we not seeing?
Consider this recent note in National Geographic which states: “The Trump administration has suspended a study of health risks to residents who live near mountaintop removal coal mine sites in the Appalachian Mountains.” National Geographic is keeping a running tab on the administration’s changes to U.S. science and environmental policy, and it seems that studying the health risks to American citizens is something we no longer need to worry about. But are we paying attention?
I wonder if residents of the Appalachian region are aware of this decision – it does after all affect the air they breathe and the water their children drink – or is everyone too busy being buried in headlines of President Trump having a Twitter-fight with a mayor in Puerto Rico?
Or take this example of action by inaction, of insidiously doing something by quietly doing nothing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), charged with protecting the environment and those who live in it (all of us) has apparently not been doing its job. According to a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project, the EPA and Department of Justice under Trump have filed 60% fewer lawsuits and collected less fines against polluters than previous administrations (including Republican-led terms under President Bush).
Are American citizens okay with environmental law-breakers going unpunished? Does the public want better enforcement and protection of their health and environment? Or are we simply not paying attention?
These questions are not being asked because the issue is not being discussed loudly enough. Instead we must endlessly watch the President of the United States shout that NFL players taking a knee in silent peaceful protest should be fired.
This sort of public distraction is not a new trick. Politicians have always tried to make us look somewhere else when they don’t want us looking at them. Normally this “wag the dog” technique is used to distract from a specific scandal or unpopular event, but in the new world of Trump it has become the daily norm. There is a now a constant bombardment, the plan seeming to be distraction by a thousand Tweets. And it’s working.
We are being overwhelmed, scrambling to report on every outrageous press conference, every exaggerated claim of being the biggest and the best, feeling like we are at once arguing with a petulant sibling and being sold a sketchy used car.
And so, naturally, we miss things. Like President Trump’s upcoming judicial appointments. There are 140 openings for federal judges available for the current administration, way more than for any other in recent memory (only 54 spots were vacant when Obama took office). These judges can rule on and block legislation and regulations, and they are appointed for life. So far Trump has nominated candidates who have, among other things, defended BP in court after the Deepwater oil spill, blocked the implementation of the Clean Water Act, publicly railed against LGBT rights, and called Earth Day a threat to liberty. With a Republican controlled congress these nominees will likely get to decide on the fate of laws that directly affect people’s daily lives for decades to come.
I wonder what would happen if we saw a bit more of this? If we looked away from the nonsense and paid attention to what’s happening behind the headlines? Would we be a bit better informed and, despite any political allegiances, decide that we want something else, that maybe our local leaders should help resist some of this?
Would things shift, even just a bit?
I’d like to think so.
Jason Najum is a freelance writer and editor. Follow him @jasonnajum