Oops, he did it again. Trump’s got the country so riled up about the NFL’s knees and elbows that there’s barely enough time in the day to focus on the humanitarian crisis exploding in Puerto Rico, looming threats of nuclear War with North Korea, 181 arrests during healthcare hearings, and a bunch of White House staffers using personal accounts for their damn emails. Remember when you were just sick of hearing about the emails? Good times.
Today’s media environment runs through your life like a freight train: demanding your attention for constantly breaking news, requiring your studious use of social media so you can keep up on the latest viral videos. Keeping up with it all is exhausting. Ignoring the media barking for your attention means you might miss any one of these majorly important stories altogether. Damned if you do try to keep up, ignorantly awaiting the imminent apocalypse if you don’t pay attention. Trump expertly leverages our inability to look away to control the news cycle and the national narrative.
Trump treats his captive audience like hostages, terrorizing us at regular intervals to keep our attention, threatening one of us–Black athletes–or another–Dreamers–to signal his dominance and to keep the fearful quiet. He exhausts us with his diatribes. He robs us of sleep with his late-night tweeting. He holds the gun of patriotism to our heads when we ask for justice. He won’t let us take a bathroom break.
Whatever you may think of Donald Trump, you cannot deny that he is well aware of how to manipulate media to get attention. He rode a wave of crazy talk all the way into the White House. Now camped out in the Oval Office, he continues to command the news cycle any day he chooses with the stroke of 140 characters. He is a car accident that we can’t look away from, even though our rubber-necking is slowing down the flow of critical and timely stories that require both attention and action.
Trump is using racism to whip up his base and wipe out his critics. The thing that makes this trap exceptionally difficult to avoid is that the stories he stokes the news cycle with are important–NFL protests about racial justice(not the free speech issue that is not at the center of the protests, no matter what he tells you), DACA, Charlottesville. These are critical and complex issues that deserve all our attention. Here’s the trick, Trump has no intention of offering solutions or real dialogue on any of these issues. While he has people of good conscience dancing around the ring trying to explain racial justice to the unwilling he skulks out of the spotlight. Nothing gets accomplished but making more anger, and then he hits us with another tweet. War with North Korea, bam. Repeal healthcare, pow. Before you know it you’re leaning against the ropes and the ref is counting you out.
So be prepared for the next round of stories fighting for headlines. Avoid Trump’s okey-doke-rope-a-dope. Remember that climate change, international diplomacy, and democratic integrity are the prize to keep your eyes on. Even when you’re watching the top story, ask yourself ‘is there something important I’m not hearing about’? Be careful to avoid fights that are designed to distract you, not engage you. Keep your chin tucked. Protect your neck. And always, stay woke.